April 2012 Newsletter – “Scott’s Thoughts”
“Twelve in 2012: Trends in Healthy Churches” by Thom Rainer
I wanted to share with you the first half of a good article by Thom Rainer, who does extensive research on the American church. (The other half is coming next month.) He’s one of the authors of “Simple Church,” a book that helps shape our thinking about our ministry structure (available to check out in our library… if you haven’t read it yet, you should. Then you’ll understand better where our leadership is coming from with regard to ministry decisions.)
Rainer’s article is a helpful way to do some informal assessment of FCC, so I’ve included some of my thoughts after each, some of which are… long (and nerdy) and some of which are… less so. Join me in doing some healthy assessment of our church. How do you think we stack up against this list? (Rainer’s text is quoted and italicized. I have added my thoughts in normal text after his. Also, they are not listed in any particular order of priority.)
“The churches have a high view of Scripture. A number of research projects over the past four decades point to this trend. Healthy churches have leaders and members who believe the totality of the Bible, often expressed as a view called inerrancy.”
Simply put, I have a high view of Scripture, and our congregants do as well… and we are continuing to grow in this area. This is about increasing awareness that the Bible is the primary authority for our lives. So, we will continue to work toward increasing the role of God’s Word in our congregational life: in our worship, in our Study/Life Groups, and in our communication of the gospel to our community and world. The critical point of growth for us all is the extent to which theory of a high view of Scripture becomes practice, both corporately, as part of our ministry structure, and individually, in our personal devotional relationship with God and in our speech in the world. So, ask yourself some questions:
Do I view the Bible as the Word of God? (We use these words interchangeably, but they’re not exactly the same. Bible just means something like a ‘collection of books,’ or ‘the books.’ The “Word of God” carries the weight of full truth and authority.)
Do I memorize and meditate on Scripture? (If you’ve got an Android or iOS-based smartphone, download the Desiring God Fighter Verses app for $2.99. It’s awesome… and a real help in this area. I love it and use it daily. Or just use a Bible and some paper!)
Be forewarned: this gets a little nerdy… One interesting point (at least to me; maybe not 90% of you!) is that the word “inerrancy” was once less well accepted in Restoration Movement (RM) churches (Christian Churches/Churches of Christ) because it’s “not a Bible word.” (Neither is the word “trinity.”) Independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ, along with our brothers and sisters in the other two ‘branches’ of the RM, the non-instrumental Churches of Christ and the Disciples of Christ, have long held to a slogan that we “Call Bible things by Bible names.” This principle (perhaps a kind word… it ironically became a creed for an anti-creedal movement!) came out of a historical context where the RM was reacting against churches who turned extraneous non-core issues of personal conviction into matters of fellowship. In fact, the RM began to use this principle, initially motivated by unity, to divide from others who didn’t “use Bible names.” However, I don’t want to sound dismissive of this principle because I still affirm the heart of this principle’s motivation, but with a qualification… I personally like the word inerrancy to describe the Bible. (Just as I would emphasize trinitarian-based theology, though “trinity” isn’t in the Bible.) My current understanding of the nature of the authority of God’s Word in my life is that I am what the scholars and Bible nerds call a “critical” or “full” inerrantist (“plenary verbal inspiration”, if you’re more familiar with this term.) I think this because I think Jesus did (cf Matt 5:18 where Jesus affirms the full authority of the OT (“Law” here refers back to v 17, “the Law or the Prophets”, a common way to speak of the entire OT), even down to the smallest components of the written text.) This means I affirm that the Bible is “completely true in all that the Scripture affirms, to the degree of precision intended by the original author. This view does not seek to harmonize every detail. Scientific matters are considered to be treated with phenomenological language rather than technical and scientific thinking. This view allows the cautious use of critical methodologies in interpretation. It takes seriously both the human and divine elements” (http://atkinslightquest.com/Documents/Religion/Fundamentalism/Variations-of-Inerrancy.htm). I would qualify this statement by saying, “This view does not need to seek to harmonize every detail (though that doesn’t mean they can’t be or we shouldn’t try to harmonize best we ar able. It just means they are harmonized in ways different than we expect or than the data yet show.) Scientific matters are occasionally considered to be treated with phenomenological language rather than technical and scientific thinking (if warranted by the context.)” This allows for more balance where scientific data may explain what we misunderstand phenomenologically. Christians needn’t be scared of science, history, and other fields of study because, as Arthur F. Holmes, a philosophy professor of mine college always said, “all truth is God’s truth.”
I would also like to add, incidentally, that I believe Scripture is the primary authority for our lives (prima scriptura), through which other sources are filtered. Augustine would say that this is “faith seeking understanding.” That does not mean there are no other sources of authority that inform our understanding: reason, tradition, history, experience, etc. In fact, my sermon preparation must be informed by all these sources. Otherwise there’s too much of Scott Wakefield’s experience in the mix. (Look up the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” for a good example of this.) But, a word of caution… To say Scripture is the primary authority does not mean it’s the only one… In fact, be careful of those for whom there “is no other authority at all” and who act as if they know everything there is to know about Scripture and that their interpretation is “pure” and “undefiled.” Without even being aware of their own biases, they can twist and misuse the Word of God. (I.e., even the most pure-hearted and wonderful preacher on the planet today is affected by their own brokenness.)
By whatever name, the truth of 2 Tim 3:16, where it speaks of God breathing out and inspiring Scripture, must be the foundational guide for who we are and what we do, as individual believers and as the body of Christ. We continue to do well in this area… which doesn’t mean we don’t have room to grow, but at least we start in a good place with regard to this question of authority… we stand on the shoulders of many who have come before us who had a high view of Scripture!
“A large number of church members read the Bible daily. The simplicity of this trend often surprises church leaders. But we can no longer assume that all of the congregants read their Bibles every day. That is a practice that must be encouraged and monitored. In our research on spiritual health of Christian, we found that the highest correlative factor in practicing other healthy spiritual discipline was reading the Bible every day.”
Simply put, I worry that many churchgoing people, who would call themselves believers and would emphatically declare they hold a high view of Scripture, do not read the Bible much for themselves. Statistics show an alarming reduction in regular Bible reading among American Christians during the last 20 years (Google “George Barna This must be a high priority in the life of any growing believer, period. While we all struggle against sin, and circumstances sometimes impede our progress, nevertheless we must make this a high priority if we are growing into Christlikeness. John 8:31-32 say,  So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples,  and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Acts 20:32 says, And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
“The churches have a priority and focus on the nations. This priority is manifest in short-term mission trips, in care and adoption of the orphaned, in giving to mission causes, and in the number of congregants who commit their lives to reaching the nations with the gospel.”
This is an area in which First Christian has a long history of faithfulness of supporting missions financially, both locally and around the world. Orphan care is a growing concern among us: there are families who have adopted and are adopting and fostering. There is at least one missionary (who we support) from our congregation–Laurie Barnes, in Prague, Czech Republic, who, with her husband Jim, runs an evangelistic and educational library. In the last 10 years or so, we have at times had regular relations with our missions and missionaries and at times been pretty lacking. Last year’s Missions Team conducted a missions audit and we now have a decent handle on how our monies (on loan from God that we are distributing for missions) are being spent. So we’ve made some progress in this area. Our youth have regularly taken short-term mission trips, but our adults have not regularly done so and this needs to change. Be looking soon for some more information about an upcoming brainstorming meeting we’d like to hold as we discuss how we as a congregation might grow in our efforts to accomplish the 3rd C of our vision: Communicate the Gospel in word and deed.
“The churches have a missional community presence. The leadership and members do not look at their community as a pool for prospects. Rather, they love their community. They serve their community. The live in their community. They have deep relationships in their community.”
We have been an important part of Greeneville, TN since 1919, when the first tent meetings were held downtown, and will continue to be as long as the Lord allows. Briefly, lemme say that, yes, we have a missional community presence. We have long well-supported many local missions and social service agencies, have had groups volunteer at them, are monthly collecting supplies for the Food Bank, take communion to those in the hospital, conduct a monthly blood pressure check, and have had Sunday School groups, Ladies Circles, and Life Groups who serve in various ways. These are are just some of the things I can think of off the top of my head, but, it needs to be said that anything like this that any of our members do counts as such, even if it’s not an official FCC-sponsored ‘program.’ So, if you’ve volunteered somewhere, or helped with your childrens’ teams or school groups, or taken care of someone… whatever the service, you are a missional community presence. I am increasingly of the opinion that, instead of trying to programming this, we continue to develop and encourage disciples who have a heart to serve… and they’ll serve… there will be an unstoppable missional communtiy presence.
“The congregations have membership that matters. These healthy churches are high expectation churches. Membership is much more than completing a card or walking an aisle. These churches have entry point classes that set the expectations of membership. Church members are expected to serve, to give, to be in small groups, and to be accountable to others. Church discipline is practiced in most of these congregations. Because membership is meaningful, the assimilation rate in these churches is very high.”
In an American church culture that increasingly eschews ‘membership’ and institutional structures as antiquated relics, we want to be clear that membership in the body of Christ matters. (After all, in many places the New Testament does talk about being a “member” of the body.) Every quarter we offer our 3CLIFE class to help fulfill this need. The great thing this does is that it helps ensure that people know what they’re getting into! ) As a result, we continue to receive great people who love the Lord and want to serve Him.
For Christ and His Kingdom,