Coping With Opposition

Richmond Skyline

While living in Louisville, Kentucky (while attending seminary many more years ago than I would like to admit) I was briefly employed as a youth minister for a 150-year-old congregation located downtown.  Situated in what had been a very prosperous neighborhood, the area surrounding the church had since deteriorated.  The majority of the members in the congregation were now commuting to worship from the more affluent suburbs.

At the time of my ministry at the church, a multi-racial and multi-cultural potpourri of the poor inhabited the community.  Alcohol and drug abuse were rampant.  Violent crime was on the rise.  Gang violence was increasing.  It was a tough place to do ministry, and most churches in the community were not up to the responsibility of providing a Christian witness to their neighborhood.

Shortly after joining the staff of this church, God placed a burden on my heart to reach the youth in the community.  The church facility included a nice, indoor basketball court, a large multi-purpose room and an adequate kitchen facility.  With the support of the pastor and the assistance of seminary classmates, we planned to conduct an old-fashioned youth lock-in.  Theologian Molly Marshall calls the “Youth Lock-In” the Baptist equivalent of purgatory.

The lock-in seemed very successful.  For one night, nearly 40 teenagers were kept off the streets, out of trouble, in a safe and positive environment.  One of the young men who attended the lock-in was a 13-year-old boy named Tommy.  Tommy had never met his father.  His mother’s reputation in the community was that of a prostitute.  He was a sensitive and yet extremely angry young man.

By the grace of God, I developed a friendship with Tommy.  On the evening of the lock-in, I shared the gospel with him, and he responded by acknowledging Jesus Christ as his Lord.

The lock-in ended on Saturday morning at 7 a.m.  A few hours later, while trying to catch up on lost sleep, I received an urgent call from several members of the congregation.  They asked me to come down to the church.  Inspecting the facility that morning, they noticed some graffiti written on the bathroom walls.  In addition, a window in the church had been broken.

“Do you see what they’ve done to our church?” one man asked.  I proceeded to tell this man about the success of the lock-in and the profession of faith made by Tommy.  In addition, I offered to clean the bathroom and pay to repair the window.  “You don’t understand,” the man said, “we don’t want people like that coming to our church.”

My ministry at this church ended a few months later.  The church has since closed its doors and the property sold its property to new congregation that was prepared to do the work of God’s kingdom in that community.

Any person who has ever responded to the call of God to some form of kingdom work has experienced some form of hostility.  It may come from those outside the community of faith (as in this lesson’s scriptures.)  The opposition may also arise from those inside the faith community who are unwilling to make the necessary changes to reach their community for Christ.  Congregational leaders must learn how to cope with hostility.

This lesson’s scriptures teach leaders how to cope with the hostility that often comes when we are trying to do kingdom business (Nehemiah 4:6-8, 15-23).

To begin with, Nehemiah prayed that God would provide him with direction and protection (vv. 4-5).  At its core, this prayer was an acknowledgment that the work Nehemiah was conducting was under supervision of God.  Too many leaders seem unable to distinguish between what they want to build and what God is calling them to build.

Next, Nehemiah carefully prepared to confront any potential hostility (vv. 15-17).  Better to be ready for conflict and none come than to be unprepared when it comes.

Third, Nehemiah was prepared to persevere at the work God had given him despite any animosity (vv. 21-23).  He refused to give up.

Finally, Nehemiah trusted God to win the victory.  He said:  “Rally to us wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet.  Our God will fight for us,” (v. 20).

Leaders in the church today would do well to follow Nehemiah’s example.  By prayer, planning, perseverance and faith, the church will be ready to live into God’s missional calling.

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