“A Committable Church #2”

Preston Sprinkle has written that the percentage of 18-29 year olds that say the have no religious affiliation, has gone from 10% to 39% in the last 30 years.   Many of those that grew up in a religious setting, and are leaving the religion of their parents behind.  In a 3-part series on his blog, entitled “Why Are Millenials Leaving the Church in Droves”, he lists three main reasons that they give for leaving the church of their youth:  authentic community, meaningful action, and intelligent and honest dialogue.  What Sprinkle deduced from that, and you probably latched on to also, is:  “It wasn’t the content of Christianity that they rejected, but the posture and form of the church.”  Let me put that in the language of an Arkansas redneck, they really don’t like the way that we “do” church.

So, the challenge comes to us, how can we “do” church differently, and not comprise the things that we believe are central to who we are?  How can we help our churches be the kind of churches that people are willing to commit to?  It is imperative that I same something right here.  I know that I am not asking people to commit to a church for salvation.  I understand that the commitment for salvation is a commitment to God through Jesus the Christ.  But if people are leaving Jesus, because of how the churches “do” religion; then I need to be concerned about being the kind of church that people WANT TO BE A PART OF!  That is the emphasis of being “a committable church”.

So, as we look at some things that I have adapted from the writing of Karl Vaters, there is a couple of things that we want to be sure and understand.

Look at these three passages of Scripture with me:

John 12:27-32 (ESV), “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.

Romans 1:16-17 (ESV), For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.

I Corinthians 15:1-7 (ESV), Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

We know what is important!  The thing that we really have to be sure of, is that we have not obscured what is important with too much emphasis on other things.  We need to know that we are not doing that now, and that if we make any changes – that those changes do not obscure what is the most important.

People’s commitment levels have changed.  Previous generations might put up with a flawed practice or product, because of their loyalty; as we have already noticed, that has changed.  So as we think about being “a committable church,” there are two questions that we want to ask, and try to answer.

Question #1 – What is there worth committing to?

 If we want to be a church that people want to be a part of, we have to be offering something that is worth committing to.  Scripture, still gives the answer to that question!

John 14:5 (ESV), Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Acts 2:36 (ESV), Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Acts 4:11-12 (ESV), This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

I want to share a quote from Karl Vaters, from his blog of February 3, 2017.  You tell me, if you agree with what he is saying.  I know some of the language doesn’t fit our model, but you will know what he means.

“Loyalty to a worship style, a building, a denomination or a pastor is a poor substitute for being committed to Jesus.  But, too often, one has been mistaken for the other.

 We need to stop asking people to commit things they don’t care about (and probably shouldn’t care about) and give them something and someone they want to care about.

 People want to be challenged.  Believers want to be disciples.  Everyone wants a cause worth living for, and a person worth dying for.

 Jesus is worth committing to.  Anything less, and you might as well stay in bed.

 Doing church better isn’t about serving people’s every whim and reinforcing the unbiblical, consumer-oriented church paradigm. …

 There’s nothing harder on a pastor than a congregation that’s more committed to methods, music and facilities than to Jesus.  Whether its older traditional ones, or new, trendy ones.

 On the other hand, nothing will encourage and energize our calling more than a church full of passionate, worshipful, ministry-oriented Jesus-followers.”

 Let me try to put that in a different language.  If people are coming to the church you attend, because you have the best preacher, the most active youth program, the most professional music problem, or the most fantastic facilities – more than they are because of Jesus – YOU HAVE A PROBLEM.  Because, the next church that comes along with better ___________ (you fill in the blank), those people will leave.  I have a friend that was preaching for a church that went deep in debt to build new facilities, and he was pressured to hit a “home run” every time he stepped in the pulpit, so the attendance and contribution would stay up.  In my limited experience, this is more of a problem now, than it ever has been before.

Question #2 – What do we want people to commit to?

 There seems to be some redundancy in that question, but let me see if I can make this point clear.  When we are asking people to commit to Jesus, how do we go about that as a church?  I’m not sure that the way that we have been doing that has been very effective (and I’m talking about me, more than anyone else).  Let me suggest 4 things that we want to stress to people, that we want all members of our congregation to be committed to.

1. Worshipping, loving, and obeying Jesus

2. Making & maintaining relationships with others  worshipping,  loving, obeying

  1. Making disciples of other people to worship, love, and obey Jesus.
  2. Doing ministry, as a representative of Jesus, to those that are in need

I have not come up with something new, and neither has Karl Vaters, and I’m sure that many of you are thinking that.  But, in the culture we now have, and the seeming competition between churches for members (or just those that attend) – some of these things may have been forgotten.  As a small church preacher, I have seen lots of people leave and go down the road “looking for something” that we weren’t giving them.  I’m sure that there were times that was true, and there may have been times when it was just an excuse.  What I need to be sure of, is that what we are feeding/giving people is something that God considers important enought to be a part of.  We can’t do what larger churches do, and we shouldn’t try to compete.  What we can do is be sure that we offer what Scripture says is most important; in a ways that is plain and obvious.

I had just planned on doing 2 blog posts about being a “committable” church, but there will be one more on Thursday (11-8).  The third, and last, post will be about “how” do we go about doing that.

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“What is Constant in Your Life?”

Several years ago, while on a sales trip to the eastern part of Tennessee. I was staying in a little hole-in-the-wall cheap motel, that was almost to Harriman, right off of I-40. It was either Wednesday or Thursday, but I had three appointments. The first one was back west to Cookeville, then I had to come back east to Crossville, and then I had to go back to Lexington (which was north of Cookeville). Well, they have the same problem with I-40 in Tennessee that we do in Arkansas — it is ALWAYS under construction. Well, after fighting the construction between Crossville and Cookeville one round trip in the morning, I decided there had to be a better way. So, I dug out my handy, dandy road atlas; and figured a way where I could go north out of Crossville, and then cut over to Lexington; and avoid all of the road construction.

Sounds good doesn’t it? Wrong! I didn’t pay attention to the terrain of that country, and it was up, down, and around. Now, I was raised in the hills of Arkansas and I have driven roads like the “Pig Trail” all my life — this was much worse than any of those. It was either straight up, straight down, or sideways. I really believe I could have sat in construction delays for an hour, and made it quicker to Lexington quicker than I did.

I thought of that road this morning, as I was reading through Psalm 31. Just listen to some of the things that the psalmist has to say:

“Be gracious to me, Lord,
because I am in distress;
my eyes are worn out from angry sorrow —
my whole being as well.
Indeed, my life is consumed with grief,
and my years with groaning;
my strength has failed
because of my sinfulness,
and my bones waste away.”

(Psalm 31:9-10, CSB)

As look back over my life, I grieve because of my mistakes, my weakness, and my sin. My spiritual life has been filled with ups and downs, twists and turns. There have been those great moments of spiritual highs, and the despair of spiritual lows — then, there are those times of just plain, old. lukewarmness. It makes me angry to think about all the time I wasted, that should have been filled with spiritual productivity for the Lord.

What I have found in my years of attempting to minister, is that I am not the only one that feels that way. That a lot of us have struggled with the periods of being up and down. We don’t understand “why” it is so difficult to live what we believe. Because of our shared struggle, this is our prayer for this day.

“But I trust in You, Lord;
I say, ‘You are my God.’
The course of my life is in Your power;
deliver me from the power of my enemies
and from my persecutors.
Show Your favor to Your servant;
save me by Your faithful love.”

(Psalm 31:14-16, CSB)

Doubt, weakness, and discouragement are my enemies and persecutors, and I need the Father’s help to navigate through those tough stretches. Let’s resolve to depend on the one constant that we have in our lives, the love that the Father has for us. Believing each day,

“May the Lord be praised,
for He has wonderfully shown His faithful love to me.”

(Psalm 31:21, CSB)

 

(This was first posted on Facebook, August 11, 2016.  It is being used here as a part of our “Psalms on Saturday” series.  It is my prayer that it will be a blessing to you, as we all struggle for consistency in our lives.  Bill)

“A Committable Church #1”

As one who follows college football recruiting, you hear the question quite often – “Does he have a committable offer?”  The meaning of the question reflects on the offers that universities extend to high school football players to attend their university.  Many of the college football programs will “offer” scholarships to 150 to 200 athletes, fully knowing that they can only sign about 25 in one of their yearly recruiting cycles.  The high school athlete has to know whether or not, he can “commit” to a particular university.  Is the offer that was extended to him, a “committable” offer. It is as if the football coach says (and may really say), we would you like to play football for us, but we have some players ahead of you on our list, so you cannot commit until we know what they are going to do.  I’m sure that is not a very popular practice with many of the student athletes, but that is the way that it done at the present time.

There are other times, when a college coach extends the offer of a scholarship, and it is not “committable”; because the student athlete has absolutely no intention of playing ball for that particular school, that coach, or in the location where the school is situated.  If the coach is to have any success at all, he will have to “sell” the school, the program, and himself to the student-athlete.  Often, the coach cannot do anything to change the mind of the student-athlete; as their mentality is “anywhere but there”.

Those student athletes that are being recruited, are the same age group as the young people that are leaving their religious traditions in “droves.”  In an article published by Religious New Service, called “Why Millenials are Really Leaving Religion”; data was shared that showed the age group between the ages of 18-29 that have NO religious affiliation has increased from 10% to 39% in the last 30 years.  This increase is not just in liberal denominations, or conservative groups, but across the spectrum in the religious world.  Churches, all kinds of churches, are going to be in dire straits if this rate increases (or just stays steady over the next few years). More than likely, you can look around in the church that you attend, and see a lot more gray hair than you did just a few years ago.

A little over 2 years ago, Preston Sprinkle wrote a series of 3 posts on his blog, entitled Why Are Millennials Leaving the Church in Droves? – in this series he had some thoughts that I wanted to share:

“However, I am struck by the reasons that millennials give for leaving the church.  They usually have something to do with the church not reflecting Jesus.  They wanted community.  They wanted substance.  They wanted older men and women to pour into them.  They wanted more depth, more Bible, more concern for injustice, the marginalized, and the poor.  Many millennials still love Jesus.  They want to engage in the radical mission of Christ, but found that church people are more concerned with potlucks, gossip, and constructing new buildings.”  (Part 2)

If I am reading that right, they are more interested in seeing a group of people live like Jesus, than they are in the doctrine they teach.  I am sure that some of my brethren are grabbing their pens, or their keyboards, and about to let me have it for not recognizing the importance of sound doctrine.  If I gave that impression, I’m sorry.  Wait a minute, maybe I am not sorry.  Because the point is, they are looking to see if what we believe Jesus teaches is worth committing to; and they only way that they know how to do that is by observing if we are committed to it.  In fact, Sprinkle goes on to say, in part 3:  “It wasn’t the content of Christianity that they rejected, but the posture and form of the church.” 

Sprinkle, in that same article, lists the three main reasons that millennials give for leaving the church of their youth:  authentic community, meaningful action, and intelligent and honest dialogue.  Let’s look at each one of those individually, for just a moment.

1. Authentic Community – People are looking for relationships, and according to  Sprinkle they are not finding them in their churches. Holly Allen and Christine Ross have written a book entitled Intergenerational Christian Formation, that has the very interesting subtitle “Bringing the Whole Church Together in Ministry, Community and Worship.” Has our age of Bible Classes, youth groups, and Children’s Church segregated our young people away from the church so much, that they no longer feel like they belong to the fellowship.  May that have something to do with them not being able to find “authentic community”.  As we wrestle with this concept, the words of Jesus come hauntingly off the page to us – A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.  (John 13:34-35, ESV

2. Meaningful Action – From what I have read, millennials want to be involved in some belief system that makes a difference, something more than just being sure that the Sunday morning service runs smoothly, and they feel those are the kind of things that the church needs to be doing, and that they want to be doing. Jesus did say, For was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. … And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:35-36, 40, ESV). Sprinkle quotes Packard and Hope, in their book Church Refugees, as saying … dechurched have experienced church as an organization that cares primarily for itself and its own members.

      3. Intelligent and Honest Dialogue – This is the one that I struggle with, because too often this comes across as a feeling of “I don’t agree with you on that, and you won’t listen.” Now, I realize that there has always been that feeling, I believe that I  had it when I was young. Part of “making disciples” is teaching them HOW to think, and not just WHAT to think.  This generation of millennials does not accept something, just because we tell them that have to.  We are going to need to teach with love and patience, and realize that they are approaching things from an entirely different perspective than we are.  If we immediately tell them they are wrong, and to listen as we tell them what they ought to think … well, I didn’t listen either, when I was their age.  They are going to have to be given the freedom to question, doubt, think, and study for themselves.  What better place should there be to do those things, than in a fellowship of faith?  There may be times that I am uncomfortable with the dialogue, may even get upset with what they are questioning; but if their faith is to be their own, they will have to go down those roads.

 This has not been an easy piece to write.  I know that there are people who may read this and think that I have lost my mind.  There are those who may think that I am willing to compromise the faith.  There are those who may think that I have lost my own faith.  I don’t believe that any of those are true, and pray that I know myself well enough to know that.  Our congregations are shrinking, and getting older. If we are going to attract people to the gospel of Jesus, particularly those that have been given the label of millenial, we are going to need to understand what their worldview is, and why they think the way they do.  If we do that, we may find that the answer that we have always given, and the way that we have given them – may not work anymore.  The gospel of Jesus is too important for me to allow my attitude to stand in the way.  What can I do, and what should we do; to make the doctrine of God, the church that belongs to Jesus, the way of salvation, and the life of faith attractive to people, particularly the generation that is walking out the back door faster than we can possibly imagine.

The post next Tuesday (11-6) will be part 2 of thoughts on “The Committable Church”.  It is my prayer that I will faithfully adapt some thoughts from Karl Vaters, that will fit the congregation where I preach, and the fellowship of faith that we are a part of.  Your prayers will be appreciated.

“Brand Loyalty”

(This post has found its inspiration in the writings of Karl Vaters, and in particular 2 or 3 things that he posted in February, 2017.  Much of what I have written has come from things that he has said, as I have tried to adapt them to church where I preach, and the fellowship of faith that we are a part of.  His writings have been a real blessing to me, as I have expressed many times here and other places.)

When I was about 5 years old, we moved from Little Rock, Arkansas to Fort Smith, Arkansas.  Our new home was a duplex on Grand Avenue, and it was not the busiest street in Fort Smith – but it was one of the busier.  This was in the mid-1950’s, when everyone still had a porch and enjoyed sitting on the porch in the late afternoons.  One of the things that I remember from that time; was that I could almost name every make car that came by, and most of the time would know the model.  Obviously, it was a lot easier then, because there were not that many auto manufacturers; so it was not that difficult to know which ones were which.

Another thing that I remember about that time, was that it was a time when you were loyal to a particular brand (car, food, grocery store, trading stamp, etc.).  My dad taught me that if you bought Ford trucks and Chevrolet cars, you would never go wrong with your vehicles – and that’s what we did!  Then the Germans and the Japanese started sending their vehicles to America in huge numbers.  The cry then became that we needed to by American, and we did for a while.  My generation was not as likely to buy an American car, when the import was cheaper, more reliable, economical to operate, and looked better.  Detroit thought the American people would keep buying the American made car, so that kept making the same cars; that were big, expensive, inefficient, and (often) ugly.  The result of their arrogance was that they lost a massive share of the market, nearly killing industry.  They were relying on “brand loyalty”, instead of doing their job better.  People are still loyal to some degree, as long as they continue to work properly.  Like at my house, we are sold on Samsung appliances and electronics – and we really don’t have a reason to change.

But “brand loyalty is a fading concept for most people, but businesses are smarter now than they used to be.  Every time you go to a WalMart, and you see that they are changing things around, you should realize that they believe that the market is changing, and they are adjusting to be ready for that change.  WalMart and Apple understand, that they have to change or they will die.  If you don’t believe that, look around for a Blackberry, a K Mart, or a Sears.

The point that I want to make is that our kids aren’t going “to church”, just because that is where we took them.  If they are going to church, they may not be going to the “brand” that we took them.  I can’t tell you all the reasons why that might be, but I can tell you that are pretty good guesses: (1) we didn’t mentor or model the Christian lifestyle in front of them very effectively; (2) we didn’t teach them the doctrine in a way that they would listen; or, (3) they decided the things that we were stressing were not that important to them.  Whatever the reason, if they are going to a “church” other than the one that you “brought them up” in – they are going somewhere that works for them in their life.

Look with me at a passage of Scripture, and recognize that Jesus is talking to crowds that were following Him.

He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A shower is coming.’ And so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat,’ and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time? (Luke 12:54-56, ESV)

Obviously, Jesus thinks they ought to be able to see by what is happening around them, that He is the Messiah AND THEY ARE MISSING IT!  Would He look at us today, shake His head and say “You are missing all the signs about what is happening, and you ought to know what to look for!”

For years I have wondered “why” people don’t go to “church” on Sunday morning, don’t they know that they are supposed to.  Karl Vaters. In one slap upside my head, opened my eyes to the truth of the matter – People who don’t go to church, don’t want to go to church!  They don’t roll out of bed on Sunday morning, thinking I wish there was somewhere more churchy we could go than the deer woods (or the lake, or the mall, or the ball game, etc.)  If the truth were really told, there are probably a lot of people who do go to church, who really don’t want to go.  That’s why they don’t go, whenever they can find an excuse not to.  I have never not gone to Sunday morning services, so I find it very difficult to reason like that – but I believe that people do.

Another thing, if those people who don’t go to church services were to decide that they wanted to, they probably would not be interested in doing it the way that we do it.  Now, I’m not just talking about where I preach, or the fellowship of churches that we are a part of – I’m talking about most “religions” in general.  We live in a generation of consumer-oriented consumption – it’s all about ME!  They are looking for something that they think is good for them, and they may not give me time to explain why we do things the way that we do.

If we are going to attract people, unchurched people, we probably won’t be able to do things the way that we have always done them.  Now, I know, that some of you read that statement, and are thinking”  “I KNEW IT!  Bill’s one of them change-agents, trying to take away the distinctive things that we have always believed in and practiced.”  Not necessarily.  What I am saying is that we have done things so long, that we are in a rut (rut = a grave open at both ends), and have become comfortable with who we are and what we do.  What’s the old saying, “Insanity is to keep doing the same things over and over, and expect a different result!” 

What I am saying, is that if people wanted to practice their faith in the way that we do, they would already be here.  So, what we have to do is: (1) model faith in front of them, because they will read us, before they read the Bible; (2) show and teach them that practicing that faith, is more than just what we do in the building; and, (3) we have to be a fellowship of faith that they want to commit to.

I realize that I am a small church preacher, in a small town, and that we struggle trying to be a healthy church.  I realize that I don’t have all the answers, and that this small church has had it series of going up and down.  I’m sure that some of you have read this blog post, and wondered “Who does he think he is, trying to give answers to questions that he is not doing a very good job of answering or solving?”  You know how I know some of you are thinking that, because I am thinking that as I type it!  Writing this is therapy and motivation for me, and I hope and pray that it helps you.

Thursday’s post (11-1-18) is going to be “A Committable Church,” and again it finds its inspiration in the writings of Karl Vaters.

“Reflections”

(This article was first written, and posted on Facebook, August 9. 2016.  It was written the day after I learned that a good friend had passed away.  That morning as I was reading in the Psalms, my mind was on him and his family; and what his passing ought to mean to all those that are affected .  We are using this post as a part of our “Psalms for Saturday“, and hope that it is a blessing to you.  Bill)

42 years ago this summer, I moved out of an apartment that I shared with Jerry Edwards and Randy Smith, and into a 3 bedroom church parsonage. I was hired as the local preacher for the Cedar Grove church of Christ, on Snake Road just outside of Rogersville, Alabama.  They had reservations about hiring a single man as their preacher, and they should have! I wasn’t ready! Oh, I had the talent to stand up on Sunday morning and preach a sermon; but I didn’t have the faith, maturity, or the discipline to be God’s man for them. Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe that we accomplished some good things there, and we influenced some people for the Lord; but, at times, it was in spite of me.

There were some men in that church that took me under their wing, and help me grow and mature — as a preacher, and as a man. Men like Harold Wilbanks, Mahlon Graham, Bryce Romine, Dan Holland, Donald Spry, O’neal McLemore, Doyce McLemore, Joe Romine, Noble Holland, and others that I could list. They helped me to stay somewhat focused on what needed to be done, and forgiving me when I messed up.

Last night, right before bedtime, I learned that one man of that congregation that had impacted my life, Harvard Romine, had passed away. Harvard was one of the hardest working men that I have ever known, and he instilled that work ethic in all of his children. There was about a year there that he could have probably claimed me as a deduction on his taxes, as his family fed me quite often. I really think that was because his wife, Marie, liked me more than he did. Harvard was an outstanding song leader, and could always be counted on to be the voice of reason in a business meeting.

This morning as I was reading in the Psalms, this family was on my mind. I believe that he is the last of Poppa Joe’s and Ms Irene’s children; and Marie had passed away several years ago. So, he has been the patriarch to this family of children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. There will be a gaping hole at the top of the family tree, and they will struggle with it.

There was a couple of verses that “popped” out at me this morning, as I thought about the Romine family.

Lord, I turn my hope to You.” (Psalm 25:1, CSB)

When we hurt like this, we lean on God more than ever before. As death’s dark valley is everywhere around us, fear begins to build, and the only confidence that we can have; is that it is all in God’s hands. It’s not that we have not trusted and hoped in the Lord before, but that hope is more real at times like these.

Turn to me and be gracious to me,
for I am alone and afflicted.” (Psalm 25:16, CSB)

Even though we can be surrounded by our family, we will feel more alone than ever before. We are asking, Lord, that you make your presence know to Eldon, Brenda, and David (Harvard’s children), that your love may be very obvious to them. Help their family, and their church family, to love and support them as never before. Because the truth of the matter is, that none of us could make it without that.

I shared with one of the granddaughter’s last night, the words to a song — “knowing what I know about heaven”, there’s no way I could ask for you to come back. We look forward to a reunion that will be a blessing for all. My prayers will be with the Romine family today, and for the days ahead. Peace.

“The Future of the Small Church #2”

If one stops and examines our society in the United States, they will readily observe that habits, practices, and culture is changing rapidly. I didn’t document the statement, but I remember hearing a preacher (one that I respected greatly) make the statement; you could take a man from the days of Abraham and place him the late 1800’s, and he would survive better than a man from the late 1800’s would survive now.  I don’t know how true that is, but I can grasp the truth behind the statement.  In our last entry on this blog site, we talked about some of the changes taking place in the business world (retail and banking), and how people are adapting to the constant change.

People will adapt to their circumstances, and make whatever changes are necessary to survive.  Obviously, we are seeing that same principle in the business world.  What about the church?  Are we going to fight change?  Or we will look to the future, and be the presence of God in our country, and in the world, for the next 200 years (if the Lord allows it stand for that long)?

Have you thought about what the church of the future will look like?  Amos once said, …I am not a prophet, nor am I the son of a prophet; … (Amos 7:12, NASB); and let me assure you that neither am I.  But when I look at the drastic changes happening, I have to believe that they will affect the way that the church attempts to survive, and  influence their surrounding communities.

If retail businesses and banks are moving away from a brick and mortar approach, what makes us think the church can continue to use that approach and succeed?  There are those that study these things, and I’m just a preacher for a small church in a small town, but I have lots of questions; and even more opinions.

With the direction that culture seems to be moving, I wonder if the big, elaborate churches, with all the programs and  productions, will become more common place, or will their be more smaller intimate gatherings.  Churches will gather and meet: are they going to be in brick and mortar structures, or will they be houses and storefronts?  I do have the opinion that if the mega-church model survives, there will be very little loyalty to any particular church.  As churches move toward being consumer oriented, whatever attracted an individual to one particular group, will attract them to the next one that does it better.  If the staging and production become the most important part of the service, then the next church that does it better will become THE place to be.  If the distinctiveness of the Bible message did not become part of their reason for being there, the staging and production of someone else will attract them.  (NOTE:  I realize again that I’m talking about something that I know very little about, but I have seen people that I know move from church to church; because it was “what they needed”.  I’m not trying to indict any church, or preacher, or doctrine; just making observations about where I think things are headed).

At the same time, I believe that small churches are going to have to examine where they are and what they are doing, if they want to have a future in the work of the Lord.  We cannot just open our doors, and expect people to come – without realizing that there has to be more than an open door.  Sears, Kmart, and many others are feeling the result of failing to see what was happening.  Small churches need to examine all that they do, see what they do best; and become great at that!  Change is going to happen, and the small church is going to have be prepared and ready for it.

This is going to be extremely difficult for small churches, because we don’t like change.  You know why we don’t like change?  Because most small churches are made up of older people, who have been resistant to change about everything else – and they are going to resist here!  What is the physical appearance of the church going to be like?  I don’t know.  But we had better be observant, and be ready to adapt and change (Walmart), or we are going to die (Sears).

But let me suggest one area where we need to be aware of the need to change and adapt.  We are going to have change some of our assumptions.  When I say that, and explain what I mean, please be sure to know that I am not for changing truth.  BUT, I may be for changing the way that we present it and explain it.

     1. We are going to have to understand that not everyone knows anything about the Bible. This was brought home to me, when my granddaughter was explaining to a friend of hers what she did at a Bible class, and the other girl did not know who Jesus was! I remember when I started at International Bible College in Florence, Alabama; the school president, Charles Coil, had just returned from a trip to Thailand.  We heard the stories of his trip, and all that he had seen and heard.  He talked about a young boy selling “lighted” yo-yos on the streets of Bangkok, with billboards advertising Coke, Elvis, etc. – and when he was asked if he knew who Jesus was, he didn’t.  I live in Prairie Grove, Arkansas; almost the buckle of the Bible Belt, and we have children growing up here, that don’t know who Jesus is!  No longer can we go to the pulpit, and begin a sermon by saying “We all know the story about …”; because many of them probably don’t.

      2. We will have to see that not everyone understands the reality of sin. Often we are seen as being narrow-minded, and not accepting of people and the way they are. Often it is our own children that view us in that way.  To expect people to accept our statement of “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it”, probably is like believing a fairy tale.  It seems as if the predominant  attitude is almost like that of Pharoah, when he said Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice … I do not know the Lord… (Exodus 5:2, ESV).  In spite of all the copies that Rick Warren has sold of The Purpose Driven Life, most people still believe that it is all about them.  Somehow, we are going to have to convince them that Godly living is best for them.

     3. We will have to know that not everyone knows they need to be saved. This ought to be obvious, if one doesn’t grasp the reality of sin; they are not going to know that they need to be saved. There is no compelling reason to search for salvation.  “What must I do to be saved …” is almost a non-existent question in our society, and will become even more so in the future.  It seems as if salvation terminology has less and less meaning every year.

     4. We will have to realize that most people do not believe that salvation is through Jesus Christ alone. This will be extremely difficult, because there are a lot of people that just want to add Jesus to what they are already doing. They believe there are a lot of ways to practice religion, and his way is just one of many.  This is a battle that we are going to have to fight.  There are things that can change, and some things that should change, but this can never change.  When we preach and teach John 14:6 and Acts 4:12, there are those that will not want to hear it.  There may even be people in our church pews that are not fully convinced of this.  But it is something that we can not back up on.  We must convince them that there is salvation in no other name under heaven.

I wish that I were smart enough to know what is going to happen in the future.  I do believe that we are going to continue to see radical changes in the way people live and interact with each other, and that will affect the way that Christianity is practiced.  I do believe that we are going to have be aware of the assumptions that we have made for so long (particularly those of us who have always been in the south), and rethink our language for preaching and teaching.  I do believe that to demonstrate that we are God’s people, we are going to have to love God (Matthew 23:37-38) and love each other (John 13:34-35).  How we live that out, may determine the future of the church – whether it is the mega-church, the small church, or the house church.

“The Future of the Small Church #1”

If you preach for a small church, you may have had those nights like I have had; where you lay in bed wondering what the future is going to bring for the congregation that you serve.  In your mind, you rewind the statistics of the last few weeks/months/years, remember the average age of the individuals in the congregation; and then wonder, is there even going to be a congregation in your community in the future.  That is a very unsettling thought for anyone to contemplate, especially the preacher for that congregation.  But I have been there, had those thoughts, and despaired for the future of our congregation.

But after a couple of years of filling myself with the material of Karl Vaters (blogs and books), and other like minded individuals, I am convinced that there is nothing to worry about concerning the future of small churches.  This material has been gleaned from several sources, and been placed in some sort of order (and may not be a good one); and I’m really not sure that I can tell you exactly where any of it came from.  Regardless, I’m not worried about the future of the small church!  That may sound strange, in light of the September (2018) issue article of The Christian Chronicle.  The lead story is about the Kress, Texas congregation, that in the late 1980’s averaged 180 in their Sunday morning service.  Now, the Sunday morning attendance is around 7.  That’s not a typo – their average is in the single digits.  The question that comprised the bulk of the “Chronicle” article is, “Can the congregations of the churches of Christ be saved.”  Lot’s of small churches seem to be fighting a losing battle, especially those in small towns that are fighting this same battle.

But as strange as it may sound, I am not too worried about the future of God’s people.  I know that they seems to run contrary to the “numbers” that we see, and the evidence that seems to be in front of us.  But I am convinced that the small church can chose to be vibrant and healthy in the coming days.  It may never be large, and it may have to adapt to the circumstances that surround it – but it can survive!

We hear a lot of talk about a “post-Christian society and culture,” being the root of the demise of churches (and Christianity) in general.  I think we see the trend where people don’t identify with the Christian faith at all, and often express their religious preference as “none.”  I don’t believe that is as prevalent in the Bible Belt south (Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia – and may be a couple of others), but there are indications that it is moving that way.  But with the direction the country is heading; it is not a question of “if”, but “when” we will be able to recognize it in those states.

So why am I not worried about the future of churches, particularly small churches?  Let me give you a couple of reasons:

#1. I STILL BELIEVE IN GOD, A GOD WHO IS THERE, AND INTERACTS IN THE LIVES OF HIS PEOPLE:

      In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  (Genesis 1:1, ESV)

      …but there is a God in heaven … (Daniel 2:28, ESV)

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6, ESV)

#2. I STILL BELIEVE THESE TWO PASSAGES:

…”Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah!  For flesh and blood has not revealed this toYou, but my Father who is in heaven.  And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”  (Matthew 16:17-18, ESV)

so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.  (Ephesians 3:10, ESV)

Our God, the creator, is still in His heaven, and waiting to reward those who seek Him.  That’s why I don’t worry about the future of small churches, not because of who they are, but because of who He is.  Satan is going to throw everything that he has at God’s people, but Jesus is still on the side of His people – and they will prevail.  That church, built on the solid foundation of Jesus, will be evidence of the great God, who He is, and what He does!

The question is not will God still have a people, a church; the question is will we be a part of it?  That kind of question usually scares people, because they are not sure what you are saying.  I am convinced that the way that churches “do church” in the future (those that survive and new ones), will not be the way that we do church now.  I know that there are some who will read that statement, and it will scare them to death.  But give me just a minute to explain.  Most of what we have been doing the in the church has been this way for the last 200 years.  People would attend an assembly, meet other individuals, develop relationships, and sustain all of that inside the structure of a local church.  But that’s not the way that people live and operate any more.  Oh, there may be the exception, and we will be there for those exceptions; but, by and large, that is not what people are looking for any more.

Let me see if I can illustrate what I am saying from the business world.  I don’t know how many of you have looked for a job in the last few years, but it is nothing like it used to be.  45+ years ago, when I started in the job market, you would walk into a business, fill out an application, try to make a good impression (where you would get a first interview right then), and do your very best to sell yourself.  Twelve years ago was the last time I hunted for a job in the public sector, and everything has changed.  Businesses don’t want you to walk in.  They don’t want to see you, until you have filled out an application and sent a resume, electronically.  They will decide from that, if you are somebody they want to interview.  Another illustration would be the banking industry.  They are moving toward the point that you will never have to enter a bank to do business.  You will be able to make a deposit on line, apply and secure loans on line, and get all your questions answered online.  Of course, Amazon, has helped created a society where many people do all their shopping online.  It seems to me, that we are moving away from a brick and mortar society, to an online community.

So, let me give just one illustration how business are responding to this online community.  Since I live in Northwest Arkansas, there is one illustration that is taking place right in front of me.  In the last 50 years, there has been no business that has been more successful than Walmart.  They have grown to the be the largest retailer in the world, and I don’t know what all the other titles are that you can bestow on them.  Being in their position, they could have had the attitude “We are who we are, and we do what we do, and we don’t need to change” — like other big companies in the past have done.  But that’s not what they have done.  They have modified some of their basic core beliefs, and adapted to what the culture demands.  I never thought I would see the day when they would have a marketing program, that made it possible for (and even encouraged) people not to come to their buildings – but they have.  You can order your groceries online, drive up to the side of the building; they will have them pulled out, checked out, totaled, bagged, paid for on your debit card, load them into your car, AND YOU NEVER HAVE TO GO IN THE BUILDING, OR EVEN GET OUT OF YOUR CAR!  NO shopping for new products, NO seeing the newest displays to lure your dollars, NO IMPULSE BUYING!  Their stores have always been arranged, displayed, and stocked to create the impulse for you to buy.  I cannot believe that they are moving away from that.

On a personal level, people are changing and adapting.  In my own life, I fought having to carry a cell phone.  Then I tried every way in the world to not have to text, and I sure didn’t want a smart phone.  But now I do all of that, and try to maintain an online presence relating to what I do as a minister.

So, if individuals and businesses, are adapting and changing to this new society; what makes us think that churches won’t. or don’t need to?  Years ago, Franklin Camp wrote two books of sermons entitled Old Truths in New Robes (volumes I and II), and I know he was not talking about what I am talking about, but the principle is still true.  Churches are going to have to change and adapt to survive.  I am convinced that if we don’t, we may not survive.  God will have a people, but it may not be our churches (as we know them now).

The next post on this blog will be “The Future of the Small Church #2”, and it will be concerning “what will the church of the future look like”.

“I Am a Small Church Preacher #4”

Please read the following two passages of Scripture carefully, and reason for yourself what they have to say about the small church.

“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  (Matthew 16:13-19, ESV)

“To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.  (Ephesians 3:8-13, ESV)

That first passages teaches that Jesus was going to build His church on the truth that He was the Son of God, and that foundation was solid as a rock; and not even the gates of hell would stop Him.  While the second passage says that through that church the manifold wisdom of God would be made known to the world.  I still believe those two truths, and that every church that is seeking after God, and seeking to be what God wants it to be, those two truths are still true!

Besides that:

A church does not have to be big, for those truths to be true!

A church does not have to be small, for those truth to be true!

A church does not have to have a mission statement, for those truth to be true!

A church does not have to have great singing, or a praise team, for those truths to be true!

A church does not need suits and dresses, for those truths to be true!

A church does not need to dress casually, for those truths to be true!

A church does not need a website, for those truths to be true!

A church does not even need a building, for those truths to be true!

A church does not even need a preacher, for those truths to be true!

THEY ARE TRUE, BECAUSE GOD SAID THEY WERE TRUE!

Generally speaking, we have a hard time accepting those concepts to be right, because we have a whole bunch of preconceived ideas about what it takes for a church to successful – to be effective, to be great, and to be what God wants it to be.  If you preach for a small church, or just attend a small church; you have this little voice in the back of your mind, telling you, or your church, cannot be great – because you’re small.  We know that is true, because no one ever makes a list of the “10 Greatest Small Churches in America”.  You never hear anyone use the words “great” and “small” in the same sentence, when they are talking about a church.

What I want to do in this blog entry, is try and convince you to change your emphasis about what it takes to be a great church.  To change that emphasis from numbers, to HEALTHY.  Please understand, I am not saying that small churches don’t want more people, they do.  What I we need to recognize, in my opinion, is that numbers are not the measuring stick!  Do you remember our last, where we talked about “Bigger does not always mean better.”  There are big churches that are unhealthy, just as there are small churches that are unhealthy.  There are healthy small churches, and big churches that are healthy.  You see, numbers do not decide if a church is healthy.  Philadelphia was a healthy church, even though they had little power (Revelation 3:7-12).

What I want to do, is give you the three essentials elements of a healthy church.

  1. It is a church with people who are madly in love with God through Jesus Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. (Matthew 22:37-38)
  2. It is a church where the people genuinely love each otherA new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
  3. It is a church that makes disciples — Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

I’m not going to go into a lot of depth on those three passages, although I could.  In my mind, those three passages lay out the structure of a healthy church.  A healthy church could have a 100 people, or it could have a 1000 people.  It is the actions and attitude of those people that determine the health of the church – not how many of them there are!

“I Am A Small Church Preacher #3”

Look at this list of names, and as soon as you recognize who they are, hold up your hand.  Wait a minute!  That won’t work.  So, pat yourself on the back and say “Good Job”!  So here are the names:

Shammua

Shaphat

Igal

Palti

Gaddiel

Gaddi

Ammiel

Serhur

Nahbi

Geuel

Caleb

Joshua

If you are like most everyone else, you figured it out about the last two names.  Caleb and Joshua give away that this is the story from Numbers 13, of the 12 spies that were sent into the Promised Land.  There is a verse in that chapter that explains “why” the 10 thought they could not take the land.  It reads this way, And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them. (Numbers 13:33, ESV).  Karl Vaters says that they were infected with “the grasshopper complex”.  He says that small churches allow themselves to be infected with the same thing.  In fact, he believes it so strongly that he has a book out by that name.

We (speaking of myself, and others in small churches) allow ourselves to be controlled by a “small church complex”.  Because we are small, we think that we don’t matter, and often feel that we are failures in what God wants us to be.  We become convinced that we will always be that way, until we grow to the point that we are no longer considered “small.”  In the first two posts of this series, we attempted to establish the fact that in the New Testament, there are churches of all sizes.  In fact, one of the churches that Jesus spoke most highly of was, more than likely, a small church (Revelation 3:7-13).  I want you to consider that when we are talking about churches (or a lot of other things), bigger does not always mean better.

I am not much of a fan of “reality” television, but there are a few on the Food Network that I thoroughly enjoy.  One of those is a show that is hosted by Robert Irvine, called Restaurant Impossible.  I’m not quite sure how they do it, but they find restaurants that are on the verge of going under; and Irvine goes and attempts to do the impossible – gives these dying restaurants a second chance.  He goes to the restaurant with a time frame of 48 hours, and a budget of $10,000; and the monumental task of turning that restaurant around.  There is one thing that I have noticed that he never does.  He NEVER tells them that they need to expand their menu, or knock out some walls and create more seating.  90% of the time, it seems as if he wants them to figure out what they do best – and then really work on that, and do it great!  Sounds like a really good game plan for a small church, don’t you think.  The Prairie Grove church of Christ, that has a Sunday morning average attendance of 85; can’t do what the church of 1,000, on the other side of  town, does.  You know what else?  We don’t need to try!!!

All of us that are preaching, or have preached, for small churches have gone to the “Church Growth Seminar” at the mega-church – and then come home and tried to force feed their programs into our small church.  It’s not going to work.  We need to find what we do, what we’re best at, and then do it really well.

There are some things that we as a small church can offer, that the big church can’t.  We need to find out if we do them well, and then do them great.  For example, in the small church you are not just someone filling a seat, or a small piece in a big puzzle; you are somebody that is known and matter.  People need to feel as if they matter, that they are really important – AND IN A SMALL CHURCH EVERY MEMBER IS!  This does not just automatically happen in a small church, the elders and preach have to work at it on a regular basis. When Ephesians 4:11-12 says, and he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Chris, … — there is nowhere that is more necessary than in a small church.  Because in a small church, every member has to work in ministry for it to get done.

Let me give a couple of illustrations that are uniquely inherent in a small church, that helps incorporate every member into the body life and ministry of that church.  First, an empty seat is not just a number, or a space that is left vacant; it is Brother and Sister Jones that are not there on that day.  Sunday, September 16th, I taught the Bible Class and preached for the North Main church in Winters, Texas; and I taught some of the same material in the Bible Class that I am writing about today.  It has been 30 years since I preached for that church, but during one part of the class I walked around the auditorium and pointed at places on the pews and talked about who sat there 30-35 years ago.  We have the opportunity, in ways that big churches can only wish for, to make people feel as if they matter and they are a part of what is going on.  Next, we need everyone to know that they are cared for, and prayed for.  Every time our elders meet, they have a “roster” of all the members, and they spend about 45 minutes to an hour, talking about and praying for the people that are listed.  They don’t have to ask who they are, they know THEM, and try to talk to them on a regular basis.  Finally, in a small church you can eat together.  That may sound like something really insignificant – but our monthly times of table fellowship are really important.  It provides the opportunity for people to get to know each other on a more personal level. Can you imagine the logistics of trying to feed and seat a church of 800 to a 1000.  These are advantages that the small church has, in working to make every member feel important, and as if they matter. Rick Warren once wrote, People are not looking for a friendly church, they are looking for friends.  Small churches offer the opportunity to do that, if they will.  You don’t have to come to a small church very often, until everyone knows your name.

I wish that I could tell you that the Prairie Grove church succeeds at all of these on a regular basis, but we don’t.  We try.  We struggle to do what we do, the very best that it can be done.  But it is something that we have to continually work at.  Praying, and asking God to increase our faith, that we may be the kind of church that pleases Him.

So what do we need to do?  Let me suggest two things:

(1) We need to quit judging ourselves by numbers!  Now we love big churches, and all the Christians that attend together.  That’s just not who we are.  Being a big church does not mean that they are a good church, or a better church.  A small church is not guaranteed to be a God-pleasing church.  They can both be good, or bad.  They are different, but they can both be what God wants them to be.

(2) We need to accept what we are – a small church.  But we need to know that we can a great small church; and once we know that, we should never settle for less.

When we have done that, we need to know that we are a HEALTHY church!  That’s what the next (and last) entry in this series will be about.

(I’m sorry to be so late in getting this posted today, but it has been a really busy day.  I’ve been try to coordinate an effort to get a truck, get the supplies to load that truck, and find the drivers to take the truck to Panama City Beach, Florida.  I would ask that all that read this blog, pray that our efforts will be successful and our trip safe.)

“God, Government, and Me”

I remember a simple time. When letting people know that you believed in God, were a professing and practicing Christian, and went to church regularly was not a big deal. Businesses did not open on Sunday, and ball teams did not practice or play games on Wednesday nights. It was a time when many of the laws reflected the values of our Judeo-Christian heritage. Now, notice, I didn’t say that it was any easier to be a Christian, just easier to let people know that we were attempting to practice the Christian faith.

It is my opinion that, we, as Christians, became complacent and didn’t think anything would ever change. We thought that America was a “Christian” nation, God wanted it to be that way, and it would always would be just that. What we forgot was that our forefathers believed in freedom, all kinds of freedom; and they guaranteed those freedoms. As a part of that guarantee, they separated the church and the state.

Many of the early settlers in the colonies, came to get away from the state telling the church what to do! In Europe, most of the countries, had a state “sanctioned” and “approved” religion. They made it difficult for any other religion to exist, especially as the Protestant reformation got into full swing. In order to practice their religion freely, many of those believers traveled across the ocean to the colonies.

The problem became in America, the church started telling the state what to do. With laws written to guarantee the freedom of individuals, it was inevitable that eventually a push back against the church would happen. Of course, the church didn’t help itself with some of the unloving, and unChristlike, teachings and actions it manifested.

It is my opinion, that we have reached a point where the state is attempting to tell the church what it can believe, and how it must practice what it believes. There are some things in Psalm 2 that I believe could help us during this time.

“The kings of the earth take their stand
and the rulers conspire together
against the Lord and His Anointed One;
‘Let us tear off their chains
and free ourselves from their restraints’.”

(Psalm 2:2-3, CSB)

It used to be said that the state cannot legislate morality, but the truth of the matter is that the state is NOT going to even try. In fact, it is going to legislate that things that are immoral are legal. With the freedoms that our system of government provides — they are legal. Our forefathers would be amazed what people do, publicly, now. Government is running full steam ahead to throw off anything they perceive to be “chains” of the Christian religion.

“The One enthroned in heaven laughs; …”
(Psalm 2:4, CSB)

This is not the first time that kings and governments have tried to legislate God out of the picture. God laughs at their notions, but what do we do?

“I will declare the Lord’s decree; …
(Psalm 2:7, CSB)

“Serve the Lord with reverential awe,
and rejoice with trembling.”

(Psalm 2:11, CSB)

…All those who take refuge in Him are happy.”
(Psalm 2:12).

We have supported, and sent missionaries to countries for years that are controlled by ungodly governments. If we believe that they can make disciples there, we can practice Christianity here. We may need to quit fooling ourselves, that we can elect officials that will make it easy

(I first posted this on Facebook on August 4, 2016.  Things have not changed much, we still see those who think that we can elect officials that will turn America back to God — it is not going to happen that way, if it happens.  I am glad to put this on this blog as a part of our “Psalms on Saturday”, and I pray that it is a blessing to you.  Bill)