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Wednesday, May 17th 2017

12:02 AM

Trying to Grow the Church

It is the typical conversation between Ministers.  How is your church doing?  How many are showing up for Sunday morning?  These questions are conversation starters that help us share how we are doing with the churches we are called to serve.  However, there are times when I wonder if it would be better to remain silent.

I love the fellow ministers in my circle of influence, but some of them can cause awkward moments with their replies.

When I am asked about my attendance, I have no reason to lie, so I tell them that we are averaging 20 people each week, and the response is almost the same every time.

I usually get a pat on my shoulder and some encouraging words such as “Hang in there” and “It is hard to grow a church with 20 people,” but what those people fail to realize is that I am not discouraged, and I am proud of our 20 people who show up every week.

Although we are only 20 people, we have every generation represented, dedicated volunteers and competent leaders who are Biblically grounded.  Our worship services are high quality and we have high percentages showing up for Bible Study.  In fact, we rarely have an event without over half of our people showing up because we love being around each other, and we want to let people know that we support our church.

Are we too small to do “Church things” like the “bigger” churches do?  Some people might think so, but they would be wrong.

At this point, you might be expecting me to create a list of items that prove how we are just as good of a church as the bigger churches.  You might even be looking for some kind of statement about how we are better because we are smaller.  I’m sorry to disappoint those who think that way, but comparing ourselves to our sister churches is a recipe for disaster.

Our church was not created to compete with other churches.  We exist to evangelize and edify, to teach and to train, to mentor and to mobilize the people so they can grow closer to God through learning the Bible and serving the Lord.

Nowhere in the above description is there a requirement for us to be a certain number of people before we can start being a church.  There is no growth rate we need to maintain and no master plan for expansion to accommodate the masses.  I am not against strategies that help us grow the churches, but I do have a problem with those who view such strategies as the only way a church can survive.

Don’t get me wrong.  I look forward to the day when we have to build a bigger building and hire more ministers, and Lord willing, we will see that happen while I am still here.  However, that is not my purpose as a Minister.

I exist as a Minister to move people closer to God.

How do I move them closer to God?  I teach them the Bible.  Everything else I do can be considered an accessory because those tasks can help people stay connected to the church, but the main point of my part in the ministry is to teach the Word.  Whether I am in front of 20 people or 20,000 people, my focus remains the same.  I take what I learned from the Bible and pass the information along to those who want to learn.  It may be a simple approach, but it works.

Sometimes, we miss the simple answer because we are too busy looking for the complex.

When the church began in Acts 2, they were not concerned about half the stuff the American church is concerned about, and they were better for it.  Perhaps we should learn from the Apostles and get back to the simple approach of teaching the Bible to those who want to learn.

It is so simple; it just might work!

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Tuesday, April 11th 2017

4:34 AM

Before all else fails, please read the instructions

Some of the best memories I have from growing up involve working on cars with my dad.  We didn't have much money so we had to repair our cars when they broke down.  We would change the oil, give tune-ups, and occasionally, we would have to replace brake pads.

One particular car we worked on gave us a hard time.  We were replacing the brake pads and since we have done this many times before on other cars, we were confident that we knew what to do.  We took the wheel off, removed the brake assembly and began to push the caliper back.  On other cars, all we needed was a "C-clamp" to force the caliper back in, but on this particular model, we could not get it to budge.  We spent most of the night trying to force it before giving up and going to bed.

The next day arrived and my dad was working on the car when I got home.  When I approached the car, I noticed that he already had the pads replaced.  He told me that he did some research and found out that with this model, we have to use a ratchet to turn the caliper back into its original position.

If we would have read the instructions first, we would have saved ourselves hours of frustrating, unproductive work.

Unfortunately, many people have a similar approach with the Bible.  We tend to rely on what we have already been taught instead of reading the text on our own.  Sometimes, we don’t even read the text because we “trust” the person who taught us.  This is what causes problems because there are times when even the best scholars can end up being wrong about their conclusions.

How many years went by before somebody challenged the idea that the world was flat?

If it wasn’t for people being brave enough to question the status quo, we would still be teaching that the world is flat, or the sun revolves around the earth, or the best way to cure a disease is to drain the blood so new healthy blood can replace the old contaminated blood.

When we read the Bible, it is important to remember that those who have taught us are human, and they are capable of being wrong.  They might not be wrong, but we need to verify what was taught so we can be sure.  I am not saying this to cast doubt on our favorite Sunday School teacher from many years ago.  I am simply saying that if you read the Bible and you don’t understand it the way your teacher does, you need to dig in deeper and study the passage.

Don’t be afraid to talk to your teacher and ask for a better explanation if needed.  And above all else, remember that a good teacher will take the time to review the material in an effort to explain it better for the students.

Before all else fails, please read the instructions.

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Friday, March 24th 2017

11:47 PM

Replacing the Brakes on my Honda

If you spend some time around my family, you will notice that none of us drive a car that is brand new.  While I was growing up, our yard was described as a used car lot because we had several cars that were on blocks and a few that were actually drivable.  The cars that were drivable would break down often because they had better days before arriving at our house.

The main reason why we drove used cars was because we were a family that had 4 children which meant that all 4 of us wanted our own car to drive and a brand new car was not going to happen for any of us.

Another reason why we drove used cars was because we could repair the cars when they broke down.

When my dad returned from the Vietnam War, he began working for the phone company, but he also took some automotive classes in order to be able to work on his cars.  Of course, I don’t have all of the facts since I was not born yet, but I do remember seeing the Chilton Manuals in the basement and the plethora of tools in the carport.

Just like any other dad eager to pass on his knowledge, our dad taught us how to work on cars so we can save money and make the cars last longer.  That knowledge is still with me today and it helps me with the cars we drive now.  Of course, that knowledge has also been known to get me in trouble at times.

I remember waiting too long to replace the brakes on my Honda, and it cost me time, energy, and money that I did not plan on spending.

When I lived in Florida, I drove a 1991 Honda Accord for a while.  It was a great car with 35 miles per gallon but just like any other car I have driven, it had way too many miles on it, and it was already showing its age.  I was able to keep the Honda running through preventive maintenance, but I remember the day when my confidence caused me to wait too long.

Anybody who has worked on disc brakes can recognize the sound of metal on metal that is a sign that we better change the pads quickly.  Well, I heard the sound for a couple of weeks so I was already living on borrowed time.  However, I did not feel like working on the brakes yet so I decided to wait for the weekend.

As I was driving home, I began slowing down at the intersection for the road that would take me to my home which was a little over a mile away.  I hit the brakes and I heard the noise that none of us wants to hear.  It sounded like the brake assembly broke on the right front wheel so I nursed the car into the parking lot of the Walgreen’s on the corner.

I walked home and went to sleep because there was nothing else I could do at 11:00pm.  After I got Eli on the school bus, I called up my friend Jimmy who was serving as the Associate Minister at the church across the street from Walgreens, and he helped me get to the store for parts and then to my car.

The brake assembly was actually in good shape so the noise was more the pads falling to pieces than anything else.  That was good news for me so I kept working.  I removed what was left of the pads and began to push the caliper back, but the caliper did not move.  I fought it for a while until I decided to remove the caliper and go back to the parts store.

At the parts store, I found out that the caliper went beyond the point of no return, so I had to buy a new one.

The caliper is designed with a thin line of metal that prevents it from retracting just in case something went wrong.  This was a safety measure that prevents further damage to the brake assembly and/or the wheel hub should something break while the car is in motion.  That was the point of no return, and thanks to my overconfidence, my caliper was no longer any good.

Sometimes, our confidence can cause us to wait too long before reacting to spiritual warning signs.

The more we study the Bible, the more confident we get.  The more confident we get, the better our spiritual lives become because we know that we are growing in Christ.  However, with that confidence comes the temptation to become spiritually lazy.  And when we become spiritually lazy, we no longer fear the sins we should avoid.  And if we don’t fear those sins we should avoid, we could end up being blindsided when we least expect it.

We all have certain warning signs that alert our consciences when we get too close to activity we should not engage in.  If we don’t pay attention to those warning signs, we could end up paying a price we did not plan on paying, and sometimes it can be an extremely high price.

“Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12 ESV)

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Thursday, February 23rd 2017

3:08 AM

Remembering the Good Ole Days

It seems like forever since I have written, but this has been a crazy month for us.  Along with the normal chaos that comes with having the last name Winfrey, we had a couple of surprise road trips to Atlanta so we could pay our respects.  The first Thursday of the month was the viewing of Cousin Julia who was part of Michael’s family.  Although we were not that close to her, we did spend some time with her over the past few years.  She and her husband “Uncle Donald” would drive up to Mountain City GA and go to our church so they could support us.  We also met with them near their house for lunch and went to their house for Uncle Donald’s surprise birthday party.  Those few memories are good ones for us, and I am sure that Michael has many more memories since she grew up knowing them.

The next Thursday was a hard one for me.  We had to drive back to Atlanta for the viewing of Jerry Harbin.  For those who live outside the Atlanta area, they may not know who he is, but for Christian Church people in Atlanta, we knew him as that guy you called when you wanted somebody to lead the song service.

Jerry Harbin was the music director at Mt. Gilead which was where we had camp meetings for the area churches.  He served from 1977 to 1988, and those camp meetings were well attended by churches from a variety of denominations.  We were attending the Methodist Church when we went to the camp meetings.

Along with leading the music at the camp meetings, Jerry was the main song leader for revivals at the Christian Churches in the area.  A revival needed a good preacher for the sermons, but it also needed a good song leader to get the people ready for the good sermons.  Jerry was that guy!  I could go on and on about him, but I need to get to the point I am trying to make.

The death of Jerry Harbin is another indication that the “Good Ole Days” are behind us.

Although I am only 42 years old, I have several great memories of the glory days of churches working together for the common goal of glorifying God.  I remember going to Atlanta Christian College on Sunday afternoons to sing with other church choirs as we practiced for the “Singspiration on Steroids” that was held in their gym.  I don’t remember the official name, but that was a great time for the church choirs to gather and use their talents for the Lord.  I’m sure that there are still combined choirs going on, but I doubt that they are anything like what we had especially since we no longer have the common meeting place, but we won’t talk about Atlanta Christian College moving.

Along with the combined choirs, there were several youth groups meeting together for rallies, lock-ins, service projects, concerts, and anything else we felt was going to help our teenagers grow closer to the Lord.  I still think it is rather interesting that Michael and I attended many of these events but never met each other until almost 20 years later.

Combined choirs, youth groups working together, Paul Carrier preaching at Kenwood Christian Church, Tom Morgart preaching at Jonesboro, Keith Bunn preaching at Tucker, Keith Davenport preaching at Fairburn, Jerry Harbin leading the singing for the revivals, hanging out at the college with friends, going to Jesus’ Place in downtown Atlanta to hand out clothes after the church service, conducting church services at Christian City on Sunday afternoon, these are all part of the “Good Ole Days” that the Wee Ones will never get a chance to experience.

The Wee Ones can only experience the “Good Ole Days” from a distance as I share stories of the past.

This is the sad reality of life because we all grow old and with old age come the complications of trying to keep the world from spinning so we can enjoy those special moments one last time before the Lord takes us home.  Like I said already, I am only 42 years old, but there have been so many changes in my lifetime, I feel like I am 3 times my age.

With all of the changes going on, what will the “Good Ole Days” look like for the Wee Ones?

Part of me wants to lament the changes because the Wee Ones are not going to have the same experiences I had, but there is another part of me rejoicing because they will have brand new experiences that they will call their own!  Of course, the problem is that we have the responsibility of making sure those new experiences are happening.  As the “Adult” generation, have we really accomplished anything that would create a lasting impression on the future generations?

Will anybody look back at our years and call them the “Good Old Days” when they share stories with their children?

I don’t really have a solution or even a suggestion at this point, but I can say this much.  If we continue to waste our time fighting over the right way to do church, we will lose the opportunity to be church for our kids.  And there won’t be anything “Good” about that!

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Monday, January 30th 2017

10:48 PM

Speaking the Right Language

I love singing.  Many people already know this, but I am part of a community choir called the Greenwood Festival Chorale, and we sing 3 times per year.  Our concerts are formal with monkey suits and an orchestra playing with us.  I have to admit that I’m not really a tuxedo guy but I LOVE the classical music feel that we have with the orchestra.  I also love the 6-part choir with the challenging music that keeps me on my toes.

Being part of the choir is something I grew up with as the churches we attended had choirs and extremely talented choir directors.  My love for choir began with watching my parents in the choir and now our kids get to watch us in the Chorale.  Even though we are not able to have a choir at our church, we can still sing with a choir, and that is just as good for me.

This concert coming up in March is especially challenging for me.  We are singing Dan Forrest’s “Requiem for the Living,” and the entire piece is in Latin.  The music itself is not really difficult compared to other songs we have sung although the constant changes from 4/4 to 3/2 to 2/2 back to 4/4 is driving me crazy.  The biggest challenge for me is trying to learn these Latin words.  Not only do I have to pronounce the words correctly while singing, I have to overcome this disconnect I feel from not knowing what the words mean.  I have the English translation alongside the Latin words, but it will take a few tries before I can immerse myself into the music.

Singing music in a different language creates an additional barrier that slows down the process of internalizing the song.

Without internalizing the song, it is hard to sing with my whole heart.  And if I am not singing with my whole heart, the sound will not be as good as it could be.  And if I am not singing to the best of my ability, how can I glorify God with my singing?  The good news is that I have time to fix the issue and I will be ready to go when the concert happens in March.  It will be hard work, but I will be glad that I did not quit.

Internalizing the song is harder when it is in a different language, but it can be done.  In the same way, a church that speaks a different language than the community can be difficult to accept.

A couple of decades ago, there was a word created to describe the insider language of the church, and it was called “Christianese.”  This type of language involves the words we use that are hard for others to understand because they are not familiar with the church.  Phrases like carrying my cross or being washed in the blood of the Lamb are examples of language that can be strange to those who are not part of the church.  For this reason, there have been movements with a goal of eliminating any and all insider language so visitors can feel welcome at church.  Although this may sound like a good idea, there is a danger of losing the identity of the church if we simply remove phrases that sound weird.

The answer lies in the education of the people rather than the elimination of the phrases.

When visitors are in the building, we should be ready to explain parts of the church that appear normal to us.  Even if the visitors are familiar with the church, it would be better to make the effort to explain rather than assume that they already know what is going on.  After all, they are still visitors, right?  If they understood what was going on, perhaps they would have already been members.  My point is that we should not be afraid to explain what we do and the phrases we use because that will work much better that trying to erase the uniqueness of the Christian Faith.

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