Saws, hammers….and prayers and ministry

By Kenneth D. MacHarg

If you were tasked with writing a history of your church, what would you include?

Several decades ago I assisted an association of churches in a radio series which presented the history of each if its congregations. Members of the church wrote the five or ten minute scripts and a representative of the congregation came to the studio to do the recording.

To add a bit of interest, I suggested that they utilize sound effects to illustrate their historical stories.

To my surprise the most requested sound was hammers and saws. Only one church asked for something different—they had established an orphanage for children left as orphans during a smallpox outbreak back in the 1850s.

What I discovered in recording that series was that most churches identify their accomplishments and activities by the construction of facilities and a “parade of pastors.”

So it goes. Recently on a trip I picked up a small pamphlet outlining the history of an historic church in a Mississippi River town. I was not surprised to find that it, too, is a history of building construction, remodeling, the selling and buying of property along with a list of pastors who served there since 1807.

Somehow we can’t see the forest for the trees, or the movement of the Lord for the business of fellow humans.

How I would love to read a church history that related stories of those whose lives were changed when they committed themselves to Jesus Christ.

I would like to know about ministries that changed the course of the community or led people to crucial outreach in the church.

How nice it would be to hear about people from the youth group or the church as a whole who went into full-time Christian service. (From the youth group in the church that I grew up, three out of around fifteen young people were called to serve—one as a seminary professor, one in pastoral and denominational ministries, and one as a pastor and missionary)

Wouldn’t it be great to know about people who taught Sunday school into their nineties? Of others who relocated overseas as second or third career missionaries in their sixties or seventies; to hear about pastors who went beyond their normal call to write books or establish a homeless outreach or mentor seminary students?

How exciting it would be to read about unique ministries such as the founding of a children’s home, the establishment of housing for the elderly, a resettlement program for refugees, the instituting of a scholarship for those going to seminary or Bible college, a counseling program that healed wounded souls, an outreach to mentor pastors new to their calling—the list could go on and on.

If you or your church are considering writing a history, be creative, be motivating, be faithful in telling not your story or the organization’s story, but the story of what God has done through the congregation. To Him will be the glory.

Please feel free to leave comments on this site. Those comments posted through the button on this page will be posted if appropriate. Comments sent directly to me are welcome and I will respond, but they will not be posted. Also please forward this link to others who might be interested in this blog. To receive notification of future posts, please click on the “follow” button along the side of this page or write to missionaryjournalist (at) gmail (dot) com. If you no longer wish to receive these articles, please let me know at that same email address.

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Three Well-intentioned But Misleading Statements That Can Lead Us Astray

By Kenneth D. MacHarg

There are times that Christians make sweeping, misleading statements with good will but potentially disastrous results. These have an element of truth, but when examined are found to be, at least, deceptive and at worst, harmful.

They are akin to saying “all food is good for you.” While one could argue that all food, from meat to vegetables, starches to fruits, sweets to vitamins contribute to nourishment and filling the stomach. But, anyone who has read a recent newspaper or talked with their doctor will know that some foods in excess are harmful, others have little or no nourishment, and some can be outright dangerous.

Let’s look at three such statements that I have heard over the years.

“Everything we do is evangelism.”

“Everything we do at church on Sunday morning is worship.”

“We are all missionaries.”

First, “Everything we do is evangelism.”

Would that this could be true.

Across most of our communities and around the world people are serving the Lord through countless ministries that point to God’s love and compassion.

Food pantries, clothes closets, rehabilitation centers, feeding programs, all are expressions of Christian concern and can be, but not necessarily are, opportunities for evangelism.

There are scriptural references that direct us to share the Gospel and indicate the methodology that we should use:

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. Matthew 28: 19-20

In this way, I have aspired to preach the gospel where Christ was not known…. Romans 15:20

My only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to God’s grace.  Acts 20:24

Note the key words in these texts; teaching, preaching, testifying. All indicate a verbal, spoken, communicated sharing of the Gospel of God’s grace.

Each of them involves, yes commands, the spoken Word, the teaching, preaching and telling of the Gospel story of forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation through Jesus Christ.

To do good works in Christ’s name is laudable and required of each of us. To do them and fail to share in whose name we do it and what Jesus’ purpose was is to fail to evangelize.

To proclaim that everything we do is evangelism can allow us to omit the telling of the Good News.

Second, “Everything we do at church on Sunday morning is worship.”

Here the argument can get a little obscure. In our modern age, what is and isn’t worship has become a bit confused.

Let it be understood, first, that worship is more, much more than just the music. With the development of “worship teams” which lead a congregation in musical praise, the concept has arisen and is often spoken that when the music is over, the worship has finished and we move on to other things.

The reality is that a worship experience involves various elements, and each and every event during that time period should be focused on God. Worship is the time we set aside to praise Him, to pray to Him, to hear His word, and to commit ourselves to Him.

Worship moves from one “activity” (music, scripture reading, prayer, the proclamation of the Word) to another, until it reaches its climax in the confession of faith, the sharing in communion, and the baptism of new believers.

But, too often, we unintentionally interrupt that flow with announcements, promotion of groups and events and the like which divert us from the Lord and re-focus our attention on ourselves or our institution.

Those elements which distract from our focus on God and His activity in our life, His word, commitment to Him are not worship. They are entertainment, institutional promotion, whatever, but are not worship directed toward glorifying Almighty God.

Third, “We are all missionaries.” 

At first glance, that’s a laudable concept. Certainly, we all can be reaching out, using daily opportunities to proclaim the Gospel.

But, when that was said in church recently, one could almost hear an audible sigh of relief. If we all are missionaries, the nagging tug to “interrupt our lives” by becoming a full-time international or national missionary disappears.  Gone is the necessity of learning a new language, immersing in another culture, serving the Lord on a full-time basis. 

(“We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God.” –Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

One who studies the theory of missions will run across dozens of definitions of a missionary. The characterization that speaks loudest to me and reminds us of our global responsibility to share the Gospel says “A missionary is someone who crosses a border to share the Gospel.”

Be that a political border or a cultural line or a language divide, that definition implies that a missionary in the purest sense of the word is someone who is called and responds by physically going somewhere, be that locally or internationally, to verbally witness to God’s saving activity in Jesus Christ.

If we are all missionaries, then each of us must cross a boundary, be it between neighborhoods in our own community, a state line or an international boundary and each of us must be sharing the Gospel, verbally, with others who do not know the Lord.

“Everything we do is evangelism,” “Everything we do at church on Sunday morning is worship,” “We are all missionaries,” – there may be an element of truth in each of these statements.

But, let us not become distracted or complacent when we hear them. Evangelism, worship, mission work, are not that simplistic.

Indeed, each is deep and fulfilling when lived out in complete, holistic service to the Lord.

Please feel free to leave comments on this site. Those comments posted through the button on this page will be posted if appropriate. Comments sent directly to me are welcome and I will respond, but they will not be posted. Also please forward this link to others who might be interested in this blog. To receive notification of future posts, please click on the “follow” button along the side of this page or write to missionaryjournalist (at) gmail (dot) com. If you no longer wish to receive these articles, please let me know at that same email address.