Thirteen years ago I became the pastor of a downtown church that had once been a major force in the community. At one time, 2,000 people filled its huge sanctuary on Sunday mornings. Young people from across the metropolitan area flocked to its midweek services, and the pastor's sermons were frequently printed in the newspaper.
But by the time I became pastor, only a few doors were open on Sundays for the parishioners to make their way to the worship space. Visitors were not expected. Outreach programs had long been abandoned.
During the week, the church building was home to a number of social service programs that served indigent senior citizens and street people. The programs probably did some good, but they were operated by an unsupervised and minimal staff. Public funds were misused, money was skimmed from the church endowment fund, and a black-market trade in government food was flourishing.