I normally don’t mention current events or politics on this blog. It’s my intention to foster contemplation about the church and other spiritual concerns, not partisan or party ideologies. However, I’m going to make an exception this time. The events transpiring in Afghanistan have hit me hard. You see, I lived there for six months during my teens. I traveled over much of the country as a young man. I’ve been through the Khyber pass more times than I can remember. Missionaries there were personal acquaintances and friends. I went to school with their children. I was involved in humanitarian relief efforts during the Soviet invasion and occupation of the 1980’s. I personally knew one of the members of the underground church who was tortured to death for his faith by one of the war-lords of that era. Our family helped sponsor Afghan refugees. So the Afghan people have been dear to my heart.
Just as there are many ways in which churches come into being, they can also die for different reasons. Here are the tales of two churches which died.
Case Study One
An older gentleman whom my father led to the Lord many years ago greeted me at a missions conference. “Have you heard about Rehmat?” he asked. Rehmat being the son of a village elder, now deceased. As I hadn’t heard any news about the village, let alone Rehmat, for a long time I was all ears.
“Rehmat left the Lord and converted.”
“That’s sad,” I murmured.
“No one visits the village any more,” the gent continued. “The believers don’t meet for worship and the roof of the church building has fallen in.”
The Case of the Reluctant Leader
A friend once told me why he declined when asked to become an Elder in the church. He said it was because he lacked the first requirement. He didn’t desire to become one. He was referring, of course, to Paul’s statement in 1st Timothy 3:1, “...If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task.” (NIV) Other translations say, “...If anyone aspires to the office...” (ESV) or “...If a man desires the position...” (NKJ). Since my friend didn’t aspire to or desire to or have his heart set on becoming an Elder, he figured that put him out of the running.
I’ve recently come across three different congregations which are facing the same problem. All of them are located in small-town, rural America. All of them are relatively small. All of them have members who are quite affluent. All three have recently lost their preachers. The question is what to do about it.
In the case of church 1, the preacher died. He was very up-front about his preexisting disease when the church brought him on. If I heard correctly, he lived longer than the doctors expected but was only able to serve for a few years. In spite of his brief ministry, he was able to unite the church and restore its reputation in the community. Outreach he began is still being carried forward. He is deeply missed and remembered with fondness.
I stared in amazed consternation at the contents of the Communion tray. It contained those commercial Communion wafers – the kind that look like, have the consistency of and taste like recycled Styrofoam.
After the service I asked the missionaries who were hosting me about it. The wife explained: “The preacher asks us to bring them in from the States for him.”
“But why?! Why not use local ingredients? Communion bread is easy enough to make.”
“Well, the preacher insists on preparing Communion himself each week. There’s no way he could make the bread.”
“It seems to me,” I said, “that preparing Communion would be something to delegate. It would be an excellent way to get others involved in ministry.”
“Oh, there are plenty of people who would be delighted to do it. The problem is the preacher won’t give anyone a key to the building.”
Some thoughts on the preparation and selection of Elder candidates
When I wrote this, the U.S. was grinding its way through another election cycle. More than once I found myself growling about the process. When you consider all the time and treasure which are expended it’s enough to make the blood boil. Even worse, from my point of view, is how candidates are selected. There are times when I’ve seriously wondered if the country wouldn’t be better served if candidates were chosen by random lot. On average would it be much worse than the slate of candidates we’re actually given? Perhaps all political parties should be abolished and the country’s leaders, themselves, selected by random draw.