CABOT – As a new pastor, one might expect some disagreements between church members to arise when new on the scene, but how do you handle lingering pasts full of broken relationships, broken trust and divisions that are still affecting church members years after they took place?
That is the situation Charles Fowler, pastor of Germantown Baptist Church, Germantown, Tenn. faced when he became senior pastor in the summer of 2010.
He shared that he went to the church after six to seven years of the congregation having disagreements.
“There were some pretty sad things that took place,” Fowler said. “The enemy just really struck that church and plundered it – a church whose heart really beat for the gospel, one of the most mission-minded, most actively sending churches in this region, and then conflict came, and it was rough.”
Fowler said that he had served troubled congregations, but never as the senior pastor.
“I have walked into churches before that were struggling and hurting, and I’m grateful that God used me, but it’s just different when you’re the pastor,” Fowler said.
With Germantown Baptist he started building bridges with past and current church members members to start the healing process – all by simply leaning on God.
“I had trusted that God had this wonderful preferred future for our church,” Fowler said.
After spending time in prayer, Fowler said, “God took me on a journey … where he reminded me that sin must always be confronted. We can’t allow sin to occur and then let time pass long enough and hope it’s dealt with. Sin is only dealt with when it’s called out and confronted.”
It became very clear to Fowler what God was asking him to do – get his church to confront the past.
He asked the congregation – along with the past pastors – to come together and start working to mend their relationships with each other. He called that night “Grace Applied.”
“We had a tremendous response; a nervous response, but a tremendous response,” Fowler said.
He said people went to each other to ask for forgiveness for past harsh words and treatment of each other.
After the congregation dealt with its past, Fowler paid for an ad space in the local newspaper and wrote a letter of apology to the community.
“I apologized on behalf of our church, that preached the gospel of Jesus Christ. I asked the community to forgive us and to begin expecting different things from Germantown Baptist Church.”
“My life will ever be changed by having walked through that (experience),” Fowler said.
Fowler shared from Matthew 18:15-19 that speaks of how to handle conflict.
“We were not a healthy a church when I came, but we are a lot more healthy than when I came,” Fowler said. “We have a long way to go. The Lord is working. The church is growing. We are seeing people saved and people join our church.”
“The Lord took me on this journey to show me the importance of reconciliation within the body of Christ,” Fowler said.