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.

The church needs to stay focused

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Be smart, be strategic”
 
Our Bible verse for today: “Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfector of our faith.” Hebrews 12:1-2 (CSB)
 
Our thought for today: “The church needs to stay focused”
 
It’s easy for churches to get distracted and off track these days. There are so many issues in our world that are of concern and which need attention, but no church can address them all. There are also many loud, angry, demanding voices (in and out of the church) insisting that the church should be involved in politics (left and right), but should we? There are groups calling for the church’s action on social issues, environmental causes, court cases, and much more.
 
In every community there are scores of Christian groups promoting all sorts of programs and events that they want the local churches to be involved in and to support. Often, it’s done with the underlying implication that if you don’t join with them in their program or cause, then you obviously don’t love Jesus. But how many such programs and causes can any church realistically try to be involved in?
 
Then there are the Christian telemarketers who all want just 15 minutes of the pastor’s time to tell you about a product or service which will revolutionize your church and which you therefore have to have. And again, the underlying implication is that if you don’t want what they’re offering, or if you won’t listen to their spiel, there must be something wrong with you and your church.
 
There’s also sometimes a sense of competition between churches. Churches begin to feel that if other churches in their area are offering a large menu of programs and activities then we have to as well, or we’ll look bad by comparison. Many churches respond to that pressure by trying to be all things to all people. There’s a sense that we have to do it all and we have to be it all or we’re failing.
 
The basic truth being taught in Hebrews 12:1-2 is that Christians (and churches) need to focus on the things that really matter, and refuse to be distracted by things that don’t. No church can be all things to all people, and you’re foolish if you try to be.
 
Tomorrow, I’ll introduce you to a concept known as “simple church”. To be focused on, and to stay focused on the right things, the church needs to first rid itself of programs and activities that are only distracting them and therefore limiting their effectiveness. It’s vitally important for the church to be smart and strategic about this. We have to stay focused.
 
God bless,
Pastor Jim
Copyright © 2022 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.

Do good on purpose

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Be smart, be strategic”
 
Our Bible verse for today: Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act.” Proverbs 3:27 (NIV)
 
Our thought for today: “Do good on purpose”
 
We’re going to spend most of next week considering how our churches can be smart and strategic. We’ll discuss the concept of “simple church”. We’ll also think about what it means for a small church to be a “strategically” small church. We will talk about marshalling our resources and focusing our efforts in ways that are most effective and efficient. And we will consider some models of ministry which have proven effective at drawing a large percentage of the members into active service within the church.
 
But for today, I want us to consider being smart and strategic by taking intentional action to make the gatherings of our churches a time of nurture and spiritual renewal for everyone. In these difficult days in which we live, the meeting of the church family needs to be a refuge from the storms of life. Church should be a sanctuary, a shelter from the storm. It should be a place of nurture and renewal. We all need this. But in order for it to be that way, we have to be intentional about making it that way. I can assure you that Satan will take that away from us if we let him.
 
One way in which each of us can make sure the gathering of our church is indeed a time of nurture and renewal for all of us, is to follow the advice Solomon gives in Proverbs 3:27 (above) by doing good on purpose. Look for opportunities to bless and encourage your brothers and sisters. Go out of your way to do something nice for someone. You could spend some time today (Saturday) praying and asking the Lord to bring to your mind a person or two who needs some special attention tomorrow (Sunday). You might even want to bring that person (s) a small gift – like a couple of donuts, or a flower, or a card, or … well, you get the point.
 
I will address this issue in the sermon tomorrow at Oak Hill Baptist Church. We would love for you to join us in person for Sunday school at 9:00 and for the worship service at 10:00. The service will also be livestreamed on the Oak Hill Baptist Church Facebook page, and the recorded version will be available afterwards on our website (oakhillbaptist.net).
 
I encourage you to intentionally do something good, something nice, for someone in your church family this Sunday. Our participation in the gathering of our church is a crucial part of our week. Let’s all go out of our way to make it extra special by doing something good on purpose.
 
God bless,
Pastor Jim
Copyright © 2022 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.

The church must be smart and strategic

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Be smart, be strategic”
 
Our Bible verse for today: “But know this: hard times will come in the last days. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, demeaning, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, without love for what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – “2 Timothy 3:1-4 (CSB)
 
Our thought for today: “The church must be smart and strategic”
 
So far in our study of being smart and strategic we have focused mostly on being smart and strategic in our personal lives with respect to spiritual disciplines, use of time, etc. Now we’re going to shift to thinking about being smart and strategic in church life. No church can do everything, nor can a church be all things to all people. This is especially true for smaller churches. So, we have to be smart and strategic about what we do, how we do it, and how much we try to do.
 
Being smart and strategic as a church begins with each member of the church understanding and appreciating the nature of the times we live in. We live in evil days. Our society is barreling towards the edge of a moral cliff. It’s stunning how far we have drifted from Biblical norms and traditional values – and how fast it has happened. Our society is becoming Orwellian and bizarre. The government is increasingly heavy-handed and intrusive, and the things people believe to be okay and even normal is the stuff of bad science fiction. It’s often difficult to believe this is real. But it is real. And it is the world we now find ourselves living in.
 
So, for starters, as individual church members we cannot be casual about our personal or corporate practice of the faith. On a personal level, we have to be firmly grounded in the faith as individuals; and together we must be smart and strategic about our corporate practice of the faith as a church. That begins by simply showing up to the regular gatherings of your church family. You’re not much help if you aren’t there. Then, we each need to be engaged in some manner in the work of the church.
 
In the days to come we’ll think specifically and in depth about how even the smallest of churches can be smart and strategic about how we function in the midst of these evil days, and how each of us as individuals can and must be a part of it. But for now, I encourage you to simply be there. Attend the gathering of your church this Sunday.
 
God bless,
Pastor Jim
Copyright © 2022 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.

Guard your heart

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Be smart, be strategic”
 
Our Bible verse for today: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Proverbs 4:23 (NIV)
 
Our thought for today: “Guard your heart”
 
Increasingly many people are feeling weary and overwhelmed by the never-ending flow of information we’re exposed to on a daily basis. We live in the “information age”. Sometimes that’s a blessing, but often it’s a curse. There’s the 24/7 news cycle with all the dramatic and often exaggerated headlines screaming for our attention. There are loud and angry voices coming from all directions demanding this, and protesting against that, and declaring their offense over one thing after another. There are computer screens, smart phones, watches that talk to us, and so much more. It really does become overwhelming.
 
And … all of that stuff is making its way into your brain and then into your heart. Sometimes, personally, I feel contaminated, like I’ve ingested poison and it’s making me sick. My stomach gets sour, my head hearts, and I’m tired. The constant barrage of information, misinformation, lies, distortions, exaggerations, competing agendas, doomsday predictions, charges and counter-charges, make me jaded and edgy, and that has a negative impact on me.
 
You too? Fortunately, there is an answer.
 
Solomon warned us in Proverbs 4:23 that we need to guard what we allow into our heart because the heart is the wellspring of life. In other words, all the rest of life flows out of what’s in our heart. Jesus warned about this as well in Luke 6:45, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of the heart his mouth speaks.”
 
This is why we have to be smart and strategic about guarding our heart. We have to be intentional and we have to have control over what we allow ourselves to be exposed to. The fact is that we can turn off the news, shut down the computer, put the smart phone away, and unplug for a while. We can spend extra time reading the Bible, or a good Christian book. We can put the headphones on and spend an hour listening to soothing Christian music. We can go for a long walk in the woods, spend a couple of hours out on the lake, or just sit quietly doing nothing and petting the dog. We don’t have to remain constantly engaged with our loud and angry and deceptive world.
 
The Apostle Paul had some advice about this. In Philippians 4:8 he wrote, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”
 
I encourage you to take control over your environment and guard your heart.
 
God bless,
Pastor Jim    
Copyright © 2022 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.