Near the end of our recent All Peoples East Gathering in Charlotte, a man got up and made a presentation about hinge moments. Do you know what a hinge moment is?
Using a case study from a church in Birmingham, Alabama this man taught us about hinge moments. Though not an EFCA congregation, the church he spoke of was from another solid evangelical denomination. It was located in the center of what is now referred to as the Civil Rights District. Having started in the 1920’s by a pastor who was a transplant from California, the church initially had a profound impact in the community.
In addition to leading many people to Christ, they had a soup kitchen to help feed the poor, they had launched their own radio station and even opened a bible college. Incredibly, they had done this work in Birmingham with both white and black people. Imagine that for a minute – integrated ministry in Birmingham before the civil rights movement! God was clearly doing a beautiful work.
Then, in 1953, the founding pastor had some “friends” reach out to advise him he was about to encounter some really tough times with the a growing civil rights movement. They suggested someone with his talents and skills should consider taking his talents elsewhere…kinda like the pastoral version of when Lebron James took his to Miami. So off he went to another church far away from Birmingham.
Looking back on the history of the church, people say that it was like a spirit of fear came over him. Consequently, the same thing happened to the church. Whereas they had boldly ministered to both black and white people with great impact, the next couple of pastors and leaders gave into fear and eventually stopped trying altogether.
One Sunday morning, Martin Luther King and about 30 others from his movement showed up at the front door of the church. The pastor and others showed Dr. King and his friends their guns and told them they weren’t welcome.
That was a hinge moment. It was the defining moment when the people in the church openly and brazenly allowed the spirit of the age to be more compelling to them than the Spirit of Christ. For decades following this moment, the ministry suffered. Their weekly attendance dwindled from 1500 to 70, the building became dilapidated, and their witness in the community to both whites and blacks was lost. Everything measurable seemed to cry, “Ichabod!”
Then, in the mid 2000’s, a pastor came who had a heart to do ministry for God’s glory among all the people groups in the community. Slowly, things improved, but it just seemed to be such a grind that the pastor brought in an outside ministry to consult them to see what they could do to get over this invisible hump. The pastor and other leaders refused to accept that God was finished with this church.
Together, the church leaders and the para-church organization did a historic survey of the church and discovered the terrible event with Dr. King. They agreed that this was indeed a hinge moment. The departure of the pastor in 1953 had begun a downward trend, but that moment with Dr. King needed to be repented for thoroughly and publicly.
The pastor and leaders called for a solemn assembly and repented corporately for the church’s sinful past. Then they wrote an article that was published in the two leading papers in the city. The letter was an expression of open and heartfelt repentance. Additionally, they contacted individuals and businesses in order to make things right with them. They repented for allowing the spirit of fear to control the ministry. This repentance was another hinge moment.
Today they are once again doing effective ministry in their community. They minister in a way that glorifies Christ with all kinds of people. This no longer means just white and black people, but immigrants and refugees, as well as to members of the LGBTQ community. The church stands as an incredible testimony to the power of God and of repentance that time and space won’t allow for here.
The point of this post is this… hinge moments are those rare moments in life and ministry when things essentially change. Directions are changed. Moods and outlooks are different than they were before.
Hinge moments are real and they are sometimes necessary.
We are in a season right now where the greatest of all hinge moments is remembered – Christmas. Looking back on history, that moment changed everything.
Maybe you need to slowly study your your ministry for past hinge moments? Maybe its time for a new hinge moment?
What is true for ministry is also true for us as people. We all have hinge moments in our lives. Maybe we need some new ones?
If nothing else, thank God for the hinge moment of our Lord’s incarnation and our salvation.