Heart to Heart by Esther Fenty

I’m discouraged; my church won’t grow, and is in danger of splitting

I’m a discouraged man at the moment. I have been pastoring a church for four years, and the membership has only grown a little during that time – despite the effort I put in. To make things worse, two of the most influential women in my congregation have fallen out and, since then, the atmosphere at church has become quite poisonous. I’m not too sure what the issue is, but it concerns their children. From what I understand, one of the women feels that the other one insulted her child and is very angry about it. What makes this situation particularly sad is that these two women used to be the best of friends. I have two major issues to deal with: the first one is how I can go about growing my church and really impacting the community with the Gospel, and the second one is helping these two women to restore their broken relationship. My fear is that, if they don’t, there’s every possibility that they will split the church. Any advice you are able to give will help. John, London

Esther Fenty says

In order to fulfil your vision of having a growing church which impacts the community with the Gospel, you will also need the support of your present congregation.

It is often said that a discouraged man is a beaten man. Try to be positive in your approach to the problem, or your discouragement could affect the congregation. Whilst you must not bury your head in the sand and hope that the problem will go away, asking the members to stand with you on church growth – whether it be through prayer and/or
an evangelistic programme – will encourage them to support you. A negative approach could leave people thinking that church growth is impossible.

Whilst I am not an expert on church growth, I would suggest that you continue to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit through prayer and fasting; read about church growth; learn from those who are experiencing growth, and allow the Holy Spirit to lead you into what will work for your particular church. Perhaps you could also seek support from your wider church organisation and/ or attach yourself to a mentor or prayer partner, who will pray with you and for you.

I also wonder whether the initial influence of these women was ever really directed to your goals, or whether they only worked with you whilst you played to their tune but mainly followed their own agenda. A lot of friends grow apart for whatever reason, but that it has created a poisonous atmosphere in the wider church indicates that this is the tip of the iceberg. You may have to deal with the issues bubbling beneath the surface.

Using mediation and negotiation skills to work through the stages of conflict resolution with the women may help (ie. setting the scene, gathering information, agreeing the problem, brainstorming solutions and negotiating a solution). They may not necessarily become bosom pals; in fact, they may have already started to grow apart in their relationship, but they could come to understand and forgive each other. A demonstration of this may be enough to bring healing, but a follow-up discussion may be needed with the whole church.

A useful place to start, and then focus on the particular issues of your church, would be Paul’s advice for restoration, described in 2 Corinthians 2: 6-11, where forgiveness, comfort and confirmation of love are emphasised. He also warns that we need to be aware of satan’s devices, and this conflict is an example of this.


My fiancé is pressuring me for sex

I have been going out with my boyfriend for quite a while, and we recently became engaged. I considered him to be the perfect Christian gentleman, but now I’m not so sure. He has started talking about sex a lot, which I was initially OK with because we will be getting married, but then, when he started suggesting we should sleep together before our marriage, to see if we are sexually compatible, I began to feel very uncomfortable. Why is my fiancé saying these things, as he knows my views about sex before marriage (I don’t agree with it), and should I have second thoughts about marrying him? Andrea, Luton

Esther Fenty says

I think you already know the answer to your question. However, before doing anything rash, you will need to speak to your boyfriend, not just about your views but also about the biblical basis of your beliefs about sex before marriage. Perhaps he is not sure about what the Bible says about the subject, and thinks that it is something that ‘old fashioned Christians’ are against. You may also want to find out more about his perspective on a number of other issues. You cannot assume, as you are discovering, that you have the same world views just because you are both Christians.

If you think that you should still be together, you will need to have premarital counselling from a good Christian counsellor, who will explore other issues like communication, personality, parenting styles, finance, etc; these can make or break a marriage. This will enable you to see whether you are compatible.

Most married people will tell you that sexual compatibility takes time and deepens with maturity. Some personal habits are hard to die, and diametrically-opposed personal characteristics and world views could make it more difficult for you to be compatible. Those things are more likely to split your marriage than sexual incompatibility.

Esther Fenty provides godly and practical advice on a wide range of issues. To contact Esther email editorial@keepthefaith.co.uk

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