Churches grow and reach people for Christ when three primary elements are present: (1) People are so excited about their church that they want to invite others to come, (2) the value of investing and inviting the unchurched (and de-churched or under-churched) permeates the members and (3) the church provides "tools" for inviting and the right environment. You need all three. I think we were hurting on all counts for a few months.
I don't think this is unusual for churches. Unfortunately, too many never recover because the environment becomes ripe for discouragement and a critical spirit that leads to intense spiritual warfare. I have never sensed such intense spiritual warfare in our church as I did this past year. The cool thing about that was it caused me to ask for more prayer and lots of people stepped up. It made me more dependent on God and his Spirit. I learned loads of stuff about myself. Lois and I drew even closer. I can't tell you how valuable this has been for me personally.
I also feel it has been good for our church and prepares us for the next stage of our mission. Jesus said the gates of hell won't prevail against his church. Stop and think about it. We're in a battle, it's a spiritual battle, and we're on the offensive. The church is storming and crushing the gates of hell.
I know that as we rush around driving our kids to sporting activities, spend evening watching TV, head out to the cabin for the weekend, meet for coffee and conversation at our favorite coffee shop, cook and clean and mow...it's easy to forget this very real spiritual battle. It's also easy to insulate ourselves from the extreme poverty, pandemic diseases, deeply corrupt and unjust governmental systems and lack of educational and spiritual opportunity most of the world faces every day. But the battle is real, and it's present in our safe and controlled environment we live in. Drug and alcohol abuse, depression, divorce, emptiness, materialism, pride are some of the very real and insidious spiritual diseases we battle every day. The battle is real, and we need to be spiritual strong to win.
I'm convinced that the best days for Five Oaks are still ahead for us. God is not done with us. I'm confident because the evidence is clear every week, the momentum has returned and the unhealthy critical spirit has subsided. We've learned from our mistakes and become better and stronger in Christ.
I'm also convinced I have more to learn, I'll keep making mistakes, I'll keep trying to learn from them, we'll do a lot of great and exciting stuff along the way deeply impacting people's lives for Christ, some people will still be dissatisfied with us and leave (or stick around but be miserable)... That's part of the nature of the battle. From a human perspective you have to conclude that God's worst idea is to use us to accomplish his purposes. But from a very personal perspective...Wow! He hasn't discarded me and he has given me a meaningful reason to live.