Tag Archives: community

Rock’n and Blog’n

Honored

It was such an honor to take part in the Third Periodic Blogger Convention held in Chattanooga, TN!

Actually, what really happened was that once again I got to meet up with fellow Christian bloggers and spend some time getting to know each other in the non-digital world. It was a total blast to talk face-to-face with these guys!

Wally Fry (Truth in Palmyra) and his family left Arkansas and drove into Chattanooga Saturday night. He and I met for coffee before church on Sunday morning, then later attended church together. To my surprise, James Neff (Men of One Accord) and his wife also showed up for church! James visited a couple of times before, but this was the first time he and Wally had met.

I was also honored that they would sacrifice their time to sit through my preaching. Believe me, it’s always humbling to have people you admire in the audience saying “Amen!

After Church

When the morning service was over, we did what any typical church-goer might do down here in the South – we went to Cracker Barrel. There we shared plates of biscuits, downed plenty of coffee, and shared more stories than a serial Facebooker.

Wally Fry thought that we should get a picture together before all parted ways. Therefore, like proper husbands, we heeded  the suggestion of our wives and sat down in the rocking chairs out front. And you know, even that seemed too fortuitous to be coincidence (but that’s another story).

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Real People

What I hope all of you take away from this story is that behind that computer screen, writing those blogs, are real people. Each one is part of a larger community where genuine friendships can develop. And when you actually get to see these people in person, it’s totally awesome!

But here’s a thought that just came to mind. What do you think it will be like, after all those years of reading his letters…after all those years of communicating across vast distances…to see Jesus face-to-face? He’s real too, you know. Even more real than Wally, James, or myself.

You might oughta be making plans to meet Him for dinner.

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Filed under blogging, Christian Unity, Church, Relationships and Family

8+ Reasons Why Smaller Churches Are Better

The Survey

In a recent study conducted by the survey pro’s at TheRecoveringLegalist.com, pastors from both large and small congregations shared why they thought a small church could be better than a big one.

The survey sample was made up of pastors from various denominations, from different parts of the country, and consisted of men from my personal contact list – and my wife. It was VERY scientific – sorta.

The Question

I had my own thoughts, but I wanted to know what others thought, so I asked a question. The question I posed to other pastors went something like this:

“I’m doing a quick, non-scientific survey for a blog post (no names will be mentioned). Can you give me 1 or 2 reasons why a small church could be better than a big church?”

Within moments I received multiple replies through text, email, and Messenger. It took them very little time to respond, like it was something they didn’t even have to think about, and the answers they gave were practically the same.

The Answers

If the answers from the pastors in the survey I conducted mean anything, it would seem that smaller churches are the place to be if you want to be:

  1. Known by name;
  2. Have intimate relationships with others;
  3. Have a pastor who misses you when you’re not there; and/or
  4. Experience more accountability.

Other answers suggested that in larger churches it is harder to keep track of what is being taught in “small groups,” while in smaller churches everyone is more on the same page. But overall, the most common reason given for smaller churches being better than bigger churches was knowing and being known by others in the congregation.

As a matter of fact, what the pastors in my survey said echoed the hopeful and encouraging words of Karl Vaters’ article “Why Small Churches Are the Next Big Thing.” Speaking of Millennials, he said:

“[There’s] growing evidence this new generation will bring the greatest opportunity for small church ministry in 2,000 years.

Why? Because, as the first generation with a majority born and raised outside traditional marriage, genuine relationships and intimate worshipwhat small churches do best—will matter more to them than it did to their parents.” [emphasis added]

So you see, even though larger churches offer a lot – unlimited numbers of ministries in which to get involved; professional-quality childcare; servant pastors for every niche; and the best technology money can buy – many people are coming to understand there’s something special about the community of a small, loving congregation.

But There’s MORE!

Should you surmise that intimate, supportive relationships, accountability, and being able to talk with your pastor without an appointment are the only qualities that make small churches better than bigger ones, think again. There’s more! Much more!

The following are 8 more reasons why small churches could actually be better than large ones, at least for some people:

  1. Parking Spaces. Why should one have to search ten minutes to find a parking place within walking distance to the trolley you must ride to get to the front door? Small churches have plenty of parking, usually no further than a hymnbook’s throw away.
  2. No Auditions Necessary. Forget having to try out for the choir, the praise team, the annual play, the children’s musical, or the worship orchestra. If you can sing, play an instrument, or read a line – or even if you can’t – there’s always a place for you in a small church, at least in the choir.
  3. No Training Necessary. So, you want to run sound? You want to operate the lights? You think you have a desire to operate the recording equipment? Well, you’d better have a resume and a list of references if you want to do any of that in a big church. Seriously, they can’t let just anyone with a desire operate a $25,000 camera or push the buttons that link to the network satellite feed. But in a small church? HA! There’s always a need for someone to flip the cassette or press “record.”
  4. The Best Seating Anywhere. If you come in late to a service at a big church, no kidding, you might need binoculars to see the holes in the pastor’s jeans. But in a small church, well, the back row might as well be in the reserved section! Compared to a mega-church, the back row in a small church is practically withing spitting distance of the preacher.
  5. Genuinely-Experienced Childcare. Do you have small children? Do you care about them? Why let Buffy or Bianca watch your crumb cruncher while you worship? Why not trust them to the experienced, floppy-armed grannies who’ve raised more kids than a champion goat farmer? Who better to make sure you young’ns act right and learn about Jesus than a few ladies who’ve washed more than a couple of mouths out with Ivory soap? [Disclaimer: Washing out mouths with soap is no longer approved]
  6. Free Interactive Technology Museum. Bigger churches are all about the newest, most advanced technology. Smaller churches, on the other hand, rarely have the funds for regular upgrades to sound equipment, etc. Therefore, where else can you go to find working 1980’s (if not older) sound equipment still being used? Small churches are like free interactive technology museums where everyone can listen to both the preacher AND the local radio station at the same time.
  7. Food, Food, and More Food. Go to a large church and you’ll find plenty of opportunities to eat. They have Wednesday night meals, socials, finger foods, and all kinds of stuff before Sunday School (morning Bible study). Some large churches even have coffee bars and sit-down restaurants on campus! But seriously, how does any of that compare to what a bunch of ladies whip up for a homecoming dinner on the ground? Believe me, when you’re sick at home and can’t fend for yourself, those small-church ladies can keep you well-maintained with cornbread, beans, fried chicken, and homemade stew.
  8. It’s Your Community. If nothing else, your typical small church is made up of people from your own community. Large churches – the ones with huge TV ministries and social programs – are made up of people from all over the place; small churches are filled with your neighbors. It’s in the small, hometown churches where people learn to shoulder up with each other through a community’s hard times. It’s in the small church where a pastor attends your daughter’s graduation, the funerals and weddings are no charge, and someone always notices when you’re not there.

Seriously, I have nothing against large churches – every pastor would love his church to be one. However, most churches average no more than 80 members, and they are where the majority of solid, faithful, salt-of-the-earth Christians still attend.

So, are small churches really better than big ones? Well, that all depends on where God wants you. But if you don’t want to get lost in the crowd – or in the parking lot – a small church just might be what you need.

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Filed under Church, ministry, worship

Serving Up Thanksgiving, Family-of-Faith Style

A Combined Service

Anthony Import 11 30 14 194Last week we welcomed the congregation of Tiftonia Church of God to our Riverside Baptist. It was the Tuesday night before Thanksgiving, the night many churches set aside a time for a community fellowship.

Being that it was a Tuesday night, there wasn’t a big crowd. However, enough showed up from both of our churches to, well, “have church.” And that we did.

Brother Michael Fugatt, the new pastor of Tiftonia Church of God, brought a great message from Psalm 100, blessing us all. And, for the record, he didn’t speak in tongues (just in case some of my Baptist brethren were wondering).

All in all, we had a wonderful, intimate time of godly fellowship. At the end of the sermon, Bro. Fugatt requested that all of us gather around the altar, hold hands, and pray. But when Pastor Fugatt prayed, he prayed that God would bless and encourage us (the Baptist church!!) and cause us to grow in number! It was truly a Kingdom prayer from a fellow believer and brother in Christ.

The Challenges

Now the sad part is that so many would have never allowed another denomination to worship with them. That’s very sad.

For the record, I am a Baptist, and for that I make no apology. But just because I am Baptist, that does not mean I may only worship with other Baptists. No, Baptists aren’t the only ones going to heaven, I can assure you; only those who have been born into the family of God through faith in Jesus Christ.

Many of my fellow Baptists would never come together in worship, even once a year, with those in the Church of God denomination because of our different takes on several ecclesiastical issues and certain doctrines, especially those regarding the gifts of the Spirit. However, as it is with Baptists, not every Church of God congregation is exactly like the next, nor is their pastor. It really pays to be more gracious than writing off every congregation just because of the name above the door.

Believe it or not, there is room withing the family of God to disagree on the interpretation of certain passages in First Corinthians. There is room withing the family of God to disagree on how to handle church finances, ordain and hire ministers, etc. There’s room for differences, just as long as what it takes to make us “family” is agreed upon.

The Family Table

On Thanksgiving most of you probably sat at a big table, surrounded by family, and had a meal. Some of you, if not most of you, sat across from other family units, like brothers and sisters-in-law, or a crazy aunt and uncle. Maybe you shared a meal with some cousins you see only once a year – for good reason. But here’s the thing: you did it because they were family.

My wife and I lead a family unit, and our unit does things a little differently than the rest. So, when we come together with other family units for Thanksgiving or Christmas, we rarely discuss the different ways we run our households; we just enjoy the fellowship and the food. Why can’t we do that more often as Christians?

Many in the world make excuses for their atheism by pointing at Christians and their denominations. They say things like, “See, your beliefs can’t be true; you can’t even agree!” What community services provide is the chance to show that real Christians, true believers in Christ, can have their different ways of doing things when at home, but still come together for a family reunion, a meal around a common table of faith.

Of course, there are times when fellowship with other churches must be avoided; heresy cannot be tolerated. But the fact is that there are more times than not when genuine believers should come together once in a while to break bread, if for no other reason than to show the world that we are children of the same Father, co-heirs with Jesus our brother, regardless how we run our individual homes.

Now, will someone pass the manna?

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Filed under baptist, Christian Unity, Christmas, legalism, Relationships and Family, Thanksgiving, worship

Bless You, Dadgum It!

“When it goeth well with the righteous, the city rejoiceth: and when the wicked perish, there is shouting.

By the blessing of the upright the city is exalted: but it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked.” – Proverbs 11:10-11

It’s Not Political

It is so hard to comment on these verses without sounding political. And believe me, as a pastor, the last thing you want to do is sound political – that’s when they start sharpening the blade on the guillotine.

But let’s get real, folks. The world is coming apart at the seams and we’ve got everybody from the military (urged on by Mikey Weinstein) to elementary school teachers trying to remove every vestige of faith from the public square. And whether you want to admit it or not, it all started free-falling right after the election of Barak Obama.

Don’t they realize it is by the “blessing of the upright” that the city (or county, or state, or nation) is “exalted?” Yet, the righteous are being forced into silence, while the “mouths of the wicked” broadcast night and day.

“Don’t bless me!”

It wasn’t long ago that few people sued to force employees of different retail stores to quit saying, “Have a blessed day.” They said it made them feel “uncomfortable” to have religion “forced” on them. They said that “a business is no place for religion.”

Just recently a school teacher in Tennessee disciplined a student for saying “bless you” when another student sneezed! Talk about being hyper-sensitive!

These “wicked” people could not stand the thought of being “blessed” by God? Why wouldn’t anyone want to be blessed?!

Sadly, because of government administrations that encourage immorality, the “wicked” have developed a stronger voice with which they have been shouting down the righteous. However, if the peoples of the world would only listen to Solomon, they would spend far less money fighting gangs, crime, drug abuse, violence, abuse, and internal corruption, and more time rejoicing.

If the “cities” and their leaders would only let a few more “upright” bless them, they might not be overthrown.

Have a blessed day!

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Filed under America, current events, Faith

A Dream of Prayer

I Had a Dream

Last night, maybe because I went to bed early, maybe because I was sickly (still am), or maybe because I ate home-made salsa, I had a lengthy, detailed dream.

We all dream to some degree or another, don’t we? How often to you have dreams that cause you to sit up and take notes so you won’t forget it? Well, last night was one of those times.

A Stressful Start

Have you ever had times when you are so stressed about something, like a term paper or work project, that you dream about it? Last night’s dream started with me doing something I need to more often: prospecting.

I have been doing some work in the credit card processing area for about a year. However, I haven’t been very successful (made a lot of money) because I haven’t been seeing enough people. In other words, I could be more successful and bring in more income if I would only knock on a lot more doors, so to speak. But, as with most sales careers, prospecting is the worst part. So, I’ve been stressing.

Anyway, the last night’s dream started out with a guy I work with and myself going into a business to talk about their credit card processing options. That’s when things got interesting.

The Prayer

There in the main office area of what seemed to be a print shop, an advertising firm, or something like that, we walked up to the counter and begin talking to a lady. My friend asked, “How have you been doing, lately?” (as if there had been some kind of previous relationship). The dark-haired, middle-aged business woman solemnly replied, “I was diagnosed with cancer this week.

Normally, if it were any other time, I would let my partner (the more experienced one) continue with the conversation. But this time I said, “Excuse me, I don’t mean to interrupt, but would you mind if I pray for you?” The lady looked puzzled that I would even ask such a question, and sort of recoiled. I said, “It’s OK, I’m not asking you to do anything…I’m not talking about anything crazy…I just want to pray for you.

Sensing I was sincere, not kooky, the lady complied with my request and said, “OK, sure, I would appreciate that.” At that moment, I turned around and faced the other people in the office to ask if they would like to join us. As soon as I turned, there was a man standing beside me, reaching to put his hand on my shoulder. Others got up from their desks and came to the the counter, each holding hands or placing arms upon shoulders. “We would like to pray with you,” they said.

I started praying for the lady, but here’s where things got weird. I started asking God to bless or heal those with certain needs, but as soon as I did, anytime I would mention the type of need, someone in the office would speak out a specific name! For example, I would pray something like, “Lord, there may be someone here that is discouraged,” and that’s when a man on his knees would speak out “JIM!” I would then continue with the prayer, saying, “Lord, encourage Jim with your grace and mercy. Let Jim know You love him.”

This went on and on until my partner, along with other people that were with us (I didn’t know there were more than two of us), left me alone and went out to the car. I don’t know how much time went by, but I finally had to say, “I’m sorry, but I have to go.”

What started out as a business visit ended in a prayer meeting.

The Point

I don’t know what to think, but trying to interpret dreams can be dangerous, if not simply an exercise in foolish hypothesizing. However, there was something about this dream that pointed to a truth worth pursuing: people need prayer.

Bi-vocational pastors praying for each other at a conference in Pigeon Forge, TN.

Bi-vocational pastors praying for each other at a conference in Pigeon Forge, TN.

Not long ago I felt the Lord leading our church in a slightly different direction. Instead of going out and knocking on doors, asking the usual questions, or smacking anyone in the head with a 2-pound Bible, I feel He wants us to take prayer to the streets, prayer-walking a different street each week. As we meet people, the simple goal is to ask if we can pray with them about anything, letting the Holy Spirit set the pace and direction. Praying for someone let’s them know we care.

Believe me, a lot can happen when you begin with prayer. Maybe the dream I had was the result of too much jalapeno and habenero salsa. Maybe, as my wife suggested, I’m missing opportunities to minister by not prospecting. But, on the other hand, maybe the dream I had was simply a confirmation to my spirit of what the Holy Spirit wants to do through those of us who are willing to simply ask…

Could I pray for you?

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Filed under America, Christian Unity, Faith, God, ministry, Witnessing

School Bus Thoughts

There are days when driving a school bus can drive me crazy.

One day I asked a little boy, “Are you wearing socks?” “Yes,” he answered. “Then will you take one of them off and stuff it in your mouth?!

On other days I have fun just aggravating the little crumb crunchers. For example, I keep telling two little girls that their neighbors are aliens (like from another planet, not Mexico). They say, “Nuh uh!” I say, “Uh huh!

Last week I told kids to ask me what my favorite letter of the alphabet was:

Little Girl: “What is your favorite letter of the alphabet?”

Me: “Y”

Little Girl: “I don’t know, you told me to ask. What is it?”

Me: “Y!”

Little Girl: “You told me to ask you, so I’m asking you what your favorite letter is!”

Me: “Y!!”

Little Girl:Uuuuggghhh! What is it?”

Then there are other days…

Elementary kids will tell their parents “good-bye” before they board the bus, then they will do it again once they find a seat. Almost without fail my first and second-graders will take ten seconds to hug and say “good-bye” at the stop, but then rush to lower the windows in order wave as they scream out as we pull away, “Bye! Bye, Momma! Bye!

Later in the day, when I take these same children home, they talk and play with each other (sometimes too much) until they get close to their stop. They’re usually not thinking too much about getting off the bus, but the moment they feel the bus slow down they gather their things and move to the door. As soon as the door opens they see their mom, dad, or granny…then scream…then run to their side…then embrace … like it’s been forever.

I’ve noticed that no matter when death comes, it always comes as a shock…a surprise. Even when we expect a loved one to pass away from a long-term illness, the moment of death is like that moment on the bus when a child leaves: the time for departure has been expected, but that last “good-bye” is never enough.

But hallelujah! Praise God for homecomings!!

I don’t know about you, but I’m looking out the window. Yes, I’m enjoying the time I have with my friends and family down here, but home is just around the bend. Any moment the bus will be slowing down.

photo (41)Are you looking for that door to open? Are your things in order? Can you sense the ride is coming to an end? Believe me, once it stops I’ll be jumping off and running to the House.

I’ll see my earthly dad…I’ll see my Jesus…I’ll scream…I’ll run…then embrace…

Just a thought…from a school bus.

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Filed under Christian Maturity, Faith, Future, General Observations, Life Lessons, the future