Our church has always had a high “people turnover“ in its 26 years of existence. The church is situated in a more affluent suburb of the city Windhoek. The face of the church changes substantially roughly every 5 years. There is a stable core group of people in the church for which we are very thankful, but the yearly losses always gnaw away at the yearly gains that are made. Thankfully, we are ‘edging forward’, but we are not a fast growing church. There is one other church in Namibia with the same tendency - the Swakopmund Baptist Church, where Francois Koch has been the pastor for the last 4 years.
Why this high people turnover? As I have recently reflected on this phenomenon, I wanted to share this with you the causes and the positive and negative experiences one has in pastoring such a church.
Firstly, in the early 90’s we had suffered heavy membership losses as mainly ‘white‘ South African citizens were being repatriated back to South Africa after Namibia became an independent nation in 1990. I remember that in the first two years of my ministry we may have lost as many as 50 percent of our membership.
The second reason for membership attrition was initially a lack of doctrinal clarity among ourselves, and then ironically, it was doctrinal clarity! There were those who were not happy when we became a Confessional Baptist Church in 2001. We chose the historic 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith for this purpose. The reason was simple. It is good to stand upon sound historical precepts, and we did not want to reinvent the wheel.
This is something that Charles Haddon Spurgeon also did in 1855 after he had been the minister of New Park Street Chapel, London for a few months. He was determined to strengthen the doctrinal foundations of the church, and he was instrumental in getting “the 1689” re-published for this purpose.
I am sorry that we took so long to see this. Don’t get me wrong. Having a confessional basis in the church will not usher in the Kingdom of God on earth! However the Confession does provide a stable doctrinal platform and a common basis of theological understanding from which we may operate. The Confession of Faith together with our membership classes serve to provide as a solid foundation upon which new members enter into the church fellowship. Christ the Saviour is proclaimed throughout; the authority of the Scriptures is upheld in our preaching; Grace alone is the basis upon which we enter the Kingdom of God, by Faith alone. The Confession and the membership classes exist to bring glory to God.
Since we had instituted this rule we have seen very little doctrinal disagreement among ourselves. Those who do not agree to submit to our Confession will simply not join the church.
The third reason for membership attrition is church discipline. We have not had many instances of this over the years, but there have been instances where people were removed on the basis of Matthew 18:15-20. We believe in church discipline, for that is what the Bible teaches. The church receives and if necessary, dis-fellowships members who sin defiantly. In some cases members have chosen to leave before church discipline could be applied.
The fourth reason for membership attrition constitutes by by far the major factor in our community. People leave the church because their work contracts end. A number of our members come from other countries and therefore they inevitably will move back to their home countries. Namibia has very stringent immigration rules and it is virtually impossible for anyone from the outside to receive permanent residence, let alone obtain citizenship in Namibia.
Over the years we have learned not to hold on to people. We are glad if we could have encouraged them on their pilgrimage to our heavenly city. We are encouraged if they have grown in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ whilst sojourning with us for a little while. So, in the course of the years our standard question to those coming and going has been: “Are you leaving in a better shape than when you have arrived ?“
|Our present elders and deacons have enjoyed a stable tenure|
Positively then it has been a good experience to meet so many interesting people over the years. Our church has always had an international flavour and I personally have learned so much from this “confluence of the cultures”.
I believe that the ideal of Pentecost (the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2) is often being seen in our congregation when many nations are present, and living together in harmony and unity. This is a true privilege to behold and is indeed a little foretaste of heaven.
New people also sometimes bring a certain ‘freshness’ with them. It is very hard for our church to become stale. At times it is a challenge to help newcomers not to be too enthusiastic in terms of wanting to bring their previous church experience into our situation.
Negatively, we have found it difficult to say goodbye to so many people over the years. It is difficult to make close friends when you have to part yet again. I generally struggle to get close to people that I know will leave again in a short while. It takes a lot of energy to invest in friendships.
Continuous turnover also means that you have to constantly re-teach foundational principles.
Moreover, people who come on short term assignments, tend to be reluctant to get involved. Happily, they begin to think otherwise when the logic of Scripture is pressed upon them. Many ‘short termers’ have thus had a good and fruitful ministry among us.
We have also found it difficult to build a leadership in a constantly changing environment. When people come and go in such a rapid fashion you are barely able to train leaders before they must leave again. The same is true for gifted people in various areas of the church. They normally leave a big gap in the ministry.
Having said all this we are grateful that the Lord continually adds people to the church. In the last few years I have been pleased to observe that we have had a good number of conversions from among our local people. We are currently praying for the suburb in which we have been planted as a church, and are eagerly looking out for those who are willing to hear the gospel message.
In the meantime Eastside Baptist Church shall continue to reach the nations on our doorstep whilst also praying that many of our nation will come to the knowledge of our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.