J. Gordon Duncan

Culture, Business, Fitness, Etc.

The Death of the Death of Ministry in the Death of Jesus

Sunday, August 3rd, will be the final worship service for Sovereign King Church in Garner, NC.

Much like many of you, I wept when I heard the news.

Unfortunately, ministries, churches, and pastors come and go.  As one friend reminded me, “Everything in this world has a lifespan.”  And though death, endings, and even graduations are something we grow comfortable with, they are never pain-free.  While numbers vary, some estimate that between 3,000 and 4,000 churches close their doors each year.  The question I wrestle with (and I imagine others do as well) is, “How is the death of a church redeemed?”

Towards that end, individual stories make up the end of a church.  This is my portion of SK’s.

 Redeemer Church and Eastern Carolina Presbytery sent me and my family to Garner in 2005 with the commission of an evangelist to do what is called scratch planting.  Scratch planting, also known as parachute planting, is when you move onto the field without anyone previously committing to help start a church.  You start from scratch after you parachute onto the field.

We launched quickly with coffee shop bible studies, blogging, and community service.  Soon, we gathered 20 or so people together and huddled with Christ our Comfort, PCA (now Christ the King) as they replanted.  The 40 to 50 of us gathered each week in the old YMCA building (also now non-existent) on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, NC.  Eventually from those humble beginnings, SK grew to a consistent 70-80 in worship with vibrant chaplain ministries to the police and EMS in addition to service ministries to a local women’s shelter.

In hearing that, one might ask, “Well, what happened?”

There is no scandalous story here.  There is no corrupt tale of money-laundering or sordid affairs.  It appears that through God’s providence, things have just come to an end.  People moved on to new jobs.  Some preferred a different music style.  Vibrancy of ministries became lukewarm.  Things just came to an end.

I can’t speak to the philosophy of ministry presently at SK as I left to plant Evident Grace Fellowship in Spotsylvania, Va. nearly two years ago, but I know that their pastor, their elders, their families, and all the congregation have been faithful.  Perhaps, and hopefully, many of them will add their voice of thanks to what has God has done in Garner through Sovereign King because there is so much to celebrate…

Relationships with Christ deepened.

The homeless found Christ, education, employment, and even marriage.

Broken marriages were restored.

A young man and his family suffered a tragic car crash and were loved and served.

Police officers came to know Christ.

Children in the church made professions of faith and took their first Lords Suppers.

And most significantly, the saving faith of Jesus Christ was raised and defended in the marketplace of ideas in that small town.

This apparent death is not a useless, hallow shoveling of dirt on the casket of yet another church.  In Christ, all death is redeemed.  Some of those redemptions may not be seen immediately, but in God’s grace, many of them will be apparent (even in this lifetime).

I’ve been a pastor in some sense for over 10 years now.  Redeemer Church sent me out to plant Sovereign King.  I left Sovereign King to plant Evident Grace.  Most of our children will leave their home church to prayerfully worship and work at another when they become adults.

The death of Christ and His glorious resurrection mean that the curse of death and ending is redeemed with continuity and eternity.

While SK won’t be gathering in its present form each Sunday in Garner, the pastor, elders, and members will be sent as missionaries to points on the compass that aren’t even known at this point.  And that truly is the hope of this applied resurrection.  As another friend reminded me, the worship of Jesus is never restricted to a specific address.  Out of the death of this church, countless others will arise, and Christ will be glorified…now in even more places each Sunday.

In death, it is right to mourn, but that mourning is not pointless, nor is it morose.  It need not be comforted with platitudes and moronic, thoughtless expressions.  Christ is risen, and His church and His people are risen with Him.  His fame goes forward.

God did so much for His glory in His people’s heart and in the town of Garner.  He still will beyond SK.  His name is forever praised in the heart of many, and the legacy of Sovereign King is one drenched in the hopeful Gospel of Jesus resurrection.

I hope other people add to this story.  So much needs to be shared and even learned from it because where Christ is lifted up, you will find His people.  Where you find His people, you will find the hope of the resurrection.  Those stories deserve to be told.

And I can’t wait to learn what happens next.

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August 1, 2014 - Posted by | church, church planting, gospel, mission, missional, Uncategorized | , , ,

3 Comments »

  1. I found your article at the Aquila Report and found my way here with its help. Thanks for your thoughts in seeking the positive side of a sad death of a church. I can relate: After 10 years on the mission field, I took over a struggling 2-year PCA church plant. After 5 years, we had grown from 20 to 70; settled to 60 by my 8th year as we started paying on property for a future building; began losing people in my 9th year, and closed near the end of my tenth year when my resignation was followed by the resignation of our beleaguered two elders. Comparing my mental notes and assessment with yours, we may have been a little less dynamic than SK in terms of outward ministry, but we, too, saw people’s lives changed by the power of the gospel. After the closing (my last service and sermon were the church’s last Sunday service), our people, many of them committed followers of Christ, joined other churches and have contributed to kingdom work in those other bodies. That closing / death was 7 and 1/2 years ago. After about 4-5 years of significant grieving, I finally turned a corner myself and have “moved on” emotionally from the trauma of the death and the dying process. I agree with you that this topic (both the death of a church and how members and clergy experience it) deserves fuller treatment. It is my impression that just as our American culture doesn’t handle dying and death very well, so too a denomination that values the gospel but often measures its work in terms of “success” and numerical growth is not inclined to face such traumas honestly. – Bill Johnson

    Comment by Bill Johnson | August 11, 2014 | Reply

    • Bill, thank you so much for your comments. I hope it has been encouraging to you to at least know others have walked similar paths.

      I now that the past two years have been intense for me emotionally as I have examined almost everything that you can imagine to figure out why things went the way they did. Thankfully, there have been a lot of lessons learned that my present church benefits from, but no doubt, there have been emotions (and even haunting dreams) that I just couldn’t imagine. I have seen God redeem many things through this process, and thankfully, I have not been discouraged to the point of wanting to give up. However, I imagine every pastor has to walk this road differently. Thanks again for your comments.

      Comment by jgordonduncan | August 11, 2014 | Reply

    • Hi Gordon and Bill: I experienced something similar although mine was a part time work, which I strove to do while working full time at RTS here in Charlotte. We had some great ministry, conversions and the mutual sharing of the deep love of Christ. Without going into details, I went to work with a small group of Christ-loving people who had waited for over three years for the presbytery to provide a church planter. When I came on board as a part time (but very energetic) church planter, we watched the group grow from around 30 (20 of these were children) to over 100. Eventually, I had 2-3 seminary interns helping and we all loved our work and our people The presbytery never truly rallied around the work and the biggest hindrance was finding an MNA church planting assessed man to replace me; MNA would not support the non-assessed men who were interested in taking over the work, despite the fact that we had over 80 people regularly in attendance. I labored on for over 5 years (longer than my previous church plant in Florida) but the work began to dwindle without a full time pastor. The work continued for another 2 or so years under another part time laborer, after I had to move on due to growing duties at RTS. When it closed, I certainly felt a sense of failure (and still do) but if you asked “my” people (whom I loved and from whom I received love), I don’t think they would view it as a failure. For a brief while, we were a vibrant Christ-exalting, God-honoring church in a community where there was no real Reformed presence. And although difficult, we had a great time together, striving to honor Christ. I was blessed by watching God work and looking back, only wish the presbytery had been more willing to support what God was doing. As Gordon mentions, I can only wait to see what God did in people’s lives through that temporary effort to plant a church and honor Him. How does one measure success? Only God knows.

      Comment by Rocketrod2 | August 12, 2014 | Reply


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