Posted tagged ‘missions’

Believing A Small Church Is Worth the Effort

October 15, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            October 15, 2017

 

Yesterday twenty five people descended on an aging church building in a town of five hundred people to be a help. Bill Hale, nine days my junior but years ahead of me in wisdom and craftsmanship, developed the idea along with our area denominational staff person, Mike Oldham.

The idea was to invite a few churches and individuals to come to Simla, a small town on Highway 24 that you would have no reason to go to if you weren’t heading someplace past it, and provide some labor for a few hours that would allow the church to get a few needed projects completed.

The First Baptist Church of Simla is a congregation of about twenty dear people. Bill Hale, Ed Stucky, and myself have been sharing pulpit responsibilities there for the last year and a half or so. They do not have a pastor, although they do have a parsonage right next door to the church.

The group of servers came from Pueblo, Greeley, Colorado Springs, San Antonio, Texas, and, of course, Simla! They ranged in age from four to seventy-four. One man, who owns a company in Colorado Springs, brought his “bucket truck” that allowed limbs and branches from the trees in front of the church that are about as old as sarcasm to be cut back. The carpet in the sanctuary was shampooed, the church sign was touched up with paint. There was painting done to the outside of the building after a power washing was done, and the wood frames of the stained glass windows got a needed fixing up. Sidewalks got edged, weeds got pulled, and the lawn got mowed and trimmed. Massive efforts that meant so much to the people of the church.

What I’ve learned from Simla is that small churches are worth the effort. For me Simla has become my home church. Most Sundays when I’m not speaking there I still travel the forty-five minutes east of Colorado Springs to worship with the “salt of Simla.” Small churches have a purpose. It may not revolve around budgets, staff, and packing the sanctuary, but they have a purpose. The Simla Saints have started doing community ministry efforts with the United Methodist Church a block down the street. They’ve even had discussions about how the three churches in town might have occasional worship services together, interchanging the pastors as the speakers. This past summer they made a good-sized contribution for the beginning expenses of a missionary family who had already been commissioned  by the American Baptist Churches to go to Chiapas, Mexico, but were trying to raise the last few thousand dollars that were needed as seed money. The Simla Saints gave the contribution and also started supporting the missionary family on a monthly basis.

They will never be a mega-church. They wouldn’t know how to handle that. The town of Simla has shrunk by two-thirds in the last twenty years. Mega-churches rarely happen in villages of diminishing size located between here and nowhere. Every week, however, fifteen to twenty people gather in the sanctuary of this church. They don’t whine about their size. Size does not effect the purpose or change the mission. Their purpose is to be Light in a community that struggles to keep on going.

Too many churches are trying to be great! Churches already have the greatest story to share. Sometimes it seems a congregation is trying to be greater than the story!

Simla is a love story of hope that tells of God’s love story. Call me simple, but when I retired from the ministry that’s what I was looking for…and it causes me to keep on keeping on!

No Grow and No Go

May 7, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          May 7, 2017

                                     

Recently a pastor friend of mine was sharing his church’s “simplified plan.” Our ministry support group of five people was sitting in a restaurant having lunch together. The noise and my aged hearing caused me to misinterpret what he was saying. His congregation’s simplified plan is “Know. Grow. Go.”

I, however, heard him say “No grow and go!” I thought to myself, “That’s an unusual plan…no grow and no go!’ I asked for clarification and my friend corrected my understanding when I told him what I had heard. All five of us got a good chuckle out of it, but then I thought about it a bit more. “No Grow and No Go!” might better define many churches of various flavors around the country.

There are many reasons why a number of churches don’t desire to grow as disciples and go and make disciples of others. First of all, growing requires commitment to something and surrender of part of my agenda. “Growing” is a marathon race and the church is crowded with sprinters and jumpers. In sports there are “fair weather fans”, and in churches there are “fair weather attenders.”

Growing requires change and, whereas we are fluid in many areas of our lives when it comes to change, we are also entrenched in other ways. For example, I need a new pair of jeans but I love the pair I’ve been wearing for about a decade. The pocket that I’ve carried my wallet in has a hole in it that resembles a woodpecker’s carving. I’ve tried changing pockets, but then I feel like I walk funny. I’m considering the option of not carrying my wallet with me rather than buy a new pair of jeans that I have to get used to. That’s how we are in various areas of our lives. I drink my morning juice out of a certain plastic cup, but I drink my dinner milk from a glass. I write my blog from a certain stool at a certain Starbucks. To vary that always gives me the feeling that the quality of the writing has diminished…unless I’m visiting my dad in southern Ohio, and then it’s okay to write from the Starbucks across the river in Huntington, West Virginia.

On the other side of the equation are churches that have a hard time figuring out what that “growing” element looks like. Our recent history shows the jumping around of churches trying to nail the discipleship block. But growing followers of Christ is not easily contained in a program or a curriculum, and that’s a hard truth for many of us professional church leaders to admit. It’s not that programs and curriculums are bad or unnecessary, but rather that we often put all of our eggs in one basket and there’s, so to speak, a growing number of spiritual egg-haters!

Moving on to the “go” part we’re often unmovable! Jesus’ Great Commission too often is the great omission in congregations. To sum it up, most of a typical church’s budget goes for what happens inside the walls, and what is designated as the mission budget is what gets sent outside the walls to support people not from the church in mission work. When the budget gets evaluated each year the mission budget lies there like a clay pigeon ready to be shot at. Want proof? Just notice how many people in your church come to a potluck dinner, and compare that to how many people participate in a community service or ministry project!

“No grow and no go!” symbolizes the “standing firm congregation.” We’ve mis-translated that great hymn “On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand” a bit! Jesus didn’t intend for us to be stationary and anchored to what has always been, protective of our resources and unsympathetic towards a broken world around us.

Worship Visitor

December 5, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       December 5, 2016

                                         

Deacon John raised his voice. “Lord, we know you love us, and now we ask that you would guide us in these coming days. Lord, if it be your will, please give us a sign of encouragement! We’re few in number, but massive in hope. We praise you and thank you! In Jesus name! Amen!”

The scattered few echoed his closing word as they sat back down in the pews ready to hear the Word of God for that day. Friendship Bible Church had existed on the street corner in the small rural village for close to a hundred and fifty years, but it had been dying a slow death for the last fifty. The town had decreased, as had the church’s effective ministry in the community. Young people had been raised in the church, grown up, gone off the college or to serve in the military, and never returned.

But there was hope in the midst of the gathered twenty!

The guest speaker introduced herself. She had served as a medical missionary at a hospital in India, and was back in the area for a few months telling her stories of mission work.

“There was a little boy who arrived at the hospital one afternoon…alone…bloodied…and frightened. My nurses asked him questions trying to find out his name, where he had come from, and what had happened to him? All he would tell them was that his name was Bontha and that he had been beaten by someone. He was bleeding profusely from a deep cut on his arm. We suspected that the “someone” was related to him and he did not want to say who it was. We treated him, stitched up the cut, cleaned him up, prayed with him, and asked him how we could contact his family. He kept telling us no, he did not want his family to know. One of the nurses left him for a few moments to go get him something to eat. When she came back he was gone. We searched and searched but could not find him, and Bontha never came back.”

“Years later I was doing my rounds through the pediatric ward one afternoon and a young man came up to me. He said, “Dr. Jan!” I looked at him, not recognizing who he was. “My name is Bontha!” Suddenly I could see the little boy appearing through the young man’s face. He showed me his arm. “You stitched up my arm when I came here bleeding.”

“My Lord! Bontha, I will always remember that day.” The questions started flowing out of me. “How are you? What happened to you that day? Where did you go? What are you doing now?”

He smiled at me and said that when he left the hospital he did not know what to do and where to go. His father had been in a drunken rage and had beaten him fiercely. When his father stumbled for a moment he escaped from the house and ran away, but as he was jumping over a fence he caught his arm on a piece of metal sticking out of the top of it and tore the skin open. He knew that our hospital was close and people had talked about “the Jesus Doctor” who worked there, so he ran as quick as he could, blood flowing from his body, and made it to the hospital. When he left our hospital he knew of a little church a couple miles away where a man named Pastor John was, and so he went there and told him what had happened. Pastor John went to Botha’s home and confronted Bontha’s father, brought him to a point of complete remorse and repentance, and told him that despite the abuse he had inflicted on his son that God  still loved him. Pastor John took Bontha in for the next month until he believed Botha’s father was ready to have him back. In that time he shared the story of the gospel with both Bontha and his father, and how the son of God was beaten even though he had done no wrong. Both father and son accepted Jesus.”

There were “Amens” wrong most of the people. They were caught up in the story.

“But the story doesn’t end there,” continued Doctor Jan. “For you see when Bontha reappeared that day he told me he was a student in medical school. He was in training to become a doctor. He told me that his experience that dark day when he was so young left a lasting impression upon him. Every time he looked at his arm and saw the scar from that day he remembered the loving care of my nurses and my words of concern for him. It changed his life, and Pastor John, the pastor of a church about the size of this one, took him in and told him of the love of God.”

“I wept as I heard his words! It was a story of misery turned to hope, a life rescued from abuse and changed to promise. Just a couple of years ago Dr. Bontha joined my staff at the hospital. He is now the primary doctor in the pediatric ward. When the Lord tells me that my work is done there he will take my place as the head of staff.”

“And it all began when a frightened little boy showed up one afternoon.” The missionary lady looked around the sanctuary. She saw tears running down the cheeks of some of the saints. There were moments of awed silence. “You never know what is going to happen when you ask the Lord to use you.”

The worship service closed with a time of heartfelt prayer of several people. They sang the hymn “I Love To Tell The Story” with loud committed voices in praise of their calling. Deacon John gave the closing prayer and people began conversing.

And then the front wooden door of the sanctuary creaked as it opened and a young boy that no one recognized wearing tattered clothing came through the door. It was at that moment that everyone knew that God had answered Deacon John’s prayer for a sign!

Whose Next?: The Responsibility of Supporting The Next Called Ones”

October 30, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                                  October 29, 2015

Our money preaches our priorities. It clearly conveys what we feel is important and what is an add-on. It conveys our dedication to comfortableness and reluctance to commitment.

As I approach retirement from being a pastor…a paid pastor that is…I’ve been doing more and more thinking about money. Carol and I are looking at what we can expect, and not expect, once my position at our church ends.

But I’ve also been thinking about my responsibility to support the next generation of “God’s called.” I’ve been blessed to see several people I’ve known as their pastor or their coach enter into some form of full-time ministry. I believe I have a responsibility to affirm and encourage their calling through words of blessing, prayerful support, and financial backing. It’s the punctuation mark to their blessing, to be affirmed in these ways instead of comments like “Hope it works out for you!”

     That conviction I have was affirmed today as Carol and I met a young man named Tony LaMouria, his charming wife Elisabeth, and their four boys…nine years old down to seven months.

Carol and I have known Tony since he appeared one cold, sleet/rain Sunday morning at our church in Mason, Michigan, riding a bicycle. That ride into our midst began a new chapter in his faith journey that was marked by disappointment, confusion, acceptance, and unconditional love.

There’s so much to “the Tony Story” that I won’t mention, but one thing that I will mention is how one family in the church, the Andersons , took Tony into their home, gradually brought him to the point where he became the new little brother to their two older daughters, and modeled for him a love that is blended with wisdom, firmness, and encouragement. The Andersons felt a deep responsibility to support this high school kid with a charming smile and a confusing past. They were entering the period in their lives called “the empty nest”, and now they believed God had called them to parent another who wasn’t even theirs.

That family that supported him was part of a new foundation in Tony’s life. The other was our church that took him in, came alongside his new family in the “congregational parenting” of him, and applauded him in his accomplishments.

Today as Carol and I talked with him and Elisabeth he told us of their calling to be a part of a mission organization that sends pastors to churches, mostly rural or small towns, who don’t have the financial resources to support a pastor. There are thousands of churches like that around our country. In our conversation Tony shared how important our church in Mason was to him at that time in is life when he was trying to figure out if he had purpose and value. As he said to us today, if he had gone to a large church he would have gotten lost in the crowd, but our church loved him and embraced him. Now, years later, he sees the value in small churches, and is looking to serve in one of them.

That means I have a responsibility to continue the blessing, to come alongside him, to help him to keep the pursuit.

What blessing! What a responsibility! What a privilege!

Falling Missionaries

June 12, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                 June 11, 2015

                                          

I’ve been consulting with a great mission organization located here in Colorado Springs called Reach Beyond. Reach Beyond is passionate about sharing the words of hope spoken by Jesus, known as the gospel. They minister around the world in numerous cultures, many that are not accepting of the Christian faith or representatives of that faith.

At our of last recent meetings we were gathered in the conference room discussing a new curriculum that the organization is creating that seeks to motivate people to share their faith. Around the room attached to the walls there were about twenty quotes on mini-posters from missionaries, leaders, and pastors from the past and present about the Great Commission and the urgency of sharing the good news of Jesus.

As our discussion got more excited, however, one of the  mini-posters, a quote from Oswald Chambers, suddenly fell off the wall and hit the floor just a slight thud. Jim Elliott followed closely behind. By the end of our meeting four quotes from missionaries or key Christian leaders from the past and present had taken a plunge to the carpeted floor beneath them.

The eight of us who were meeting in the conference room didn’t take it as a sign from God to forget being mission-minded. Instead we saw it as a visual illustration of what has happened to missions in general.

The concern for missions…listen to this, listen…has dropped in many churches, but concern for missions not initiated by the church has seemed to increase. That is, there are more and more people who are not associated with a fellowship of believers who are becoming increasingly interested in missions.

How can that be? Easy! Churches are concerned with paying salaries, operating buildings, establishing programs and ministries…which are not bad things, mind you! Many churches give 10, 15, 20, 30% of their funds to missions. Others gives a token amount.

But many who are not a part of a church have the mindset of supporting missions with 100% of their gift.

There needs to be a happy middle ground in there. Sometimes church ministries and their effect get taken for granted, and missions get forgotten. Jesus commanded his disciples that as they were going to make disciples, and then in Acts 1:8 he said to be his witnesses close to home, in the vicinity, and all over (my paraphrase). We can become location minded in an imbalanced way. What goes on inside the walls of a church building or the living room of a house church is just as important as the mission couple who are being witnesses in the midst of a Japanese culture or West African mission hospital.

When there is imbalance the missionaries fall and the churches falter. It’s a partnership that often gets screwed up.

Jim Elliott got put back on the wall more firmly…more firmly supported…and stayed there the rest of our meeting. Sometimes you just have to hammer the point home a little more for it to stick!

Dressing Up A Pastor as a Princess or Yoda

June 10, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        June 10, 2014

 

                           

 

It’s Vacation Bible School week at the church I pastor, an experience in contained hyperactivity. Somehow I got roped into being the focus of the kids bringing their coins and dollars bills to support the mission cause of the week- buying chickens for farmers for the southeast African country of Burundi. The Evangelical Free Baptist Church of Burundi is coordinating this project to help raise people out of poverty.

It’s a great cause, seeking to give farmers a starting point in establishing an ongoing more dependable income and living.

But…as I said, somehow I got roped into being the focus. There are two glass jars at the front of our sanctuary where we begin the VBS gathering each day. One glass jar has a name plate underneath it that says “Yoda”, and the other jar has a name plate that says “Princess”.

At the end of our VBS week the money will be counted and which ever jar has the most money…that is what I will have to dress up as!

What a contrast! Yoda or a princess…and not just an princess, mind you! As the week has progressed the princess has now become Anna from the movie “Frozen”, which I have not seen, but my three year old granddaughter has the words to all the songs memorized for.

And now I am to sing “Let It Go!”

Being Yoda would be a lot easier. After all, I look a lot more like him and am just slightly taller in height.

The campers have been scurrying to put their coins and one dollar bills in the princess jar. I countered today with a twenty dollar bill for Yoda. It looks like this is going to be an expensive week if I manage to be “Yodaized!”

Excited kids are running up to me with their costume suggestions…for a princess! I’m afraid glitter is in my near future!

There will be several thankful farmers in Burundi who will have no clue what it cost me for them to raise chickens.

And I guess I’m okay with that…although I’m bringing two twenty’s with me tomorrow !

A Guy Named Tom

January 21, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  January 20, 2014

 

                                     

 

I went to college with a guy named Tom Randall. He had grown up in Detroit, gone to Redford High School, and had a tough outer core about him. We ran cross country and played basketball together at Judson College. Tom was one of the most popular students on our small campus. Being 6’5” made him stand out in the crowd, but he was also an amazing athlete, a stand-out basketball player.

This past week he was arrested, along with two other men, in the Philippines and charged with sex trafficking. Our tendency these days is to hear that someone has been charged with a crime and decide he is guilty as charged. Sex trafficking is a horrendous crime that is rampant across the world. To be charged with it immediately gives most readers a picture of the person as cruel and heartless.

Since I’ve known Tom since 1974, and I’ve seen his journey, I am firm in my belief that he is innocent. The evidence of his life is my convincing of his innocence.

Let me tell you a little bit about him. He became a follower of Jesus in the spring semester of his senior year of college. I would say his decision to be a Christ-follower was the result of the influence of a multitude of people upon his life…guys who played on the basketball team, professors, college administrators, coaches, and his wife-to-be, Karen. Shortly after Tom became a believer he began working in a factory in Elgin, Illinois, making a little bit of income as he faced graduation. He would go into the Director of Admissions, Press Webster (a memorable first name for us all), and talk to Press, and then he would look at all the Bibles that were on one of the bookcases in Press’s office.

“Press, what are you doing with all of those Bibles?”

      “Well, Tom, they are just there.”

      “I’ve got guys down at the factory who don’t have Bibles. They could put those to use.”

      “Well…okay Tom, take a couple of them.”

So Tom would take a couple…and then a couple more..and then a couple more. A little while later Press, who often had to travel for the college, came back to his office to discover his shelves of Bibles were empty.

“Tom, did you take all of my Bibles?”

     “Yes, Press! Do you have any more? I gave them out to the guys that work at the factory.”

     “Did you have to take all of them?”

      “Press, they weren’t doing anybody any good just sitting on your shelf!”

     That what the beginning of his ministry. Soon after college he went to the Philippines where he played professional basketball for a while, and then was involved in a sports ministry where he would travel around in the country, play basketball, and share the gospel. He began a ministry in the Philippines in 1979.

Because of health issues he and Karen had to come back to United States about fifteen years ago and Tom became the Chaplain of the PGA Champions Tour. He would do Sunday chapels, Bible studies, and be available for counseling for any of the senior golfers.

The last fifteen years or so he and Karen have traveled back to the Philippines for a couple of months each year. Their practice is to be their for the month of December. Tom has also taken a basketball team on a tour for a week each year, playing games in different locations, and then sharing the gospel. Their ministry, World Harvest Ministries, continues in the Philippines.

Now, after a lifetime of work and ministry, he’s being held in a jail. Karen has shared that he has been able to give Bibles to several of the other cellmates that are in the crowded room with him. So, in essence, he keeps being a proclaimer as a prisoner.

I don’t know how this will turn out. He has a hearing on Wednesday, January 22. He has a legal team that is representing him. For now we are praying and waiting. I hope you will also.

The evidence of his life is my convincing of his innocence.

     I encourage you to check out one or more of these social media information sites about Tom and Karen’s situation and their ministry.

Facebook pages:  “Free Tom Randall”

“World Harvest Ministries”

web site: “tomrandall.org”