December 31, 2007
Dear Katie and Luke:
Yesterday I had the privilege of preaching in a little country church about 30 minutes away from Parkville. I noticed on the "attendance board" that the previous Sunday they had 23 people in attendance, but I already knew it would be a small group because I'm guessing the sanctuary could only hold about 70 people shoulder to shoulder. By the time the service started, I think they probably equaled the previous week's attendance. I came away from that church reminded again of how good God was to give me those years at a "traditional" Southern Baptist church in Ohio. Now, when I go fill in for similar churches, I think I am much better prepared to understand their struggles and encourage them.
I do wonder, though, what might happen to churches like these. This is no exaggeration: The average age in attendance had to be about 68. There was not a young family in sight. The people were very warm toward me and several seemed very engaged in the preaching even as I spent about half of the sermon speaking about the sinfulness of man and the wrath of God. But what's going to happen to a church like this, a church that is struggling mightily to get a pastor, a church full of people who may not live much longer? Perhaps that local church, which dates back to Civil War days, will simply fade away and ultimately close its doors?
When I go into churches like this one, I find myself attached to the people very quickly. I want them to succeed, yet I sense apathy among many of the people in attendance, and I hurt for their souls. Many probably think they are saved because at some point in their lives they responded to a call to come to the front at the end of a sermon "to pray to receive Jesus," actions that are nowhere taught in Scripture and which have given thousands and thousands false assurance of salvation. I sense that the true believers really, really long for something authentic and eternal. They yearn for the powerful, Spirit-annointed preaching of the Bible. They desire someone to unashamedly preach the gospel, call people to repent and believe in Christ, and leave the man-made methods in the past. For these believers, I ache as well because many have endured years and years of preaching that is not really biblical and ultimately fails to proclaim the good news, they have sat through too many church "business" meetings that resulted in hurt feelings and unseemly splits, and they've been led by sheperds that failed miserably to protect the sheep from not only cultural darkness, but wolves sitting next to them in their favorite pew.
What do I do when I'm invited to these churches? I do what I know is their only hope: I preach the word to them, and specifically the Christ Scripture proclaims. The conversion of the lost is dependent upon "the living and enduring word of God" (1 Peter 1:23), and the quickest way I can show the believers in these churches that I love them and desire their best is to preach to them the Bible (see 2 Timothy 3:16-17). A firm handshake, a friendly smile, a listening ear, and a hug or two are all very important, but ultimately they need the Bible explained and applied to their hearts. And sometimes, like yesterday, a few people will stick around after the service to talk more about what God has to say to them and their church. Those are sweet times with dear people. I'm praying God will be pleased to bless what happened yesterday, and I'm praying that their next regular preacher will preach not himself, "but Christ Jesus as Lord" (2 Cor. 4:6). That is their only hope.
For Your Joy,