Since announcing the close of City Life Church, emotions swirl through my heart daily. The regular customers are sadness, relief, celebration.
I will no longer be church family with these precious people. What we have here is unique, without flash, but simple and biblical–brothers and sisters meaningfully and lovingly engaged in one another’s lives. A hunger for the word of God. Compassion for those around us. Grace flowing freely through the congregation. While this is a new beginning for all of us, it comes as the result of an ending. Endings call for grief over what’s lost.
The weeks following the announcement, elders met with people whose tears expressed their feelings about this ending. Others, understandably expressed frustration: “This is one of the healthiest churches I have ever been a part of. Why would God want it to close?”
City Groups created space for people to express how they were feeling. I told my City Group not to hold back, and they didn’t. One member shared that he had turned down a new job, in part, because they didnt want to leave the church. Another couple shared that, after a year they feel so closely knit to us they can’t imagine giving that up. Although it’s difficult to share and hear these things, it’s also honest. No pretending necessary. And in the honesty of grief, we have ministered to one another with truth and grace.
Once I knew God was calling me away from the church, it became very difficult to keep that bottled up while counseling, preaching, and leading others. Now we all know what God is doing, and expectations can adjust. Of course, there are different ways to adjust. Some leave immediately. Others choose to lean in. Some say goodbye with encouraging words and prayers. Others say good luck. Many don’t know what to say, and on occasion that includes me. Who should I set up meetings with? How do I pastor people well to the end? How should application change in my sermons?
Yet, transitional space is a discipleship place. It is formative, either toward Christ or away from Christ. With just six weeks left as a church, how should we respond? My wife shared her hope for the church was like a child eating Halloween candy. The trickotreater plows through the bag of candy until they get to the last few pieces. Then, they slow down to savor each bite. Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone savored our final weeks together? To reflect on God’s grace to us through the church, how we have changed, what we will miss.
Many are doing just that. But some will not. They are not inferior family members. Change is hard for all of us. Some cope with solutions, some with slow withdraw, and others with savoring. After Jesus’ crucifixion, many of his disciples hid in a room, afraid of Roman and Jewish backlash. Others prayed. Some ran to the empty tomb. We all deal with loss in different ways. But Jesus appeared to all of them. He will continue to appear to each one of us.
Endings are a time for reflection: the loss of a loved one, a big move, kids going off to college, and the end of a church. To help us reflect well and cherish what God has given us, my wife came up with a weekly question for our City Groups. They have stirred up good memories, gratitude, and even praise. A few examples:
- Tell us how you found City LIfe church?
- What have you learned about the gospel here?
- What do you love about your City Group?
We will reflect and celebrate much more in the weeks to come. We are throwing a party, and many former members are coming back to celebrate with us. While every church has a sunset, there is no dusk for the glory of Christ. May we go out pointing to the Light.