Few reasons why women empowerment is essential in the present scenario!

Women play a crucial role in the economic development and progress and growth of the country and in recent days, the women started to occupy larger organizations in top position bringing about changes in the work environment.  Only through women empowerment, one can bring out the potential and ability to realize the worth of being women that too in a male-dominated society.

Due to increase knowledge about the outside environment, many women are being educated and also take part in various activities, trying to bring out their fullest potential in an efficient manner in recent times.  But unluckily, there are few sections of the society who are unwilling to accept these changes and growth of a woman, and also there are few sections in which they lack the facility of education and other privileges to outperform and shine in the male-dominated society.

Do you think is it important to support women empowerment?

Unlike men, women also have the chances to decide on the career they want to flourish and shine but they need to realize their full potential, need to have self-confidence, need to have the freedom to choose their personal and professional choices.  It is important to overcome the gender bias in society and to bring out the best from the self is considered important among others.

Women empowerment not only makes the women bring out their full capacity but also helps to build the confidence level within her in order to face the challenges placed in front of her.  Though they possess numerous skills, it should be nurtured properly, polished and sharpened with the help of education, self, and social awareness and freedom to express her thoughts.

Try to surf through the net to know the best role models in women and understand the difficulties and problems faced by them in order to motivate yourself since failures make you to learn a lot than the success and check out this website to explore the outside world in a best possible manner and to achieve great success.

In whatever the field the women want to be in, she needs to focus on these things in order to overcome the problems in her life to reach such great heights and also to create history;

Try to avoid unemployment since it makes your talents to subside gradually and make you in losing your career.  Try to fight against under-employment in the society since in some of the places, the men are given more importance than the women, and they face a lack of opportunities to shine.

Make others realize that women are equally good at workplaces and able to handle multi-task in organizations.  Women empowerment also makes society to achieve the overall development in the best possible way.

Problem #1: Recklessly Dividing the Word of Truth

In his introduction, Eldredge says, “Most messages for men ultimately fail.” “The reason is simple,” he writes. “They ignore what is deep and true to a man’s heart, his real passions, and simply try to shape him up through various forms of pressure.”

Needless to say, I wondered what new message he was offering men. Within the first few pages it became abundantly clear. Chapter one opens with the following quotation from Proverbs 20 verse 5: “The heart of a man is like deep water . . .”

As I read the first chapter I discovered that what men need, in Eldredge’s estimation, is to find their hearts. On page 3 he writes, “I am searching for an even more elusive prey . . . something that can only be found through the help of wilderness. I am looking for my heart.” On page 6—”If a man is ever to find out who he is and what he is here for, he has got to take that journey for himself. He has got to get his heart back.” And then on page 8—”The church wags its head and wonders why it can’t get more men to sign up for its programs. The answer is simply this: We have not invited a man to know and live from his own deep heart.”

I now understood the relevance of Proverbs 20:5 (according to Eldredge). Since the heart of man is deep and elusive, men need help understanding their hearts better. They need to learn to live according to the true desires and motivations of that heart if they are to find true fulfillment—if they are to be all God intended them to be. It would be difficult to argue that this is not the central theme of the book.

And this is where I noticed the first major problem—Eldredge’s consistent mishandling of Scripture. I am not speaking here of his interpretations of Scripture. I take issue with the manner in which he handles certain biblical texts. To say the least, he takes Scripture out of context. But even worse, he actually edits Scripture to make it suit his purpose and affirm his teachings.

Proverbs 20:5 does not say what Eldredge claims it says. Now I know you’re expecting me to pull out some deeper understanding of the original Hebrew and call Eldredge’s scholarship into question, but I didn’t need to go to that much trouble. All I had to do was open my Bible—my NKJV Bible—the version from which Eldredge said he had quoted.

His quote reads like this: “The heart of a man is like deep water . . .” The meaning of the sentence, as quoted by Eldredge, is that the subject “heart” is described and explained by the adjective phrase, “like deep water.” The heart is like deep water, Eldredge claims. But the NKJ text actually reads like this: “Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water.” In the biblical text, the subject of the sentence is not “heart,” but rather, “Counsel.” The simile, “like deep water,” refers to the subject, “Counsel,” not to the object of the prepositional phrase, “in the heart of man.” So the Bible teaches us that counsel is like deep water.

To conclude and teach, as John Eldredge does, that “The heart of a man is like deep water,” especially when his quotation of the verse capitalizes the first word as if it were actually the beginning of the sentence, is not to merely misinterpret the meaning of the text; it is to change and misrepresent the meaning of the text. This would not all be quite so serious if he had not built the entire theme of chapter one (and really, the whole book) on the meaning of his edited version of Proverbs 20:5.

Another passage of Scripture with which John Eldredge takes unjustified liberty is the beginning of Genesis. On pages 213-214, in describing Adam’s relationship with God, Eldredge includes this commentary on the creation account. “Before the moment of Adam’s greatest trial God provided no step-by-step plan, gave no formula for how he was to handle the whole mess. That was not abandonment; that was the way God honored Adam. You are a man; you don’t need Me to hold you by the hand through this. You have what it takes. ”

Such a statement not only reveals Eldredge’s highly imaginative interpretation of the beginning of Genesis, it also reeks of humanism (man-centered thinking) and is even suggestive of Pelagianism (a centuries-old, but still popular heresy which tells mankind basically what Eldredge portrays God saying here to Adam— “you have what it takes” to deal with the consequences of your sin).

I was also fascinated when I learned what Eldredge says went wrong in the first place—how man’s (deep) heart got lost, and why men feel the need to find it. I was disturbed to find that it didn’t seem to have anything to do with sin. His understanding of the problem could be summarized like this: Eve (woman) is perfectly happy being domesticated because she was created inside the Garden of Eden. Adam (man) on the other hand, has always felt restless. He has always had this inner need for adventure, exploration, danger, etc.

Why does man have this need? Eldredge explains on pages 3 and 4: “Man was born in the outback, from the untamed part of creation. Only afterward is he brought to Eden. And ever since then boys have never been at home indoors, and men have had an insatiable longing to explore . . . The core of a man’s heart is undomesticated and that is good. ”

Do you hear what he is saying? Adam was better off—more suited to his environment— before God brought him to (or confined him in) the Garden of Eden. If Eldredge is right, then in a way it seems that God cursed Adam before he sinned. He took him out of the environment in which he would have been fulfilled, and placed him in an environment that would repress his deepest inner longings. And when Adam sinned—when he was kicked out of the garden—he actually got what he wanted. What the Bible portrays as a curse was really a blessing to Adam.

One more example worth mentioning, though not directly related to the central theme of the book, is Eldredge’s treatment of Luke 8:26-33—Luke’s account of Jesus’ encounter with the demoniac of the Gerasenes tombs. In using this passage of Scripture to illustrate the need for vigorous resistance to spiritual oppression, Eldredge writes, ” . . . when [Jesus] encounters the guy who lives out in the Gerasenes tombs, tormented by a legion of spirits, the first rebuke by Jesus doesn’t work. He had to get more information, really take them on . . . ”

This explanation of the encounter, found on page 166, certainly affirms Eldredge’s point, but once you read the biblical text for yourself, you should understand just how ridiculous (if not blasphemous) it really is. Even a cursory reading of Luke 8:26-33 will convince you that these demons never resisted, or even questioned Jesus’ first (and only) rebuke. In fact, the whole dialogue between Jesus and the demons took place precisely because they knew exactly who He was, and they knew they had no choice but to obey His command.

For those who think the liberties Eldredge takes with these biblical texts is acceptable, I remind you of Peter’s words regarding the holy Scriptures ” which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction . . . ” (2 Peter 3:16). Peter was referring directly to the distortion of some of the difficult portions of Paul’s epistles, but he concludes that sentence by saying, ” . . . as they do also the rest of the Scriptures” (including Genesis, Proverbs, and Luke).

A Critical Review of the Book, Wild at Heart, by John Eldredge

Review by Daryl Wingerd

Eldredge, John. Wild at Heart. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001 (Spirituality/Christian living; 222 pages; hardcover; suggested retail price, $19.99) .

 

John Eldredge’s book Wild at Heart was recommended to me by several different Christians. To be honest, reading this book was not high on my list of priorities, but the people who recommended it to me are very dear and trusted friends. Partly out of respect for them, and partly out of my pastoral sense of obligation to “Test all things; hold fast what is good,” I made the time to review what Charles R. Swindoll endorsed as, “the best, most insightful book I have read in at least the last five years.”

From the outset, you will undoubtedly notice that my review of Wild at Heart is overwhelmingly unfavorable. There would be no point in tempting you to read this entire essay by leading you to believe otherwise. But still, I want to begin by saying that I do not disagree with everything John Eldredge has to say. I believe, as he does, that men in America have become passive, passionless, and even feminized in some regards. I commend his efforts to convince fathers to steer their boys in a more masculine direction.

Like Eldredge, I am drawn to adventure, excitement, and even danger. In my fourteen years as a Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff (1986-2000), I found that I was most alive and at my best when duty called me into hostile situations, from which the ordinary wise civilian would flee. Cops, firefighters, and soldiers are a little strange that way. I love maps. I love to explore. I am an outdoorsman and a hunter who, in my late thirties, has found neither the time, the money, nor the energy to pursue these activities as much as I would like. One of my favorite stores is the giant Cabela’s outlet near Kansas City.

I have a six-year-old son, and three daughters. I want my son to be a real man. I want him to be different from his sisters. I expect that he will be more aggressive, more physical in his play, and dirtier when he comes in at the end of the day. I want him to be brave, noble, adventurous, and yes, just a little daring. These are qualities I try to encourage in him and model for him (often to the chagrin of my loving and patient wife).

So for those of you who have read Wild at Heart, you can see that I do find at least some common ground with John Eldredge. But once these few footholds of common ground are established, we part company almost completely. From the one page introduction all the way through chapter 12, aside from all the manly man stuff, I found little to commend.

As I write, I am aware of the fact that this book is wildly popular in many Christian circles. Some who will read this review are undoubtedly fans of John Eldredge and of his books. Speaking to those fans, I ask you this: Knowing already that my review will be critical, will you read what I have to say? I hope you will, because if you find that my critique of John Eldredge’s book is off the mark, you will have lost nothing but a few minutes of time. But if you find that the problems I point out are real and serious problems, then I believe you will agree that it was time well spent.

My purpose in the next few pages is not to examine Wild at Heart under a microscope. I am certain that many popular books could be painted in a negative light under such close scrutiny. My purpose here is to address three majorproblems—ones for which no microscope was needed. I want to focus on these three problems because they not only appear throughout the book, theycharacterize the book.

Simply stated, the problems are as follows: First, Eldredge mishandles Scripture badly. Second, the central theme of the book is not consistent with the teaching of the Bible. Third, Eldredge conveys a low, humanistic, and even heretical view of God. If I can demonstrate that these three problems do, in fact, characterize Wild at Heart, I will have done all I intended to do, and you will have something to think about.

What They Did Before TV

My mother was the youngest of fourteen children growing up on a farm in the first part of the last century. The old home place burned down when she was a girl. It was a typical Southern house divided into a boys’ room, a girls’ room, a kitchen (they ate in the open breezeway during the summer), and the parents’ room. A porch surrounded the entire home.

“Mom and Dad’s” room was the gathering place at night. The fireplace blazed with what they called a “push ’em back” fire, arranged to throw out the most heat possible. Everybody sat and talked. Besides eating peanuts and throwing the shells into the fire, or maybe sharpening a knife or darning a sock, that’s all that happened.

They talked and talked and talked until they could not keep their eyes open. Then the kids ran across the open breezeway into their rooms (or perhaps to the outhouse first) and into bed.

These relatives, most of them dead now, treasured their growing up. It wasn’t because they had much, or had it easy. They were dirt farmers during the depression, and they sweated much. But they loved it all. Why? Because of the beauty of relationships built on mounds of talk. They knew how to do it.

If someone came from another farm down the road they were there to “visit.” This meant that they talked. While the family worked the garden, they talked. While the men plowed and mended fences and threw out the hay, or harvested the corn, they talked. And when the family sat around the long table for meals, they used their mouths for more than eating. They talked some more.

I believe I could say accurately that the main occupation of the house was talk. Next was work, but first was talk.

And, throughout the years, when family reunion time came, the relatives gathered for a conversation feast—”catching up” on all the news, reminiscing and laughing (uproarious laughing), discovering what the kids were doing now, looking over the new people entering into the family by marriage. Nobody turned on a TV (Who would even think of it?). Nobody turned on a radio, or a “record player.” Never. They were there for talk—in mega-doses. And when they had to leave, it was with reluctance.

It seems almost inconceivable to believe that there was life before television. As good as the medium is for some things, it is an instrument of death to conversation in most families. Add computers, a personal CD player, and speed-eating and we’ve successfully killed off the last remnants of conversation in most families. Frankly, most families have no meaningful conversation at all. Days and weeks pass, if not months and years, without the skimpiest morsel of a good conversation. When I think about this, I almost weep for the magnitude of the loss. A mudslide of media has pushed our families into a cold ravine. We exist together for as long as we can make it, but we don’t know each other. Without face-to-face communication, the home has become an electronic desert.

But interestingly, with the demise of our conversation, there is no diminishing of our desire. We still long for meaningful relationships. Here is my suggestion:

Take a total break from electronic media as a family for at least two months (just eight weeks of your entire life!), or better yet, six months (OK, you can check the email after the kids are in bed). Read a great book together, play together, take walks and go to the park, eat outside, drive into the countryside (ever heard of that?), sit down and eat a real meal together with everyone helping to clean up, invite friends over to “visit,” do a project together, pull all the chairs up close to the fire, roast wieners in the fireplace, drink lots of tea or hot chocolate, pray together, plant a garden, sing around the piano or with the guitar, have your own Friday night retreat, or just sit down . . . together.

It is only in our age that talk has come on such bad times. God made us to communicate, and people have done so much of it throughout history that the Bible does not address the lack of it. But it cannot be assumed any longer. TV is doing all the talking, and we are dying inside. I don’t doubt that you long for something better, but sadly, few will ever do anything to accomplish it.

Oh yes, here’s one more idea. In your next reunion, pull all the TVs into one room facing each other, and force them to listen to each other. Then find a real person and . . . talk.

___________
“A word spoken in due season, how good it is!” Proverbs 15:23

Trying to Be a Christian

I was astounded. I had just explained to a group of nuclear scientists the difference between trying to earn salvation by our own works and trusting Christ for it. I thought that I had made myself exceptionally clear. As I left, however, one man thanked me and remarked, “I guess I just need to try harder to be a Christian.” He had missed it completely! Why couldn’t he see my point?

He had as much hope of getting to God by his human effort as by a space shuttle. Without the aid of the Holy Spirit and the understanding provided only through the Bible, every man reasons that he must earn God’s favour.

The Bible does not say that. It teaches that salvation is a gift received only by faith, “not by works, so that no one can boast.” Eph. 2:9

It was this truth about salvation that turned the course of human history in 1516 as the Protestant Reformation began. Sola Fide, “faith alone,” became the battle cry of the reformers during those revolutionary days. The reformers discovered a truth that had been hidden behind rituals and dogmas for most of society over hundreds of years. But it certainly wasn’t new. The ancient patriarch Abraham had learned this transforming truth three thousand years before the Reformation fires ignited.

Abraham discovered that being accepted as righteous before God, (called justification), does not happen by our good works, but through the exact opposite—faith alone. This faith is not in what we do for Him, but in what Christ has done for us.

“If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works,” says Paul, “he has something to boast about—but not before God. What does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.'” Rom. 4:2-3

If you could be accepted by God on the basis of your works there would be reason to boast. It would mean that you never sin. Since, however, we have never known anybody who is perfect outside of Christ, the “works” way to heaven must be the impossible way. But there is a possible way to be justified—through belief or faith, just like Abraham.

Christ has fully paid the debt of those who are His. When He suffered and died at Calvary, everything was done for man’s sin that could be done. This was an act of the greatest possible grace. For you to think that you could be accepted by your own efforts at being good makes light of the cross of Christ. Paul said, “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” Gal. 2:21

If you will ever be justified or accepted as righteous before God, then you will have to come God’s way, through faith in Christ and what He has done for you. “Trying to be a Christian” is an insult to God and is a way of despising what Christ has done on the cross.

Friends of mine watched a catastrophic event from a hill just above the Guadalupe River in Texas. A bus full of high school students had just come off the hill in order to cross the bridge below. Because of rains upstream, the bridge was covered with water, but the driver thought he could make it over easily enough. Just as they were half-way across, however, a wall of water slammed into the side of the bus and toppled it over into the pounding river.

Soon the students were attempting to maneuver out of the submerged bus. Some made it; others did not. Those who got out were swiftly carried downstream, attempting to hang on to the rocks wherever they could get a hold. They would not last long.

Helicopters from a San Antonio military base were almost immediately on the scene. A line from the helicopter was fastened around the students making it possible for them to be lifted up and over to dry land some distance away.

One girl was nearly insane with fear. When the soldier got to her, it was only with the greatest difficulty that he was able to get the harness around her. As she was being lifted up into the air, high above the ground, her arms were flailing wildly—so wildly, in fact, that she slipped loose from the harness. My friends watched as she plunged to her death below.

Had she only trusted, she could have been saved.

God will never reward the self-effort you exert to save yourself. He will not let you make the cross a meaningless act. He will not obligate Himself to save you because you do what you believe are good works. But there is a possible way because of Christ—the way of faith.

“Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.” Rom. 4:4-5

Downloadables

CCW is delighted to offer the following items for you to download and print from your computer. Though we’ve done our best to offer the files ready to print, you may need to adjust the files slightly due to differences in printers and according to which fonts are loaded in your computer.

Holiday Tracts

Reformation Day/Halloween

October 31, 1517 – This tract tells the story of Martin Luther and presents a gospel message.

The Very Scarey Hand – the Bible story of the handwriting on the wall, with a gospel application.

Ezekiel and the Dry Bones – the Bible story of the valley of dry bones, with a gospel application

Thanksgiving

Not Much to Be Thankful For – “What if you were called on this Thanksgiving to give a report of what you were thankful for? If you could say, not what you ought to say, but what is strictly true, what would come out of your mouth? What makes you really happy?”

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‘Tis the Season to be Jolly? – This colorful tract exploring the emptiness of materialism.

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Seeker’s Guides
Download these publications in MS Publisher format or print from your browser in .pdf format for Adobe Reader.

Miss Hockingfield’s Waterloo – Without that taste of true beauty, she will die in the sin of loving substitutes. And so, heaven is spoiled for her, and is not fitting for her, not because there are not beautiful things there, but because Christ, who is unlovely to her, is in the midst of it.
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The Love of Beauty – Within me is the longing for beauty, and the repulsion of non-beauty. I am convinced that I have the normal longings of all of us. We are made for beauty.
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The Way to God – Do you know the way to God? Are you sure you are right?
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Invincible? – Don’t plan to be in a situation loaded with possibilities for sin even if you think you have power over those temptations. Cut the umbilical cord to temptation. You’re not invincible.
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Mother Teresa Leona – Leona believed that there were many ways to God, and that charitable works are the ticket to arriving in heaven. She mistook morality and service, essential effects of Christianity, for the means of becoming a Christian.
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If I Should Die Before I Wake – If a man or woman is sane and thinking, the fact of death aggravates the mind. Its certainty stirs up at least a chronic uneasiness, and in times of vulnerability or danger may do even more. It is a frightening fact when one chooses to face it honestly.
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The Change of Mind – To repent means to “change the mind.” But this change of mind is not merely a new way of thinking about Christ and salvation. It is much more profound, affecting the deepest attitudes and actions.
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Destroying the Future – As tantalizing as it seems for the moment, failure to follow God’s prescription for sex is a formula for calamity. But coming to Christ by faith changes things. When God washes, sanctifies, and justifies, you are not the same anymore. And you’re guaranteed a future in heaven as well.
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If God is Good, Why Do So Many Bad Things Happen? – “If God is all-powerful and is also good, why is there pain in the world?” The question is among the most difficult to answer, especially when we see “innocent” people destroyed by pain inflicted by others.
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A More Spontaneous and Genuine Evangelism

It is an elementary lesson in understanding the original languages to see that Matthew 28:19 is not a command to “go” but to “make disciples of all the nations” as you are going.” It was not Jesus’ intent to say that the individual Christian must change locations in order to evangelize. But it is most certainly the whole church’s responsibility to see to it that we make disciples where we are, now. Evangelism is not to be done later when the move takes place, or when the trip is taken to another far off country, or when the special evangelistic project commences, though it is certainly inclusive of these.

Yet, nothing is more discouraging than evangelism. The mere mention of the word strikes fear in most people. If it is my goal when speaking in a church to make all my listeners uncomfortable and convicted, all I have to do is say, “evangelize!,” and the guilt quotient rises as fast as the heads drop. Beads of sweat appear on the pastor’s brow. It is the great undone command, and none of us like to be reminded of it.

In my view, much of our fear comes because we’ve made evangelism too difficult and confusing.

First, we often try to do evangelism in a vacuum. Without a group of people enjoying and discussing the opportunities they have had, and without a leader among them who is active in this area, most of us will not find the ongoing stimulus to keep it up. However, when you find this happening, there is a built-in excitement about evangelism. Being in such a group for a long time myself, I’m finding constant motivation to continue. As I hear the stories of normal people, some of them quite reserved, doing what they can to get the word out, I’m charged up and reassured that God can use even me. That’s the first help I want you to consider.

For some of you this might mean establishing a weekly small group meeting just to communicate to each other about what is going on in your evangelism. It might be as simple as coming together 30-40 minutes prior to a regular meeting of the church, or meeting with a team of motivated people for breakfast. This meeting should be about your encounters (even the little ones), your concerns, your creative ideas for reaching others, and specific prayer for those you have spoken to or will speak to. In our case, we take 30-40 minutes weekly in our main church meeting in an open session. Much of that time is spent talking about evangelistic encounters. We also take time at the end of the session to pray for each unconverted person who was mentioned. This provides a powerful motivation to do more.

Second, we have the mistaken notion that evangelism is a choreographed set of ideas well laid out, perfectly transitioned and flawlessly presented. Forget it. It’s not this way. Many of us have tried this with frustration. It is much better to think of evangelism the way the Bible does—”sowing the seed” in any way you can. Any of us can do that. Ever seen a weed grow in an otherwise barren parking lot? Somehow the seed got there and flourished. The simple word in the right place, or the tract well-placed might be the means God uses. Well-oiled presentations frustrate because there is no room for serious questions and discussion on the one hand, and it rules out the less verbal among us, on the other. Rejoice over even the smallest of advances! You are sowing the seed.

I don’t wish to say that there is no value at all in memorizing a set plan. But there are many limitations to such methods. The proof is that the enthusiasm for such plans often dies away after the weeks of concentrated effort are finished. Also, among the least desirable aspects of most of these plans is the fact that they may not encourage listening to the person you are addressing. It’s primarily about getting a set of concepts across, rather than finding out the real questions people have and the dilemmas they face. There are people using block plans who work hard at overriding this obstacle, thankfully, but they more prove my point than void it.

Third, we have not made enough of the fact that evangelism has a great deal to do with what you expect God to do. If you raise your antennae as the day begins and ask God to make you an instrument for divine encounters during the day, it will happen—almost every time. Christians living in anticipation of being used by God are like cats on the lookout for mice. They never lose their focus. They seem to sleep with their eyes and ears alert. When you stay ready, you are actually living by the faith you claim to exercise!

Fourth, we have missed the idea of context. Have you ever gone on a mission trip and then come back determined to focus on others who need Christ the same way you did overseas? What happened? You gradually got sidetracked by all the distractions of life. What you need is a mission field here! I’m sure of one thing: If you put a true believer who has his lights on into a dark place, he or she will make a difference. In addition to all the other opportunities “as you are going,” you need someplace, or perhaps several places, where your focus is all about people and sowing seed.

For instance, you might make a regular stop at a coffee shop early in the morning. Get to know the workers and the regular customers by name. Then, at the appropriate times, insert a clear word about Christ or pass on a piece of literature for your friend’s comments, or whatever gets the seed out. Others of you might join a club or participate in a community college class (or even teach the class!). You might meet people at the gym, or walk regularly in a mall, or . . . you name it. You can bounce these ideas around in your seed-sowing group. Your regular places for seed sowing will help keep you alert for all the other serendipitous moments you might encounter. (see “The Value of Hanging Out” at www.CCWonline.org/hang.html)

Fifth, we have often not made the best literature available in abundance. God brought the gospel to us, not only in the person of Christ, but in words. The history of the use of words in evangelism is remarkable. You should always keep materials available in your purse, car, brief case, and appointment book. In our church we make some key tools available at all times for the group to use. Each week people carry out handfuls of books or booklets for use in evangelism. Some also make use of CDs of evangelistic messages. I love for people to write out their own testimony to slip into a booklet. This multiplies the value of the item you are giving away and makes it much easier for people to receive. “Here’s my story about how my life was changed along with a booklet that explains the truths that made the difference. I’d like to give you a copy to see what you think?” This approach is costly. We spend a lot of money providing the best tools for people. But we think it is worth every penny.

Sixth, we have not trained ourselves well in three important areas. It is important to work together on: 1) the content of the gospel, 2) how to converse and build relationships, and 3) some apologetic issues. Interestingly, these are largely untaught. Rather than teaching a block plan, why not study these three strategic aspects of the gospel and its presentation as your training approach?

Teach the content of the gospel itself, not just a set of phrases about the gospel. A man can talk for hours about a car if he understands what’s under the hood. A woman can spend the day talking about decorating the home when she has concerned herself with learning the philosophies and combinations that are involved. But when a plan is learned and there is not much biblical and theological knowledge behind the phrases spoken, the presenter is unsure and uncomfortable. He has memorized a few statements and transitions, but what does he actually know? It is no wonder the believer does not want to venture out. “What if someone asks a question?” he thinks. It is the person that knows the most theology that can answer the best and has the least fear.

Learning how to converse provides a wonderful practicum for the group also. My common way of evangelism is to ask questions. I just keep probing until I discover the person’s philosophy concerning root issues. It doesn’t take a lot of brains to ask the questions. I’ve learned to get into the thinking of the person. They appreciate that. I respect them as I converse, but I keep probing. Sometimes I say, “That’s very different than my view, but please tell me more.” I don’t explain my view yet; I’m just salting the conversation. I don’t mind asking personal questions either. In turn, they eventually ask, “So what is your view about this?” This provides an excellent way to present what I believe about the problem and the solution in Christ. It would do the church well to study the simple art of having a meaningful conversation.

Basic apologetics provide another field of preparation. Although simply understanding the theology of the gospel will take most people a long way, learning how to address certain questions and/or objections that might arise with sound biblical apologetics is also very useful. I am more philosophical in my approach to apologetics, but am not without some interest in hard evidences as well. When you don’t have a ready answer, you can just say so. Perhaps you can arrange for another meeting to discuss the issue further, or get the person’s address and send him a book on the subject. It’s OK not to know everything. Nonetheless, it is part of our improvement in evangelism to have some understanding of apologetics.

I’ve been evangelistically-driven for most of my life, talking with scores of people personally all over the world about the good news. I’ve thought this through a lot. Even though I began with a block plan for evangelism, I soon found out its serious limitations. I believe what I’m proposing is a much improved way to make viable, life-long disciple-makers. I think I can prove this with the people God has placed under my care. There is nothing novel or exceptional about what I’ve said, I realize, but I believe these concepts offer some significant help to those who care about rising above guilt to action.

Our Church on Solid Ground

All around us Christian doctrines that once seemed indispensable are being distorted or made irrelevant. At the same time, local church membership is increasingly emptied of its meaning, and church discipline, once a core practice of almost every local body of believers, is being dismissed as hopelessly out of step with the new cultural tolerance. Yet in the midst of this confusion and laxity, there are hopeful signs of renewal. This book is intended to provide supportive tools for those who value this recovery—churches who wish to return to biblical foundations, new church starts, leaders who train and equip church planters, or even students in Bible schools and seminary classrooms.

Each statement of belief and practice provided rests solely on the Bible. We affirm that the Bible is not only inerrant and infallible, but also entirely sufficient for showing Christians what to believe and how to live together.

This book contains three concise summaries of biblical truth and practice:

Holding Fast the Word of Life (a statement of faith),
The Fellowship of the Spirit (a membership agreement or covenant), and
Restoring Those Who Fall (a statement regarding the practice of church discipline).
For those who are building, strengthening, or reforming local churches, this book will serve well as a brief manual of doctrine and polity in these three foundational areas.

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Southern Baptists, an Unregenerate Denomination

“How are you doing?”
“Pretty well, under the circumstances.”
“What are the circumstances?”
“Well, I have a very effective arm. It moves with quite a bit of animation. But then I have my bad leg.”
“What’s wrong with it?”
“I guess it’s paralyzed. At least it doesn’t do much except twitch once a week or so. But that’s nothing compared with the rest of me.”

“What’s the problem?
“From all appearances, the rest is dead. At least it stinks and bits of flesh are always falling off. I keep it well covered. About all that’s left beyond that is my mouth, which fortunately works just fine. How about you?”

Like the unfortunate person above, the Southern Baptist Convention has a name that it is alive, but is in fact, mostly dead (Rev. 3:1). Regardless of the wonderful advances in our commitment to the Bible, the recovery of our seminaries, etc., a closer look reveals a denomination that is more like a corpse than a fit athlete. In an unusual way, our understanding of this awful reality provides the most exciting prospects for the future—if we will act decisively.

The Facts
Although the Southern Baptists claim 16,287,494 members, on average only 6,024,289 people (guests and non-member children included), a number equal to only 37% of the membership number, show up for their church’s primary worship meeting (usually Sunday morning). This is according to the Strategic Information and Planning department of the Sunday School Board (2004 statistics). If your church is anything like normal, and is not brand new, your statistics are probably similar. In other words, if you have 200 in attendance on Sunday morning, you likely have 500-600 or even more on your roll. Many churches have an even worse record.

Discerning who among us is regenerate is not an exact science, but a closer look at these numbers will at least alert us to the fact that most Southern Baptists must certainly be dead spiritually. That is so, unless, of course, you claim that there is no difference between a believer and a non-believer.

In the average church you can cut the 37% Sunday morning attendance by about two-thirds or more when counting those interested in a Sunday evening service, or other gatherings held in addition to the principal meeting of the church. In 1996, the last time the SBC kept these statistics, the number of Sunday evening attenders was equal to only 12.3% of the membership (in churches that had an evening meeting). One might ask what makes us claim that the rest are Christians, if they involve themselves with God’s people only on such a minimal, surface level? How are they any different from the people who attend the liberal church down the street—the “church” where the gospel is not even preached?

And remember that the numbers of those attending include many non-member children and guests, often making up a third of the congregation’s main meeting attendance. When all factors are considered, these figures suggest that nearly 90% of Southern Baptist church members appear to be little different from the “cultural Christians” who populate other mainline denominations.

To make matters worse, we tell a lot more people that they are true Christians (because they prayed a prayer sincerely) than we can convince to be baptized. Our largest pizza supper may bring in a hundred new “converts,” but we will likely get only a few of those on the roll. After that, the percentages that I have been mentioning kick in. In other words, if you compare all who we say have become Christians through our evangelistic efforts, to those who actually show signs of being regenerate, we should be red-faced. In the Assembly of God’s 1990s “Decade of Harvest,” out of the 3.5 million supposedly converted, they showed a net gain of only 5 new attenders for every 100 recorded professions. When one considers all of our supposed converts, including those who refuse to follow Christ in baptism and who never join our churches, our numbers are much the same. Doesn’t anybody see that there is a serious problem here?

Let me illustrate in rounded figures by looking at some of the churches where I have preached as a guest speaker. Each could be any Baptist church in any city. In one church, with 7,000 on the active roll, there were only 2000 in attendance on Sunday morning, and a mere 600-700 on Sunday evening. When you account for those attenders who are not members of this flagship church (i.e. guests and non-member children), you have about 1500 actual members coming in the morning and 500 or so in the evening. Where are the 5,500 members who are missing on Sunday mornings? Where are the 6,500 who are missing in the evening?

Another church had 2,100 on the roll, with 725 coming on Sunday morning. Remove guests and non-member children and the figure drops to 600 or less. Only about a third of that number came out on Sunday evening, representing less than 10% of the membership. Yet another church had 310 on the roll with only 100 who attended on Sunday morning. Only 30-35, or approximately 10%, came to the evening worship service.

These are all considered fine churches. All have an extremely competent level of leadership and vision. Some shut-ins and those who are sick, out of town, or in the military, certainly affect the figures a little. But those who are justifiably absent are not enough to alter the bleakness of the picture, especially when we remember that these numbers represent people who have been baptized and have publicly declared their allegiance to God and the Body of Christ. Even if you generously grant that the 37% are all true believers (an estimation that most pastors would say is way off the mark), one still has a church membership that is more dead than alive. If we are honest, we might have to ask ourselves, “Do Southern Baptists believe in a regenerate membership?”

Missing Christians are No Christians
What do these facts and figures, as general as they are, suggest? First, they reveal that most of the people on our rolls give little evidence that they love the brethren—a clear sign of being unregenerate (1 Jn. 3:14). It is impossible to believe that anything like real familial affection exists in the hearts of people who do not come at all, or who only nominally check in on Sunday morning as a cultural exercise. Love is the greatest mark of a genuine believer (1 Jn.3:14-19). Attendance alone does not guarantee that anyone is an authentic believer, but “forsaking the assembling,” is a serious sign of the unregenerate heart. The phrase: “They went out from us, because they were never of us” (1 Jn. 2:19) may have doctrinal overtones, but it nonetheless represents many on our membership rolls.

Second, these numbers suggest that most of those who do not attend (or who only come when it is convenient), are more interested in themselves than God. To put it in Paul’s words, they are “fleshly-minded” and not “spiritually-minded” (Rom. 8: 5-9). The atmosphere that most pleases them is that of the world and not God. They can stand as much of God as makes them feel better about themselves, and they find a certain carnal security in “belonging” to a local church. But beyond that, they will politely resist getting involved. They use the church, but are not really a part of it. For some, the extent of what they can take is an Easter service now and then; for others it is an occasional sterile (and somewhat Pharisaical) trip to church on appropriate Sunday mornings as fits into their schedule. But their apathy towards regular and faithful church attendance betrays their true affections. The fact is, you do what you love to do.

Third, the numbers indicate that some people have joined other denominations and our churches have not kept up with their movements—a sign of inadequate pastoral oversight and the built-in deficiencies of the “inactive membership” concept. I’m quite certain Paul never dreamed of “inactive membership.” Embarrassingly, some left on the rolls are dead—physically! It goes without saying that a dead person is about as inactive as one could be! But others, though presumably alive physically, have disappeared without a trace. I believe it was our beloved Dr. Roy Fish of SWBTS who said, “Even the FBI could not find some of them.” Yet, if we want to claim them as members, we are responsible to keep up with them.

All of these people have “prayed the prayer” and “walked the aisle.” All have been told that they are Christians. But for most, old things have not really passed away, and new things have not come. Most are not new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). In too many cases, obvious signs of an unregenerate heart can be found, such as bitterness, long-term adultery, fornication, greed, divisiveness, covetousness, etc. These are “professing believers” that the Bible says are deceived. “Do not be deceived” the Bible warns us concerning such people (see 1 Cor.6:9-11; Gal. 5:19-21; 6: 7-8; Eph. 5:5-6; Titus 1:16; 1 Jn. 3:4-10; etc.).

Jesus indicated that there is a good soil that is receptive to the gospel seed so as to produce a fruit-bearing plant, but that the “rocky ground” believer only appears to be saved. The latter shows immediate joy, but soon withers away (Mt. 13:6, 21). This temporary kind of faith (which is not saving faith, see 1 Cor.15:1-2) is rampant among Southern Baptists. In The Baptist Faith and Message we say we believe that saving faith is persistent to the end. We say we believe in the preservation and perseverance of the saints (once saved, always persevering). In other words, if a person’s faith does not persevere, then what he possessed was something other than saving faith.

In John 2:23-25 Jesus was the center-piece for what turned out to be a mass evangelism experience in which a large number of people “believed” in Him. Yet He did not entrust Himself to even one of them because “he knew their hearts.” Is it possible that we have taken in millions of such “unrepenting believers” whose hearts have not been changed? I say that we have. Our denomination, as much as we may love it, is on the main, unregenerate. Even if you double, triple, or quadruple my assessment of how many are true believers, we still have a gigantic problem. It is naive to believe otherwise.

There are those who would say that such people are “carnal Christians” and don’t deserve to be thought of as unregenerate. It is true that the Corinthian believers (about whom this phrase was used; see 1 Cor. 3:1-3) acted “like mere men” in their party spirit. Christians can commit any sin short of that which is unpardonable.

Undoubtedly, however, Paul did suspect that some of the Corinthians were unbelievers, for he later warns them about such a possibility in 2 Cor.12:20-13:5. A long-term and unrepentant state of carnality, is, after all, the very description of the unregenerate (Rom. 8:5-14, 1 Jn. 3:4-10, etc.). In calling some people “carnal” Paul did not mean to imply that he was accepting as Christian a lifestyle that he clearly describes elsewhere as unbelieving. He wrote, in the same letter: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God. Do not be deceived” (1 Cor. 6:9-11, etc.). Apparently there were some, even then, who were deceived into thinking that an unrighteous man or woman who professes faith in Christ could really be a Christian!

Is Follow-up the Problem?
A great mistake is made by blaming the problem on poor follow-up. In many churches there is every intention and effort given to follow-up, yet still the poor numbers persist. One church followed up “by the book,” seeking to disciple people who had been told they were new converts during the crusade of an internationally-known evangelist. The report of the pastor in charge was that none of them wanted to talk about how to grow as a Christian. He said, “In fact, they ran from us!” I have known some churches to go to extreme efforts to disciple new believers. We must do this. Yet, like the others, they generally have marginal success. They have learned to accept the fact that people who profess to have become Christians often have to be talked into going further, and that many, if not most, simply will not bother. Authentic new believers can always be followed up, however, because they have the Spirit by which they cry, “Abba Father” (Rom. 8:15). They have been given love for the brethren, and essential love for the beauty and authority of the Word of God. But you cannot follow-up on a spiritually dead person. Being dead, he has no interest in growth.

It was the preaching of regeneration, with an explanation of its discernible marks, that was the heart of the Great Awakening. J. C. Ryle, in writing of the eighteenth century revival preachers, said that they never for a moment believed that there was any true conversion if it was not accompanied by increasing personal holiness. Such content was the staple of the greatest of awakening preaching throughout the history of revival. Only such a powerful cannon blast of truth could rock the bed of those asleep in Zion.

Facing the Dilemma
What must be done? I suggest five responses:

1. We must preach and teach on the subject of the unregenerate church member. Every author in the New Testament writes of the nature of deception. Some books give major consideration to the subject. Jesus Himself spoke profusely about true and false conversion, giving significant attention to the fruit found in true believers (Jn. 10:26-27; Mt. 7:21-23; Mt. 25:1-13, etc.). If this sort of teaching creates doubt in people, you should not be alarmed, nor should you back away from it. Given the unregenerate state of so many professing Christians, their doubts may be fully warranted. In any case, as one friend told me, “Doubts never sent anyone to hell, but deception always does.” Most will work through their doubts, if they are regenerate and if we continue to preach the whole truth. Contrary to popular opinion, all doubts are not of the devil. Speak truthfully the whole counsel of God. You cannot “unsave” true believers.

It is true that there may be some who are overly scrupulous and overwhelmed by such examination. But most who will be affected are those who are too self-confident, having based their assurance on such shaky platforms as their response to an invitation, praying a perfectly worded “sinner’s prayer,” or getting baptized. If they are unregenerate, they may take offense and leave. But if they are truly regenerate, patient teaching and care will help them to overcome their doubts and gain biblical assurance. Such preaching may even result in true conversion for some who are deceived. And don’t forget that the overconfident ones are not the only ones at risk. Quiet, sensitive, insecure people can be deceived also.

2. We must address the issue of persistent sin among our members, including their sinful failure to attend the stated meetings of the church. This must be done by reestablishing the forgotten practice of church discipline. Each church should adopt guidelines that state just what will happen when a member falls into sin, including the sin of non-attendance or very nominal attendance. Such discipline for non-attendance is clearly found in the history of Baptists—but more importantly, in the Bible.

Everyone in the church, including new members, should be made familiar with the biblical steps of church discipline. Jesus said that a person who was lovingly, but firmly, disciplined by the church, and yet failed to repent, should be thought of as “a heathen and a tax collector” (see Mt. 18:15-17). Though David committed atrocious sins, he was a repenter at heart (see 2 Sam.12:13; Psalm 51). Every Christian is a life-long repenter and church discipline brings this out. (See “Restoring Those Who Fall,” in Our Church on Solid Ground: Documents That Preserve the Integrity and Unity of the Church, www.CCWonline.org)

Leaders must get into the homes of all our erring church members, seeking either to bring them to Christ, or to reluctantly release them to the world which they love more than Christ. Nowhere in the Bible are we taught to keep non-believers on the rolls. As a side benefit from church discipline for the SBC, remember that when we reduce our membership to what it actually is, we will be amazed at the statistical improvements in the ratio of members per baptism and members to attenders. Of course, statistics are not worth dying for, but obedience to God’s Word is.

We are never to aggressively pluck the supposed tares from the wheat as if we had absolute knowledge (Mt. 13:24-30; 36-43). We might be mistaken. However, loving church discipline is a careful process by which the obvious sinner in essence removes himself by his resistance to correction. The church is made up of repenting saints, not rebelling sinners (see 1 Cor. 5). The slight improvement in the disparity between membership and attendance in the last couple of years is likely due, in major part, to some churches beginning to practice church discipline—a matter of obedience that thankfully is regaining credence among us. Some have removed hundreds from their rolls in this process, and regained some also.

3. We should be more careful on the front end of church membership. In my estimation, the public altar call (a modern invention) often reaps people prematurely. Others will disagree or can perhaps make significant improvements on the traditional “invitation system.” We have used this method in our evangelism because of our genuine zeal to see the lost converted. But in our zeal, we have often overlooked the fact that many who do what our method calls for (i.e. respond to our invitation) may not be converted.

Though sacrosanct to Baptists, careful study should be done related to the historical use of the invitation system evangelistically. For eighteen hundred years the church did not use such a method. It was not until its principle originator, Charles Finney, a true pelagian in his theology, promoted his “new measures.” Earlier preachers were content to let true conviction play a greater part in conversion. They needed no props for the gospel—no persuasive techniques to prompt people to make a “decision.” Instead of relying on a method, their confidence was in the preached Word and the Holy Spirit. Baptist giant, C. H. Spurgeon, for instance, saw thousands converted without the use of an “altar call.” His message was his invitation. We should always offer a verbal invitation in our gospel preaching, meaning we must invite people to repent and believe. But there is no real benefit, while there is much potential harm, in our inviting them to the front of the church and then assuring them that their short walk or tearful response proves their conversion.

We don’t need better methods to get people down to the front. What we need is more biblical content and more unction in our preaching. You cannot beat sinners away from Christ when God is bringing them in (see Jn. 6:37, 44-45). When as many as 70-90% of “converts” are giving little, if any, evidence of being saved after their first weeks or months of emotional excitement, questions should be asked, both about our understanding of the gospel and about our methods. Forget the fact, if you must, that there is no clear biblical precedent for the altar call. Even considering the matter pragmatically ought to make us quit. Though prevalent in our churches for decades, it has not helped us. (See “Closing with Christ,” www.CCWonline.org/closing.html)

The dangerous practice of receiving new members immediately after they walk the aisle must finally be abandoned. Also, more careful counsel should be taken with those entering in as members from other churches. And add to this a need for much deeper thinking concerning childhood conversion. An alarming percentage of childhood professions wash out later in the teen and college years. For unconverted yet baptized church kids, the more independence they are granted, the more they live out their true nature. (See “Childhood Conversion,” www.CCWonline.org/cconv.html)

4. We must stop giving immediate verbal assurance to people who make professions of faith or who respond to our invitations. It is the Holy Spirit’s job to give assurance. We are to give thebasis upon which assurance can be had, not the assurance itself. Study 1 John in this respect. What things were written so that they might know they have eternal life? (1 Jn. 5:13). Answer: The tests given in the book. The Bible says that the Holy Spirit testifies to our spirit that we are children of God (Rom. 8:16).

5. We must restore sound doctrine. Revival, I am finding as I study its history, is largely about the recovery of the true gospel. The three great doctrines which have so often shown up in true revival are: 1) God’s sovereignty in salvation, 2) justification by grace through faith alone, and 3) regeneration with discernible fruit. Revival is God showing up, but the blessing of the presence of God is directly affected by our beliefs. God most often comes in the context of these and other great doctrines, preached penetratingly and faithfully, and with the unction of the Holy Spirit.

As an illustration of our doctrinal reductionism, repentance is often forgotten completely in gospel presentations, or else it is minimized to mean nothing more than “admitting that you are a sinner.” Also, “Inviting Christ into your heart,” a phrase never found in the Bible (study the context of Jn.1:12 and Rev. 3:20, the verses used for this), has taken the place of the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone. The doctrine of God’s judgment is rarely preached with any carefulness. And comprehensive studies of the meaning of the cross are seldom heard. Merely looking over the titles of the sermons which awakening preachers preached in the past would surprise most modern pastors.

Be Healthy or Be Ashamed
Which army would you rather have? Gideon’s first army or his last? No church, and no denomination, should call itself healthy unless more people attend than are on the roll. This is a standard kept by most of the world, and was kept by our great-grandparents in Baptist churches as well. We would be closer to the revival we desire if we would admit our failure, humbly hang our heads, and seek to rectify this awful hindrance to God’s blessing. When we boast of how big we are, we are bragging about our shame.

In the Philadelphia Baptist Association Minutes, our first association, our initial American statistical record shows that five times as many people attended the association’s churches as were on their rolls. Greg Wills in Democratic Religion in the South (Oxford University Press, 1997, p.14) reports that three times the number on the rolls attended Baptist churches, then located mostly along the eastern seaboard when surveyed in 1791 by John Ashlund. In 1835, the Christian Index of Georgia recorded that “not less than twice the number” of members were in attendance.

Today, in rough numbers, it takes 300 people on our rolls to have 100 attenders. In the 1790s, it took only 33. Or, to put it in larger figures, it now takes nearly 3000 people, supposedly won to Christ and baptized, to result in a church attendance of 1000. Then, it took only 333. Our potency has diminished to such an extent that we must “win” and “baptize” over 2,000 more people to get to the same 1000 to attend.

Apparently, being orthodox in terms of inerrancy and infallibility is not enough, though without these doctrines we have no foundation for true evangelism. A lot has to be done, and a lot undone. And, sadly, we have been actively transporting this mainly American problem overseas for many years.

To conclude, I suggest two remedial steps for the convention as a whole, in addition to what was suggested for the churches:

1. We might reverse some of our proclivity to continue as normal if we introduced our preachers more accurately in our evangelism meetings and convention settings. Try using this introduction: “Here is Brother ______, pastor of a church of 10,000 members, 6400 of whom do not bother to come on a given Sunday morning, and 8600 of whom do not come on Sunday evening. He is here to tell us about how to have a healthy, evangelistic church.”

It might be better to ask a man to speak who shepherds 100 members, all of whom attend with regularity and all of whom show signs of regeneration—a man who, in the last year, has baptized 5 people who stick—rather than a pastor of 10,000 members, 7000 of whom do not come—a man who has baptized 1000 in the past year, 700 of whom cannot be found. The smaller, but more consistent numbers of the first pastor reveal a far more effective ministry and thus a far better example for other churches. (Please understand that I don’t like this talk about “numbers,” but this is the main way we evaluate people and churches as Baptists. I am sure God is not really impressed with any of our statistics.)

2. We should establish a study group to explore our presently deplorable situation and to track its history. This group should also seek to re-examine the biblical mandate to have a regenerate church. Then this study group should report back with a strategy to help us out of the dilemma. They should be painfully honest. I am hopeful that individual churches will act without this prompting, but this would be an added stimulus to getting us to our fighting weight as a denomination. Some church leaders will not act without this sort of backing since independent action would be a departure from the status quo.

Our only alternative is to carry on in the old way—the way that produces 70-90% fallout. By continuing on as we are, we will gradually blur, and eventually obscure altogether, any distinction between the professing and the authentic Christian. In the end, we will look like every other mainline, liberal denomination. We are only one-third to one-tenth alive now. If we want to avoid complete deadness, we must take dramatic measures immediately. Like cotton candy, our apparent size does not add up to much.

Our forebears, especially those who died for the biblical concept of a regenerate church, would hardly recognize our compromised condition. It will admittedly take us down a notch or two, in the estimation of the rest of professing Christianity, when millions are removed from our rolls. But humility and a new reality might be the starting place for God’s greatest blessings on us yet!

The next time someone asks how your church and your denomination are doing, tell the truth. Tell them that we have a new confidence in the inerrant Bible. Tell them that we have seminaries that promote orthodoxy, and new evangelistic fervor among the true believers. Tell them we have a lot to be excited about. But also tell them that when considered as a whole, most Southern Baptists need raising from the dead.

The Rural Church Dilemma

Recently I drove to several small towns in rural Arkansas with my 89 year old father and my siblings, tracking the steps of the ministry of both my dad and his father. The experience was memorable. We visited small towns that even Arkansans might not recognize today: Cotter, Caledonia, Hagersville, Greenwood, LaVaca—twelve in all. These were the places where my father, and his father, labored for Christ seventy and eighty years ago.

Much has changed in the landscape of rural America in those seventy plus years. For one thing, most farms have been eaten up by large conglomerates, dramatically reducing population. The size of families has dropped and the area Walmart has made ghost towns of the typical downtown area.

Families long ago moved out of these rural areas for the big cities in order to find work, and what young people you may find will almost certainly not stay where there is no action. With these demographic alterations, the country church has been reduced to only a shadow of what it once was.

But this does not mean the country church is not there. There are yellow brick buildings with mud stains around their base that still exist as the gathering place for those few faithful (and often reserved) older citizens and, in rare cases, a family or two containing younger people.

The “county seat” town churches are doing better, but even they feel the changes. Some have become regional churches for the surrounding areas. In fact, there are some notable exceptions to the general rule that rural churches are failing. In one Arkansas town that you have likely never heard of, there were 900 attending the largest church on Sunday mornings. The more remote rural churches have yielded their younger families over to these active centers which often carry on vibrant ministries. Regionalization is definitely a trend. We could call it the “Walmartization” of the rural church.

I’ve been there in my own ministry, pastoring in historic Washington, Arkansas as my first assignment. Thirty-five years ago, this town consisted of about 400 occupants, half black and half white. It has now lost much of that population and has turned into a state park (it was the old Civil War capitol of Arkansas). I never knew what quiet was until I pastored in that town. I used a “privy” behind the café and I waited out the lonely nights in a “Jim Walter” home provided by the church. It grew up to about 60 in attendance while I was there, but stayed mostly around 40. The grade school moved to Hope just after I was there, and things went down further. There is not much going on now. I’m not even sure if the church still meets. We said, even at that time, that the church was “just past Hope.”

In addition to that, I’ve preached in so many rural churches that I could not even begin to recount them all. My ministry of 40 years of preaching has landed me in both city and rural churches, some huge, others in towns so sleepy that the grass grows unmolested on the two-lane highway—and deacons wear overalls. Though I’ve loved all of the experiences I’ve been privileged to have, I have to admit that it is often easier to visit than to stay in such a church. And I’ve scratched my head with the pastor wondering how the church could find vitality.

What happens when the young seminarian or college ministerial student takes his first churches in these areas? And what should the committed rural pastor think about his church’s future?

Here are some thoughts for rural pastors. You are the experts, not me. But these thoughts might stimulate something in a church that is not going to be known, outside of a miracle, for its numerical growth. In fact, you may wonder sometimes if God knows you are there.

Remember that you are entirely unaware of the impact of your ministry. For instance, you may teach older adults without much visible impact. But one of them, perhaps a grandparent of an unconverted child, may receive stimulus from your ministry that makes her a true witness to her grandchild. Her witness, prompted by your stimulus and instruction, may be the very thing God uses to bring that child to Him. She may not even be aware of her impact. In fact, it may not come to bear until after she has passed on. The grandchild, in time, may one day marry a believer and raise up children who also become believers in another part of America. Do you really know what that will mean in terms of eternity? Do you know what it means in terms of generations of believers? What if, three generations down the line, one of the Christians in this line is instrumental in the evangelization of an unreached tribal group? Did you see that when you taught that grandparent on a sleepy Sunday morning? Likely not. Don’t forget that Jesus said, “I will build my church.” The time you taught that grandparent might be far more instrumental in the building of the universal church than ten years of ministry in some large city church with all its innovations and activities. You cannot know how God will work for sure, yet you can be confident that it would be a total surprise to you how significant your labors are. Therefore, “sow in hope.”

Be happy to know that you may not be able to change much but lives. I mean by this that the structure of things, the hackneyed songs, the unrefined style of your meetings, the organizational plan, the leadership set, etc., may not be within your power to alter. I don’t say you should not try. But, at the end of the day, the real purpose of your being there is to change lives, not to make things look good.
I found, through years of ministry, that you will often not know your impact until you are gone. I recently received a letter from someone at that Old Washington, Arkansas church who was affected by my novice ministry in ways I did not dream. She was then a child visiting without her parents, and I had paid real attention to her. She continued to come, though almost always hidden in the shadows. My attention to her resulted in her eventual conversion and a life of serving God for which she was extremely thankful. Her brother, who died as a youth, had also been converted. She had been seen as not just a visiting girl, but as a soul important to God. The importance of that attempt at caring was completely unknown to me until I received that letter.

The focus, then, should be on people. So, keep your aim right. For instance, you may start a book club with any of your people who care to participate. Let’s say that you provide readable, accessible books, that have marvelous truths to be understood. You set reachable goals and meet every week, or every other week in your home, just to chat informally about what is learned. You drink coffee and just enjoy learning something. No pressure. Over time, this one idea may build some mighty believers. It’s not a great program that somebody will write up, but it focuses on people and the changes that God can bring.

Be energized by the concept that your church could become the most loving church in the world. I find this compelling. There will be many things your church may not be. It may not be the most educated church or the most innovative church, or the most evangelistic church, etc., but it can be the most loving church. There is nothing to stop that from happening except your lack of determination and/or the will of the people. Love, after all, is the sign of maturity as a church. Now, if you are seeing this, you will find ways to encourage love. This will mean that you will work out ways for people to be in your home, and in the home of the other church members. You will think of ways to get people to really know the insides of each other. Sheep need help to overcome their reserved nature. They will need to be commended for acts of love, just as Paul often did. You will need to set the pace and demonstrate a passionate love for the people. Dream about this. And, my experience is (and the Bible’s teaching is) that this is a powerful way to witness. The love of the people of God for each other is, as Francis Schaeffer said, “the final apologetic.”
Well, there is more, but these three should serve to encourage you. I know you need it. When it is all said and done, we are going to be thrilled at the way God has used the out-of-the-way places, the forgotten places, to do some of His most significant things.

I love the rural church and hope you do. Some of you will serve all your life in them. God bless you for your perseverance and courage.