21 May, 2024

Finding the Beauty in a Sunset: What We Can Learn from Organizations that No Longer Exist

by | 1 May, 2024 | 0 comments

By David Faust 

Singer Dan Hicks recorded a country song with a funny title: “How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away?” It’s no laughing matter, though, when treasured Restoration Movement institutions go away.  

I miss them. 

For two years in the 1970s I attended a small Bible college in upstate New York called New York Christian Institute. Our classes met in a church building, and because there were no dormitories, students rented rooms in old motels nearby. NYCI lasted about a decade before financial limitations forced the college to shut its doors. Today, my wife and I remain grateful for the lessons we learned, the professors who taught us, the lifetime friends we made, and the donors whose generosity made it possible for us to study at NYCI. God used a school that no longer exists to shape our lives and ministries. 

An Unfamiliar Landscape 

In recent years, I have witnessed a lot of changes in my little corner of God’s kingdom. I enjoy serving alongside bright, energetic, next-generation leaders, but I miss the seasoned wisdom of Wayne Smith, Ben Merold, and other trusted leaders who have retired or died. My spiritual eyes are adjusting to an unfamiliar landscape as colleges and conventions that once were prominent features of the Restoration Movement respond to the winds of change.  

This is personal for me. I devoted 20 years (8 as a full-time professor and 12 as president) to Cincinnati Christian University, which closed its doors in 2019. I served as president of the 2006 North American Christian Convention, and that annual gathering has morphed into a new ministry called Spire. I became editor of Christian Standard’s sister publication, The Lookout, in 1996. At the time, The Lookout’s weekly print editions had over 100,000 paid subscribers. Reader preferences have changed significantly, though, and today a high school stands on the site where Standard Publishing’s magazines, children’s literature, and Bible study books were printed for decades.  

Leading a ministry today is like steering a car through a rainstorm in the dark. It can be done, but it’s stressful. Once-thriving congregations and parachurch organizations have closed their doors or are struggling to survive. Some closures are predictable and perhaps inevitable, but they don’t happen without pain. And we can’t help but wonder: Might some of them have been avoidable?  

What can we learn from Restoration Movement organizations that no longer exist? How should we respond when beloved institutions close their doors? Here are some ideas I can contribute to the dialogue. 

Lessons I Am Learning 

It’s OK to grieve. It’s normal to feel sad when you lose something you loved. If you care deeply about a congregation, college, or mission, it’s not surprising if you experience disappointment and anger when it downsizes, merges with another ministry, or shuts down altogether. Grief is a natural response to loss.  

It’s important to be grateful. While acknowledging the losses, we should treasure our memories and celebrate past victories. It’s better to be thankful for what was accomplished than to be bitter about what was left undone. Just because an organization no longer exists doesn’t mean its labor was in vain. Discontinued colleges continue to bear fruit when their graduates serve the Lord and use what they learned. 

It’s wise to analyze what led to an organization’s demise. Did moral failure, mission drift, doctrinal unfaithfulness, or other spiritual problems weaken it from within? Did leadership errors cause the ministry’s demise? (All of us have made our share of mistakes.) Did board members and executive leaders make financial miscalculations or misread the shifting cultural landscape? Were they in denial about the dangers? Were they too slow (or too quick) to change their approach? Did they change things that should have been left alone? 

We should resist the temptation to jump to unwarranted conclusions. In some cases, the reasons for an organization’s demise are clear-cut and unmistakable. However, the problems are often harder to decipher than a casual observer may realize. Looking from the outside in, it’s easy to make quick judgments; but today’s churches, parachurch ministries, and nonprofits are navigating their way through a storm of complex spiritual dynamics, market trends, demographic changes, political minefields, and economic pressures. We should extend grace and pray for those who must make tough decisions.  

We should be humble. The closure of beloved institutions reminds us to be vigilant in our stewardship and to guard against arrogance. The Bible cautions, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:12). It’s possible that, for reasons unclear to us, an organization may simply run its course as the Lord begins to lead in a different direction. We must do our best, but God didn’t go on vacation and put us in charge of the universe.  

It’s vital to have an eternal perspective and keep moving forward in faith. The Lord is unchanging. His Word remains true. The ideals of our movement (the lordship of Christ, biblical truth, Christian unity, and effective evangelism) have not changed.  

The kingdom of God will go on forever, and the gates of hell will not prevail against the church; but human organizations (even really good ones) have limited life spans. While 501(c)(3) organizations come and go, Psalm 50:1 reminds us, “The Mighty One, God, the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to where it sets.” Without God in the picture, I suppose you could see sunrises and sunsets as little more than natural phenomena: sunlight reflecting from dust and clouds. But by faith, we see beauty not only when a new day dawns but also when it comes to an end—leading to the dawn of another new day tomorrow.  

God’s ways are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). His faithfulness will never fade, and his promises will never fail. While we drive through the storm, we should trust the Lord with the journey and let him handle the steering wheel.  


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