Back in the early to mid 1970’s, the bus ministry approach to evangelism and church growth was booming among churches of Christ. At this particular time, Florence, Alabama was the epicenter of what was going in this ministry (among churches of Christ). The Darby Drive church, was at this particular time, as successful as any church in our fellowship for the number of children, number of buses, and effectiveness in evangelism through buses. The evangelism workshop, hosted by International Bible College, was one of the largest gatherings of “lay” members wanting to learn about how to be soul-winners in our brotherhood. Alan Bryan had started a business called “Success Dynamics”, that specialized in items that were being effectively used in bus ministry. It was one of the most exciting times that I can remember in our fellowship, as far as evangelism and the potential for growth was concerned.
I know there were other times, like when our preacher (Bill Sherrill) came back from working in the New York “World’s Fair” — the excitement he instilled in our congregation an excitement for the impact that could be made in the world. There were other times, in the mid-60’s for example, when churches were having area-wide campaigns and baptizing great numbers. The church where I attended with my parents, had led the effort in two of these; using Jimmy Allen and Leon Sanderson, in 1964 and 1965 — and baptized over 100 in each of those meetings. But in my limited perspective, I had never experienced anything that was seeming to gain momentum “brotherhood wide” like the bus ministry did.
Because of the leadership in the Florence area, several preachers in the area were conducting workshops all over the country, dealing with the subjects of evangelism, soul-winning, and bus ministry. One that was involved in those efforts was the preacher at the Darby Drive church, and my next door neighbor, Albert Hill. Albert was the one, that got me my first preaching appointment in the area, preaching one Sunday at the Gaines Street church of Christ in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee. He was very encouraging and supportive of me, and my efforts as a student at IBC. Because of that, I was not surprised when he called me and asked me to go with him to a Bus Ministry Workshop at the Sylvan Hills church of Christ in North Little Rock, Arkansas. We would go over on a Friday morning, the workshop would be Friday evening and Saturday morning, and we would come home Saturday afternoon.
As we were driving through north Mississippi, we passed two small churches of Christ that were not a 1/2 mile apart, and the only thing between them was one house. It was apparent that this really bothered Albert, and about a mile down the road, he turned around and went back and pulled into the driveway of the house. As he got out of the car, he motioned for me to come with him, and we went to the house and knocked on the door. When a man answered the door, and after introductions, Albert explained that we had noticed the two churches; and wondered if he could tell us why there were two. I will never forget the man telling that the people in the two churches could not get along, so the one church there had split and become two. Albert thanked him for his time, and then asked if he went to one of the churches. The man said no, he didn’t; that he could not along with either group, so he went to the church over in the neighboring town. Well, as you might imagine, that incident became a somewhat focal point of what Albert talked about that weekend. His conclusion was that some of our brethren would rather fight than fish.
I was reminded of that story this morning, as I was reading a conversation that Jesus had with his disciples in Luke 9. Listen with me to their conversation:
An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.” (Luke 9:46-48, NIV)
This was an ongoing argument among the disciples, as they exhibited a very human characteristic — wanting to be recognized, and regarded as important. I’m sure that there were times that when Jesus heard them start; He just shook His head, and wondered if they were ever going to get it. In the New Testament, this argument didn’t stop with them. Think about how many times the writers stress learning to get along with each other. I know that it is framed with different language, like “submit to one another,” “consider others more important,” or “loves the preeminence;” but you can understand the emphasis behind the language.
It is still a very real problem today! It seems to me, based on my experience and what others have told me, that most problems in local churches begin because of a conflict of personality. The conflict usually has to do with leadership and authority, and from there a Biblical concept is found that they can argue about Now, I’m not saying that it is planned to happen that way, it is just the nature of the beast. I have preached at a church where the elders were divided, and were for a long time; until something came up, that galvanized the division. In the struggle for power, I was fired and rehired in the same meeting. As a young preacher, I sought advice from one of my mentors, and I will never forget him saying, “This won’t be the last time you see this happen.” It happened in Corinth, and it is still happening today.
Somewhere, along the way, we are going to have to learn what it means to be a servant. If we don’t, we will continue to fight more than we fish. Peace.