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Back in 2003, the popular Christian metal band Stryper was having a reunion tour. I remember making the 5 and ½ hour drive from Atlanta to the Murray Hill Theater in Jacksonville just to see them in concert. This venue was the size of a community theatre since that is what it used to be. There was standing room only for the concert and I had a great time reminiscing about the times I heard their songs while skating at Sparkles during Christian Skate Night.
Stryper was the band that went against the status quo for Christian bands. Much like Petra, they preached the Gospel through music and suffered the ridicule of the local church because the parents were afraid that their kids were being led down the wrong path. They sounded like the secular metal bands, but they wrote wholesome lyrics that pointed the listeners to Christ. During the 1980s, there were several bands like Stryper, but none were as successful. Unfortunately, I never got a chance to see them in concert until the reunion tour, but this concert was awesome! They played all the favorites and I sang at the top of my lungs until my voice gave out, and then I kept singing anyway!
The concert was everything I hoped it would be, but it was not the same as the bigger venues they used to play.
Although it would have been great to see them at Atlanta’s Fox Theater back in 1988, they were still great at the smaller venue. Unfortunately, there were some fans at the Murray Hill Theater who didn’t feel the same way. A few of them talked about how great it was to see them back then and how insulting it was to see them in such a small venue for their reunion tour. They deserved much better than the Murray Hill Theater. I decided not to argue because they clearly had their minds made up and I had nothing to compare my experience to.
In 2005, I had the pleasure of being able to experience the North American Christian Convention (NACC) for the first time. This was the year they decided to have regionals so there were different locations all over the country. I went to the one in Jacksonville, and it was a good crowd although it was only a fraction of the crowd that shows up when the NACC meets in one location. I had a great time, but the next year was much more exciting.
The following year was my favorite because we extended an invitation to the Acapella branch of the movement. 2006 marked the 100th anniversary of the official split that came as a result of the census. We decided that it was time to celebrate what we had in common instead of focusing on our differences. I don’t remember the attendance numbers for that year, but the convention center was packed!
My greatest memory from the 2006 NACC was the main session worship which consisted of local praise bands, college choirs, acapella singing to go along with the traditional hymns and praise songs! It truly was a gathering of churches as every area of the country showed up for this convention. In my opinion, this was the standard for the NACC and I measure every other year according to 2006.
My favorite year was 2006, but I understand that the NACC had bigger crowds and made headlines in local news as far back as the 1920s.
I remember researching the old Christian Standard magazines from the mid-1900s, and there were pictures of the NACC that made our recent conventions look like the Murray Hill Theater. That must have been some amazing years for the NACC! This was one of those moments when I wish the DeLorean was available so I could visit those conventions.
After seeing what the convention used to look like, I could be tempted to get depressed or speak out against the present leaders of the NACC. However, I am not going to blame the leadership for the hard times that have come upon us because the truth is that there are multiple reasons why the attendance numbers are not what they used to be.
The NACC is in a time of transition. For better or for worse, we are at a crossroads that does not look good in either direction. If we take one road, part of the movement will be mad at us while taking the other road will cause the other parts to come unglued. I do not envy the “Powers that be” for the decisions that need to be made because there is no possible solution that will satisfy every church at the same time.
For this reason, I would like to encourage all of us to pray for the NACC especially for the staff and those in leadership. Instead of criticizing the convention, we should be praying for the people. Most of the leadership are made up of volunteers who already have full plates of responsibility at home. Why do they continue leading the NACC? They love the churches, they love the convention, and they don’t want to see our great movement suffer because of division and strife.
Nobody knows what the future will bring, but this much we do know: The churches will need a gathering that will keep us united as move forward with the Great Commission. The NACC can be that gathering as long as we show up.
We had a great time at the NACC this year, and the adventure continued across the top of the country. We drove through part of Kansas, up through Nebraska, into Iowa and up to South Dakota. From there, we saw Wall Drug and the Badlands National Park before ending the day at Mount Rushmore.
Our journey continued through Wyoming and into Montana where we entered Yellowstone National Park from the Northeast entrance. We then turned south into Denver, Amarillo TX, Wichita Falls TX, and Abilene so I could check out Abilene Christian University.
After that, we headed East through Dallas, West Monroe LA for church, and then home. That giant circle was almost 5,000 miles worth of driving, and this marathon wore us out.
I will be writing about the NACC and parts of our journey as time goes by, but for now, I wanted to talk about our experience in the Wyoming Welcome Center. This was after our visit to the Badlands National Park and Mount Rushmore, so we got a chance to see the land that once belonged to the Buffalo and Native American Indians.
As we drove through South Dakota, Michael made a comment that the land still looks empty, and with the exception of fences and the occasional group of steaks, I mean cows, she thinks that this is what the land must have looked like before the White man took over.
When we were leaving the Wyoming Welcome Center, the lady who was in charge gave us some hints about what we can see on the way to Billings MT. As she was talking, she pointed out Little Big Horn and said that this was the place where General Custer was finally stopped and he got what he deserved.
Up until that point, I thought that General Custer was a favorite military leader as he was marching into the west for the country. I know that His last stand was his unfortunate downfall, but I never met a person who actually hated him, until I talked to the lady at the welcome center. I guess it is safe to say that she is a Native American Indian.
After that conversation, I started thinking about how we tend to claim that the land is better off now that we “Americans” settled it, but there is a group of people who disagree with us. This is not a rant against the government or a statement for Indians, but it is a message that not everybody is a fan of the changes that are made.
Just like the Native American Indian, there are people in the church who are being forced to accept a new reality that is being called progress.
The new generation of the church has taken over, sometimes with hostile methods, sometimes slow and steady, but not with the full support of the older generations. I’m sure that there are some exceptions to this, but overall, what we tend to see as progress can also be viewed as the end of an era, and that can be painful for those who spent so much time building on the foundation that was laid before them. Is this a good thing? Probably not.
There are times when change is appropriate and natural, but there are other times when change can be destructive, and that is not natural.
Even the older generations recognize that change is needed for the church to survive, but that does not mean they will not hurt when it is happening. This is why we need to be sensitive to their view and quit being so bull-headed when receiving feedback that is not what we are looking for. Instead of getting defensive, we should listen to their side of the story and see if there is a way that we can reach an agreement that will satisfy all parties involved.
I believe the Apostle Paul said it best when he wrote in Romans 12:18, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Do what you can to keep the peace even if it means slowing down long enough for people to get used to the changes.
The Twilight Zone is probably one of the most intriguing sci-fi shows that has ever been created. In fact, some have gone so far as to say that it is the original sci-fi show that started many others. Well, I am a fan mainly because my dad let me watch some episodes, and I got hooked on the twists and turns similar to that of a roller coaster when watching it.
Rod Serling is a genius when writing, and he seems to have some kind of moral that goes with every episode.
In this particular episode that inspired me to write, there was a couple on their way to New York. Their car broke down in a small town somewhere in Ohio, and they decided to go to the diner while waiting for the mechanic to work on it.
In the diner, there was a napkin holder that had a mystical figure on top that would give answers to questions when you insert a penny. Think “Magic 8 ball” and you know what I am talking about. It is a novelty, but the couple got concerned because the answers were too close to truth for it to be a coincidence.
The man got sucked in and started to believe that it could predict the future, so he continued to ask questions. Eventually, the toy convinced the man that it was not safe to leave town, so he made up his mind to stay where he was. His girlfriend was scared and wanted to leave because if the toy was really predicting the future, she did not want any part of it.
Eventually, the girlfriend convinced the man that the toy was not predicting the future, and they needed to leave. The mechanic got the car fixed, and they were on their way. As they were leaving the diner to pick up the car, there was another couple coming in looking like they haven’t slept in weeks. They go to the toy, insert a penny and ask if they could leave town. Out of frustration, the guy said, “Looks like we will never be able to leave town.”
Sometimes fear can convince you to listen to that which you know is unreasonable.
I’m sure that most of us can relate to this kind of situation. The church meets to discuss something, but there is always a person or people who will say something that will stop the entire process dead in its tracks. It could be something as little as spending money to replace the carpet that nobody likes or something as elaborate as an entire building that is needed for growth.
The problem is that the vocal minority can often control the room, and that can paralyze a church and kill a project.
What can you do when fear takes over the room? Unfortunately, there is not much you can do until you find the source of that fear and why it exists. If the fear is based on something real, you can work at correcting the issue that is causing people to react. That is easy enough especially if it is a money thing, or a timing thing. Those are easy to spot and the answer is obvious. You either show that the money is available or will be available or you wait for the right time to make it happen.
However, if the fear is based on assumptions or the unknown such as “This could happen” or “What if this ends up happening” or something else like it, we have to be wise in how we handle the people who are afraid.
While it is silly to allow fear of the unknown to take over, it is not a good idea to fight those who have that fear. Instead, we should figure out a way to make sure that they realize that there is nothing to fear but fear itself. This can happen as long as you take the time to work with the people who are afraid instead of leaving them to continue being anxious over what is happening.
The girlfriend on the Twilight Zone episode got the point across to the man by talking to him and reasoning with him. He finally came to his senses, but it took time and a conversation. In the same way, we need to take the time to have a conversation with those who are afraid so we can move forward with whatever project is on the horizon.
In many ways, Memorial Day has become the unofficial-official beginning to summer. Much like Labor Day marks the end of family vacations, Memorial Day brings the family vacations closer as the summer months are just around the corner. Of course, we should all remember the reason for Memorial Day and take time to honor those who have fallen during times of war. A quick glance at my Facebook page will show how I did this.
Along with the solemn activities of the holiday, we have the joyous grilling of the meat which is an appropriate way to celebrate the beginning of summer. We just need to make sure we don’t neglect the former in an effort to arrive at the latter.
When choosing the right grill for the job, I tend to lean towards “Propane and propane accessories” (In my best Hank Hill voice) because of the reliability of the heat and we get to taste the meat. However, there was a moment in my life when I used charcoal for my grill, and those were good times too!
I remember living in Port Orange, FL, and we had a charcoal grill for our once per week steak offering to God. Lighting the grill was a challenge, and knowing when to start cooking the meat was very important.
After several attempts of finding the right combination, I finally figured out how much lighter fluid to use, and how long to wait before the coals are ready for cooking. It got to the point where I could light the charcoal, ride my bike around the neighborhood, and then the grill was ready by the time I got back home. (My wife was at home so the grill was not left unattended)
The struggle is knowing when to stop pouring the lighter fluid so the coals could get a chance to burn on their own.
Lighter fluid is a great invention, but it can work against you if you use too much. By pouring too much fluid on the coals, the flames will climb to the ceiling, and an exciting time can be had by all. However, after the fluid is used, the flames die quickly, and the coals are left struggling to survive. This is why it is best to use a minimal amount of fluid so the coals will get a chance to join the process of catching fire. It is not as exciting as the big flame, but it is much more effective.
Growing a church can be as challenging as lighting a charcoal grill.
When trying to add people to the pews, it is easy to fall into the trap of using the lighter fluid approach. It can be exciting to have plenty of events and make noise in the community, but there are times when the events can work against you. Of course, we need to have a way of introducing ourselves to the neighborhood, and the bonding that comes from the fun is valuable, but there has to be a plan for what to do the next day.
Are we going to follow up the event with another, bigger, better bash, or can we begin ministering to the masses?
Just like too much lighter fluid will keep the coals from lighting, too many big events will keep the people from experiencing the real community that comes from committing to the congregation. This is why it is better to pace ourselves with the events so we can work on the people of 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!