Yes, the Church is the answer

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Be smart, be strategic”
 
Our Bible verse for today: “You are the salt of the earth … You are the light of the world.” Matthew 5:13;14 (CSB)
 
Our thought for today: “Yes, the Church is the answer”
 
In yesterday’s devotional I quoted all of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:13-16 regarding His intention that His followers be like salt, which acts as a preservative and helps to prevent the spread of decay and corruption; and like light, shining the truth of the Gospel into the spiritually dark places of the world. The Church is the answer to evil in the world.
 
But then I posed the question that if the Church is the answer, what’s the problem? Since there are hundreds of thousands of churches in communities all across this land, filled with tens of millions of professing Christians, why is evil still so pervasive in our communities? Could it be that we, as the followers of Jesus Christ, aren’t doing our jobs as intended by our Lord? Has the Church in our nation become ineffective?
 
Evil is present in our society. It is pervasive, and it’s becoming more so. The more our society drifts from the Judeo-Christian Ethic upon which our nation was founded, and from the Biblical principles which undergird that ethic, the worse the situation will continue to get. The question is whether or not the Church can help to prevent the spread of evil, or even slow it down.
 
And the answer is, “it depends”. The potential is certainly there. Individually and collectively we as the followers of Christ have the power of the Holy Spirit working in us and through us. So, yes, we can effectively stand against the evil. And yes, we can slow it down. In some cases, we can even prevent it altogether. The question isn’t if we can, the question is if we will.  
 
The problem is that the Church in America today has become lethargic and weak, apathetic and ineffective. It’s as if we’re sleepwalking through this mess which is our society, numbed and overwhelmed to the point of indifference (or, maybe, to the point of despair). Attendance is way down in the majority of churches; ministry activities in and out of our churches have been pared back; Biblical principles have been compromised for the sake of getting along with the culture; and so much more.
 
Often, I hear Christians loudly condemning what they consider to be heavy-handed government intervention in our private lives as elected officials desperately search for answers to events like the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. And I agree. I don’t want government intervention either. But the fact is, the worse the situation gets in our society, the heavier the hand of government will have to be in an effort to contain and control it. If we, the Church, want less government intervention, then there will have to be more spiritual intervention.
 
And that’s on us. That will have to come from us. We’re the ones who have been commanded by Jesus to be the salt and light that is so badly needed in our world.
 
More about this tomorrow.
 
God bless,
Pastor Jim   
Copyright © 2022 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.

If the church is the answer, what is the problem?

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Be smart, be strategic”
 
Our Bible verse for today: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty? It’s no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:13-16 (CSB)
 
Our thought for today: “If the church is the answer, what is the problem?”
 
I’m writing this morning with a heavy heart and deep sadness. My thoughts are on the tragic events surrounding the school shooting on Tuesday in Uvalde, Texas. An eighteen-year-old walked into Robb Elementary School, opened fire with a rifle and a handgun, and 19 children and 2 teachers are dead. The shooting occurred only eighty miles from my son’s home. One of those children could have been my grandson – or yours.
 
According to one news channel, this is the twenty-seventh school shooting in the USA so far in 2022. That’s not counting all the other shootings in other settings, and it doesn’t even begin to account for the incalculable other acts of violence which occur every day in our nation from domestic violence, to rapes, to muggings, and so much more. Our society is broken and bleeding. We have a deep systemic problem.
 
Now, in the wake of this latest shooting, politicians across the political spectrum are saying the usual things, demanding this piece of legislation or that one, which they insist will fix the problem. And news media outlets are trotting out all the regular experts to talk about violence in the streets, the need for more gun laws, ways to increase security in schools, and on and on. But as helpful as some of those things might be, are any of them really the answer? For that matter, are guns or knives or fists or sex drives really the problem? Or, perhaps, is it deeper than that? Maybe those are just the symptoms and manifestations of something deeper and even more sinister.
 
Maybe sin is the problem, and maybe Jesus is the answer. And if that’s true, then more legislation, and double steel doors, and teachers with sidearms aren’t really what we need. And if those things are not what we really need, then elected officials and law enforcement officers and political activists don’t really have the answers.
 
In Matthew 6:13-16 Jesus said that we, His followers, the church, we are the answer. We are what our culture needs. The followers of Jesus Christ, armed with the truth of the Gospel and the love of God, we are the ones who are supposed to be the salt that helps to protect against decay in society. We are the ones who are supposed to be shining the light of the Gospel into the dark corners of the world.
 
Maybe if we, the Christians, were more actively on mission with Jesus in our communities; maybe if our churches were actually being smart and strategic and intentional about making a real difference in our little corners of the world; maybe then we’d be burying fewer of our children. If the church is the answer – okay, but then what is the problem? Why does evil seem to have such free reign in our society? If there are hundreds of thousands of churches scattered throughout every community across this nation, with tens of millions of professing Christians, why is evil still so pervasive?
 
We’ll think more about this tomorrow.
 
God bless,
Pastor Jim
Copyright © 2022 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.

Just be who you are with what you have

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Be smart, be strategic”
 
Our Bible verse for today: “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 (NIV)
 
Our thought for today: “Just be who you are with what you have”
 
I know a man who is a cowboy at heart. He loves cowboy culture and he enjoys dressing up in cowboy gear – with a big hat, leather chaps, and a real six-shooter. He posts lots of pictures on Facebook of him and his family posing in cowboy-type scenes, and he attends a cowboy church outside of Nashville. It’s a good church, a solid conservative evangelical church, but it’s designed for people who love the cowboy culture.
 
Before we move on from thinking about the strategically small church, I want to emphasize again that the reason God has created so many different kinds of churches is because there are so many different kinds of people, and there’s a church that’s right for everyone. That also means however, that not every church is right for every person. Not all churches are the same, nor should they be. No church can be all things to all people.
 
1 Corinthians 12:4-7 is another of the many passages in the New Testament which teaches about spiritual gifts. First and foremost, it’s about how God equips individual Christians with particular gifts, abilities, and talents, so they can then use them in acts of service. The point is that not all people are the same, and therefore not all people are gifted in the same way. There are a wide variety of gifts, talents, and abilities, and all of them are important and needed in their own way.
 
The same is true for churches. God doesn’t equip all churches in the same way, and therefore not all churches are intended by Him to do the same things. There are basic aspects of church life that are common to all churches but beyond that, God equips individual churches to serve in their unique settings, and in their unique ways.
 
So, the key for each church is to prayerfully consider how God has made-up your church family. Who has He brought to you? What are their gifts and abilities? That’s a clue about what kind of church you’re supposed to be. If your church has a lot of millennial soccer moms, there’s a good chance you’re not supposed to try to be a cowboy church.
 
Oak Hill Baptist is an Acts 1:8 church. God has filled us with a lot of people who have a passion for mission work and compassion ministry. So, missions and compassion ministry are the heartbeat of our church life. We also have all the basics of church life as well, including age-appropriate small groups, Vacation Bible School, church picnics, etc., but we’re specifically and especially equipped by God for mission work.
 
No church can be all things to all people. So be smart, be strategic. Consider carefully how God has formed your unique fellowship, and then build on your strengths. Just be who you are with what you have.
 
God bless,
Pastor Jim
Copyright © 2022 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.

Just be faithful with what you have

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Be smart, be strategic”
 
Our Bible verse for today: “The man with two talents approached. He said, “Master, you gave me two talents. See, I’ve earned two more talents.” His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master’s joy.” Matthew 25:22-23 (CSB)
 
Our thought for today: “Just be faithful with what you have.”
 
Years ago, I was a student at the Billy Graham School of Evangelism, which was sponsored by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA). It was a one-week course for pastors designed to provide training and resources to assist them in the evangelistic efforts in their churches. It was a long time ago and so my memory is a little fuzzy, but one of the workshops was called something like “Evangelism in the small church”. It was taught by an old pastor by the name of Harold (I don’t remember his last name).
 
Harold had been the pastor of the same rural church someplace in the mid or northwestern US (Montana? Idaho?), for almost fifty years. In all those years the church had never grown bigger than 50 or 60 members. During those years he had baptized perhaps 1-3 new Christians a year, buried many others, dedicated babies, performed weddings, and simply cared for and discipled his flock.
 
Harold said he was surprised and pleased when he was asked by the BGEA to teach this workshop about evangelism in a small church context, but he was also confused. After all, almost all conference speakers and teachers at events like this are bigshot pastors from big churches, usually there to tell you about the latest book they’ve written or the new program they’ve developed. Seldom is a small church pastor asked to speak about how he grew his church from 25 to 50 in only forty years.
 
But the BGEA is different. They know that the overwhelming majority of churches are small, and therefore the overwhelming majority of salvations in the body of Christ occur in small churches not large ones, as does most discipleship. Therefore, since the body of Christ is comprised mostly of small churches not big ones, it’s essential that small churches (and small church pastors) remain faithful in their small church ministry. Small churches are the backbone of the kingdom. This is where most of the work is done week-in and week-out – and it adds up! There are hundreds of thousands of small churches scattered across this land. If each of them is baptizing, discipling, and caring for small groups of 100 or less, that adds up to many millions of Christians across America being nurtured in the faith through small church ministry.
 
The servant depicted in the scene in Matthew 25:22-23 had only been given a little to work with. But he was faithful with it and the Lord was pleased. The same is true for you and your small church. Whether you’re the pastor of a small church or a member of one, be smart, be strategic, keep at it, and just be faithful with what you have.
 
God bless,
Pastor Jim
Copyright © 2022 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.

Deep is better than wide

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Be smart, be strategic
 
Our Bible verse for today: “I never stop giving thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.” Ephesians 1:16 (CSB)
 
Our thought for today: “Deep is better than wide”
 
I have a small framed picture on my desk at church that was given to me many years ago by some friends at Oak Hill Baptist Church. It’s a picture of a small white clapboard church in a country setting. We’re viewing the church from the outside, from the front. It’s nighttime and lights are glowing through the stained-glass windows. There’s a single horse tied to a hitching post out front.
 
The first time I saw that picture it grabbed my heart because I realized that as a pastor, I had what that picture represented (and I was glad I did). It spoke of a small congregation of faithful believers living quiet lives and enjoying a simple church life. Something about it said, “small but happy”, “small but very good”, “small but deep and nurturing”.
 
In the early years of being a pastor I was caught-up in the numbers game of how success as a church was measured – “bigger is better, small is broken”. Fortunately, in the book “The Strategically Small Church”, I learned a lesson that changed everything for me. It was that being the pastor of a small church can be a very satisfying and rewarding experience when viewed from the proper perspective.
 
Oak Hill Baptist is the smallest of the three churches I’ve been the pastor of over the last twenty-five years. It is half the size of one and 70% smaller than the other. Yet, for many reasons, I find it to be a more rewarding and enjoyable experience than either of the others. One of the reasons that’s so is precisely because of the size. I’ve discovered that the more members you have the less time you can spend with them individually, and the less well you can know them. In terms of the quality of the relationships a pastor can develop with congregants, you can either go deep or wide, but you can seldom do both. You can touch a lot of people a little, or you can go deep in the relationships, but with a fewer number of people.
 
I choose deep over wide. It’s better. I remind myself frequently that I’m the “pastor” of Oak Hill Baptist Church, not the “evangelist” of Oak Hill Baptist Church. Although evangelism is part of what I do, my primary role as a pastor is to care for the people God has already given me. The deeper I can go with them the better I can care for them.
 
I believe deep is better than wide, and that pertains to all members of a small church, not just the pastor. You can only be truly close to a limited number of people and the larger the church, the fewer members you will know well, or at all. But in a small church you can know everybody. That’s just one of the many strengths of small church life. In the days to come we will consider some of the others.
 
God bless,
Pastor Jim 
Copyright © 2022 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.

The strategically small church

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Be smart, be strategic”
 
Our Bible verse for today: “The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets in their house.” 1 Corinthians 16:19 (NIV)
 
Our thought for today: “The strategically small church”
 
First thing this morning, I need to correct something I wrote yesterday. Yesterday I wrote that over 90% of all churches consist of less than 100 members and attenders. I wrote that statement from memory (which is often faulty) without checking my facts. In my research for today’s devotional, I came across the correct numbers and so I want to give them to you. Approximately 94% of all churches have less than 500 in attendance on an average Sunday, and almost 70% have fewer than 100. Those are the correct numbers, but the point still holds that the vast majority of churches are small not large. That has always been the case, from the earliest days of Christianity and for the two thousand years since then.
 
There’s a mistaken notion that because thousands came to faith in Christ in response to Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost, and since Acts chapter two tells us that the Lord added to their numbers daily, the early church in Jerusalem must have been the first “megachurch”. But that would be an inaccurate understanding. The large gatherings we read about on the day of Pentecost, and events like when Jesus fed the 5000, those were more like Billy Graham crusades. They were special events involving large crowds. Most of the regular gatherings of Christians were small affairs that met in homes. Almost all Christian churches in those days were house churches, which is what Paul was referring to in 1 Corinthians 16:19.
 
However, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of churches are and have been small, we still have this bad habit of measuring success by the size of the crowd. I once read a statement that described perfectly what almost every pastor of a small congregation (including me) feels when someone asks about the size of our congregation. This pastor wrote, “I love our congregation and what God is doing through it. So why is it I feel insecure every time someone asks me how many people attend our church?”
 
That statement came from the most helpful “pastor book” I’ve ever read. It is “The Strategically Small Church: Intimate, nimble, authentic, effective” by Brandon O’Brien. In it, O’Brien makes the case that “small church” is the Lord’s preferred model for church life, and that the small church is actually strategically built to be the most effective kind of church. He then proceeds in the book to help pastors and church leaders understand how to identify and build on the inherent strengths of their smallness.
 
In the days to come we will think about some of the most helpful points from that book. I hope doing so will help pastors and members of small churches to see their small church in a new way. The fact is that we can be smart and strategic about being small.
 
God bless,
Pastor Jim   
Copyright © 2022 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.

Less can be more

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Be smart, be strategic”
 
Our Bible verse for today: “Jesus went up the mountain and summoned those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve, whom he named apostles, to be with him, to send them out to preach, and to have authority to drive out demons. He appointed the twelve …” Mark 3:13-16 (CSB)
 
Our thought for today: “Less can be more”
 
Did you know that God doesn’t expect all churches to be the same? He doesn’t. In fact, the reason He created so many different kinds of churches, is because there are so many different kinds of people and so many different ministry settings. There’s a church that’s right for everyone, and there’s a church that is appropriate for every conceivable ministry setting. A cowboy church is different from a nursing home church. A Chinese church is different from an African church, which is different from a Romanian church, which is different from an American church. A small church is different from a big church.
 
As we learned yesterday, God gives churches the freedom to be different from one another. But the pressure to copy other churches is intense. That’s especially true for smaller churches looking at larger churches. There’s a misguided notion in the Christian community that bigger is better and small means it must be broken in some way. That’s simply not true, especially in church life. In church life small is often better than large and less can in fact actually be more.
 
We see this to be true in the case of Jesus and the 12 Apostles. Jesus gathered a small group around Himself to be the core group of their fellowship. There was also a larger, but still relatively small group of followers who made up their church family. As they then traveled around, larger crowds often came to hear the preaching and teaching and to participate in the activities (feeding the 5000), but the group that made up Jesus’ church family was actually rather small.
 
Those who study church life tell us that more than 90% of all churches consist of fewer than one hundred members and attenders. What that means is that nine out of ten churches are small churches. Large churches are the exception not the norm. Why would that be? If, as our society seems to suggest, bigger is better and smaller is broken, that would mean that 90% of our churches are broken. Could that be true? Or, perhaps, was Jesus onto something when He seemed to be strategically maintaining a small group? Could there be something about small that is better than large? Is it true that sometimes less is more? Yes. When it comes to church life, small is often better than big and less can indeed be more. We’ll continue this discussion tomorrow.
 
God bless,
Pastor Jim
Copyright © 2022 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.

Being flexible is smart and strategic

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Be smart, be strategic
 
Our Bible verse for today: “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win Jews; to those under the law, like one under the law – though I myself am not under the law – to win those under the law. To those who are without the law, like one without the law – though I am not without God’s law but under the law of Christ – to win those without the law. To the weak I became weak, in order to win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some. Now I do all this because of the gospel, so that I may share in the blessings.” 1 Corinthians 9:20-23 (CSB)
 
Our thought for today: “Flexible is smart and strategic”
 
In yesterday’s devotional I said that no church can be all things to all people. However, in today’s passage it sure does sound like Paul was in fact trying to be all things to all people. Was he? And if so, what does that say to our churches?
 
Paul actually was not trying to be all things to all people – at least, not at the same time. What he was illustrating was his flexibility to shift between models of ministry as necessary in order to be most effective in whatever cultural setting he found himself. When he was with Jews, he tailored his activities to fit the setting. But when he found himself in a new ministry setting, he stopped doing what he was doing and began using the strategies most appropriate to and most effective in the new ministry setting. Paul was as flexible as he needed to be in order to maintain maximum effectiveness as ministry settings changed. The message never changed, but the methods had to.
 
There’s a lesson in this for our churches. Over time, the conditions within which our ministry is being conducted change. The physical location of the church may remain the same, but with the passing of time things change. The ethnic make-up of the neighborhood may change; the most effective means of communication change from generation to generation; music styles change; etc. That being the case, the church needs to adjust just like Paul did. Also, the make-up of the congregation changes over time in terms of spiritual gifting, talents, and abilities. That determines what a church is and is not equipped to do.   
 
Not all churches are the same because not all ministry settings are the same. One of the reasons there are so many different kinds of churches is because there are so many different kinds of people, and there are so many different ministry settings. There’s a church that’s right for everyone and for every setting precisely because God gives churches the freedom to be different and to adjust as necessary to be most effective in whatever the setting may be.
 
As times change, as neighborhoods change, as generations change, churches must change too. That will often mean being flexible enough to let go of the old and to embrace the new. Being flexible is smart and strategic.
 
 
God bless,
Pastor Jim
Copyright © 2022 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.

Simple is smart

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Be smart, be strategic”
 
Our Bible verse for today: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer.” Acts 2:42 (CSB)
 
Our thought for today: “Simple is smart”
 
I love the picture of the early church given to us in Acts 2:42. It was beautiful in its simplicity. They were focused on just a few important things such as discipleship, fellowship, and prayer. In other places in the early chapters of Acts we find that they also joined together in ministries of compassion and mercy, and there was lots of evangelism going on. But overall, their church life was clean and simple, focused on a handful of essentials.
 
In their book “Simple Church” Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger report that as they studied highly effective churches of all sizes, they discovered that the most effective churches with the healthiest church life were the ones that had clearly identified their calling from God for the kind of church they were supposed to be. Then they then tailored their model of ministry to that calling. Those ministry models tended to be simple, in that they included ministry activities that were truly needed, and they also excluded any activities that were not really needed.
 
This is important. Over time churches tend to become institutionalized and rigid. Programs and activities tend to become sacred cows that can’t be touched. If the suggestion is made that maybe a program or activity is no longer needed, sometimes we begin to hear protests like, “But we’ve always offered that activity.” or, “But churches are supposed to have a (fill in the blank) program.”
 
No church can do everything, and no church can be all things to all people. If you try to, you may end up doing a lot of things poorly rather than a few things well. Also, when there’s too much going on at once it can be overwhelming for people, and they can end up exhausted from the pressure to participate in everything.
 
There’s a lot to be said for “simple church”. Church life doesn’t have to be complicated. It shouldn’t be. Life is complicated, church doesn’t have to be. We’ll think more about this tomorrow.
 
God bless,
Pastor Jim
 
Copyright © 2022 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.

Simple church

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Be smart, be strategic”
 
Our Bible verse for today: “Lord, my heart is not proud; my eyes are not haughty. I do not get involved with things too great or too wondrous for me. Instead, I have calmed and quieted my soul like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like a weaned child.” Psalm 131:1-2 (CSB)
 
Our thought for today: “Simple church”
 
There’s a movement in our society today which is growing in popularity and which is spreading quickly. It’s known as “minimalist living”. The nature and structure of what the movement involves varies widely, but it centers around the notion that life has gotten too busy, too cluttered, and too complicated for many people. So, they change jobs to something less demanding so they can have a better quality of life with family and friends. Or they downsize their home, sometimes even moving into what is known as a “tiny home” (700 square feet or less). The move towards minimalism often involves decluttering your schedule and removing activities and responsibilities that aren’t of true importance to you. There can be much more to it as well but the point is, many people are seeking to simplify their lives.
 
In their book “Simple Church” Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger make the case for simplifying church life in a similar manner. They begin by noting how busy and complex life itself has become for many people, and why it is that so many people are yearning for a simple life that is less busy and less complex. They wrote, “In the midst of all the noise, all the rush, all the change, all the busyness, and all the uncertainty, people long for simplicity. Precisely because things are so hectic and out of control people respond to simple. The busyness and complexity of life makes simple a great commodity, something desired.”
 
They then apply that concept to church life, noting that in many cases we have allowed our church life to become as busy and as complicated as life in the outside world. When that happens, rather than our participation in the life of the church being a time of peace and nurture – a refuge from the storms of life, it instead becomes more of the same busyness, just with religious overtones.
 
In Psalm 131:1-2 (above) King David described a peaceful and still state of mind and heart that resembled that of a contented child snuggled in his mother’s arms. The interesting thing about that Psalm is that the superscript above the Psalm labels it as “A song of ascents.”. A song of ascent was a song that the Jews would sing as they were walking up to Jerusalem on their way to the temple for worship services. So, David wrote this Psalm about peaceful contentedness with church life in mind.
 
In the days to come we will explore the idea of “simple church” and also “strategic church” more deeply. For now, let me ask you to consider the big picture of your church life. Would you describe it more in terms of nurturing, refreshing, encouraging, and spiritually renewing; or do you think more of the crowds, bustling activity, programs, and things to do? To some degree there’s a place of all of that in church life, but which picture would you say best describes your church? We’ll come back to this tomorrow.
 
God bless,
Pastor Jim 
Copyright © 2022 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.