Bill Faris has been a pastor for longer than I have been his son. Two weeks ago he told his church of just under one hundred people that his church will cease existing as early as August.
The Crown Valley Vineyard has been in South Orange County for all of its eight year life and has done remarkably well. I know of few members who passively sit by on Sundays as if that was all that being a part of a church meant. Church members genuinely desire to grow in Christ and evidence that by consistent giving of their time and money, not to mention their attention at most church gatherings. The community is tight knit. Even this last weekend on a church men’s retreat, men were, as we have now been able to expect on such retreats, beautifully open and honest about their struggles and equally responsive with exhortations and encouragements. There is passionate worship, a good children’s ministry, and biblical preaching and teaching (including frequent guest preaching from regular members of the church, even if not pastors).
So it should come as no surprise that upon hearing the news at our church family meeting two weeks ago, many were upset to the point of weeping. Understandably so: not only has the church done well according to general church standards, but many of those who wept at that meeting had personally seen their lives and marriages saved and their relationships with Jesus come to some vibrancy thanks to my Father and other church leaders (through Christ, of course).
Thus the natural question: why does a successful pastor shut down his church? Is it moral failure? Dryness in personal relationship with Christ? Family problems? A mid-life crisis?
No. My Father is incredibly godly, walks in daily communion with the Lord, loves his wife and kids, and is thoroughly pleased with what Jesus has used him for in this life, most certainly including as the pastor of the Crown Valley Vineyard, which he calls the best years of ministry he has ever had.
The answer is somewhat the opposite of any of those proposed above. My Father is utterly convinced both that the Lord has worked powerfully and still has much work he wants to do with the people that thus far have comprised the Crown Valley Vineyard. This is why he has thoughtfully and prayerfully decided to close his church.
At least three factors have combined to make this move happen. First, even when your church is good at giving, it is financially difficult to have a building in South Orange County. Almost all of the money that the church has is spent on simply sustaining itself which is so frustrating when there are so many needs in the wider community and in the world more generally. Second, the church as it is now does not meet non-believers with the gospel. If we are not mobilizing to be missionaries in our local communities in eight years despite having a great church family, we need to rethink things from the ground up. Attractional model church does not work for the generations younger than the baby boomers. We must go to the world and we are failing to do so as we are currently constituted. I plan on writing more broadly on this topic in the future. Third, my Dad sees his role as a leader shifting from pastor-shepherd to mentor-empowerer for younger generations. My Dad is powerfully aware of an obvious truth: he will die. Seeing as he is closer to death than to life, he now sees the need to develop the next generation of leaders to continue Christ’s work.
Younger leaders need to be developed who will both now and later be equipped to reach their own (read: my own) generation with the gospel, and we need to spend huge money on ourselves to do that. The Church- and now I do not just speak of the Crown Valley Vineyard- must get away from trying to get people to come to it if it will survive in America when the Baby Boomers die. The brothers and sisters who have heretofore made up the Crown Valley Vineyard are realizing those same things, and that is why the weeping was overshadowed by passionate exhortations to take heart and jump in with the vision of bringing Jesus to the world at that church meeting two weeks ago. Church will still happen, even if it looks different than it has (house churches are a real possibility), largely because believers are realizing that church is a group of people rather than a place you go.
And I am thus encouraged that people like my Dad are thoughtfully and carefully following the Lord’s leading over his church to do His work in the world.
Pardon the length of this post: it is an issue close to my heart both in my own thinking and studying and because it so directly involves my family. My hope is that, like the story of my friend Jacque saving a child’s life, it will encourage some to see the way theology is touching the life of the church and continue in the pursuit of following the leading of Christ in this world well.
I should also add that Christians in Context is hoping to have my Father do a series of guest posts on his thoughts on the church to clarify more of how he got to this point. I think they will help you as much as my own dialogging with him through this long process has helped me.