In other news…. Covering the world in the age of “All Trump all the time!”

By Kenneth D. MacHarg

If I could produce one television or radio news program, it would be titled In Other News.

Not that we don’t have plenty of quality broadcast news now. Several major all-news cable channels, network newscasts each morning and evening, NPR news and public affairs all day. Sometimes we seem to be saturated with news.

Yet, I would suggest that what we hear and especially what we watch on television is the same half-dozen news stories repeated hour after hour ad nauseam.

U.S. politics, tornados and floods (with an occasional hurricane thrown in for good measure), police-related shootings, celebrity news, sports, entertainment, and, oh yes, did I mention U.S. politics?

With all of the news on television and radio as well as in print or online, one would think that we would be better informed.

In fact, there are numerous important and fascinating things going on around the world that we miss because they are bumped by the same news stories day after day. (Click on the color shading to access the original news story).

Take for example the horrendous death toll in Congo. Certainly over 3,000 deaths in the past six months and more than a million people displaced would warrant a report on the evening news.  If it was carried there, I missed it. But the story is worth taking a few minutes to read.

Congolese security forces and a militia fighting them have killed at least 3,383 people in the central Kasai region since October, the Catholic church said on Tuesday, in the most detailed report to date on the violence.

The United Nations says more than 1.3 million people have fled the fighting.

Or what about the wave of persecution of Christians in Eritrea? With a long history of Roman Catholic and Lutheran congregations, that country has recently turned against freedom of religion—in an area that ought to be of concern for all of us.                                

Eritrea has stepped up its crackdown on Christians in the country, according to a Christian charity which has now launched a campaign opposing the persecution.

Release International said Eritrean security forces have recently arrested 200 Christians in house-to-house raids, ripping children apart from their parents.

Next, I might have missed them, but I have not seen any reports about the horrible outbreak of cholera in Yemen where over 1,000 people, mostly children, have died and the number of cases is skyrocketing.

Seized by violence and teetering on the edge of famine, Yemen is grappling with another danger that threatens to outpace them both: cholera.

“We are now facing the worst cholera outbreak in the world,” international health authorities said in a statement Saturday.

Anthony Lake, executive director of UNICEF, and Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization, say that “more than 1,300 people have died — one quarter of them children — and the death toll is expected to rise.”

They suspect that is because Yemen now has upwards of 200,000 cases to grapple with, and that number is growing quickly — by a rate of roughly 5,000 cases a day.

On a more positive side, check out this story about how a program to supply bicycles to refugees in England is helping those recent arrivals to get an education or a job.

On a balmy, breezy afternoon in south London, dozens of people tinker on secondhand bicycles inside a small workshop, preparing to give them to the several refugees waiting nearby.

As the evening sun lingers, the growing crowd spills onto the quiet leafy street, where asylum seekers eagerly don high visibility vests and helmets to test ride their new gifts.

“I will use this bike to go to college where I can learn English so I can move forward with my life,” said Syrian refugee Khalib, 44, at The Bike Project, a charity that donates bicycles to refugees, along with helmets, vests, lights and basic cycling training.

On the lighter side, here’s a story about Golf in China, and the growing opposition to golf courses on the part of the government—bad news if you are a golfer.

Thirty years after Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong labeled golf a sport for the bourgeois and banned it from his worker’s paradise, his successor gave the sport another try.

It was January 1979, and President Jimmy Carter welcomed Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping on a historic trip to the United States. Deng came seeking U.S. help to open China’s economy, which had been ravaged by decades of Mao’s violent political campaigns. But if American executives were to invest in China, they would need to travel there. And if they were to travel there, they would need a golf course.

Finally, here’s an interesting peek into the future of cities. Which cities do you think will be among the world’s largest in ten years?

New York City is still in the top 10 ranking, with its nearly 8.5 million people. But in the next three decades, that’s going to change.

While population growth in the US and Europe stagnates, the number of people living in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa is going to skyrocket.

Today, Tokyo is the most populous city in the world, with about 38 million residents.

So, that’s just a peek at all of the news stories that you probably missed in the last week or two. They would be most interesting to see on a program like In Other News.

 

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“That’s my mother. I haven’t seen her in ten years.” Deep memories of helping the homeless, the refugee, the foreigner

By Kenneth D. MacHarg

I remember the phone call as if it happened yesterday, even though it actually took place 36 years ago.

I had called a member of Louisville’s Laotian Hmong community to seek his help translating for an arriving Hmong refugee woman.

After agreeing to assist, he asked me for the person’s name. When I told him he broke down crying. “That’s my mother,” he told me. “I haven’t seen her in ten years.”

What a joyful reunion at the airport that day. Tears, laughter, joy and a new future in a new but unknown land.

No stranger had to spend the night in the street, for my door was always open to the traveler (Job, discussing his devotion to God) (Job 31:32)

I was reminded of that day when I recently read an excellent article in the Louisville Courier-Journal that allowed several refugees who have settled in the Derby City to tell their own, personal stories.

While none of those people came under my watch, their stories reminded me of one of the most meaningful things I have ever done.

In the 1980s I was the executive director of a multi-denominational agency which facilitated the placement of displaced people from a dozen or more countries.

We received refugees who fled from Southeast Asia after the war—Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and other nations in the region.

In time, the massive Mariel boat lift from Cuba began and we were among the first to accept men, women, children, singles and families from that island nation. There were others as well, including several from Haiti and Romania.

As I read the C-J articles, various pictures came into my head. I remember a Vietnamese man who came to my office shortly after it was announced we had received a grant to help with refugee resettlement.

He carried a photo of his mother. Following the end of the war, he had communicated with officials in every refugee holding camp in Southeast Asia. Finally, he located his mother and wanted to know if we could help reunite the family in Louisville.

It took a while, but mother and son were eventually brought back together.

He never could say thank you enough. Every Christmas for the following decade he would show up at our house with a gift. One year it was Vietnamese candy, another year a briefcase. Each time he gave us an update on how his family was doing, and thanked me profusely for bringing her to the United States

Remember to welcome strangers in your homes. There were some who did that and welcomed angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:2)

Then there was the Cuban community which gave clothes out of closets, blankets off of beds and food from refrigerators to help strangers, Cuban brothers and sisters, resettle. One doctor told me of his struggle when he came to the U.S. earlier. Until he could establish himself, he walked the streets of Miami picking up furniture, broken tools and toys and expired food to feed his family. He and his fellow Cubans were not going to let that happen to the newcomers, and therefore, they resettled many.

He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:18-19)

Another image was one of those flash pictures—happening in an instant but making a life-long impression. I was at the Fort Chaffee Army Base in Fort Smith, Arkansas where many Cuban refugees were being housed pending placement.

I walked down the fence line that separated me from those in the holding area. All along the fence people were waving and shouting, “Choose me, choose me.” It reminded me of those horrible photographs of concentration camps in World War II where people were pictured lining the fences begging for a scrap of food or a piece of warm clothing.

I wanted to choose many more, but that selection was not mine to make and I could only take what our capacity to resettle would allow.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ (Matthew 25:35-36)

Haiti

Another memory is the little girl who is pictured over my shoulder at the Louisville airport. She and her family had just come from Haiti and were being welcomed into the new city. For her, it was bewildering, frightening, and scary. As people hugged and kissed the adults, she let me pick her up and hold her in my arms. (The photo appeared in either the Courier-Journal or Louisville Times in 1980 or 1981.)

The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself. (Leviticus 19:33-34)

Were there those who opposed having those refugees come? Of course, we heard from some, but not as many as I feared.

In the long run, we found the congregations of Louisville welcoming, with a compassion to help those who came resettle and become functioning members of society.

Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners. (Exodus 23:9)

Why was this ministry so meaningful and fulfilling? Because I was able… to participate in reuniting a mother and a son separated for so many years; to see people who, themselves, had come to the U.S. as refugees reach out to others in a similar situation; to hold a frightened little girl in my arms and tell her that God loves her and had given her a new home where she would be safe and healthy and well-fed; see that God gave me the opportunity to feed the hungry, house the homeless and love the foreigner in our midst.

For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14)

Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. (Matthew 25:40)

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 at the top of this page or write to missionaryjournalist (at) gmail (dot) com. If you no longer wish to receive these announcements, please let me know at that same email address.

What’s a Hootenanny? Never mind; just keep on praising the Lord!

By Kenneth D. MacHarg

It’s interesting how what we take for granted may be an unknown to people from other locations or other generations.

Take a hootenanny—something that was an important cultural activity for my generation that is generally unknown to people several decades younger.

The last one I attended was part of a chapel service at the office of the Latin America Mission in Miami fifteen or more years ago. On that morning one person came in with a guitar, sat us in a circle and started to play familiar Christian music to which we all sang along. It went on for an hour, just great singing, strong praise and warm fellowship.

When it was all over a younger missionary said, “That was great.” I agreed, and replied that I had not been involved in a hootenanny in many years.

She looked at me with a blank stare and asked, “A what?”

Ah, such cultural deprivation.

(According to an online dictionary a hootenanny is “an informal gathering with folk music.” Indeed, in our generation we usually sang folk music with some protest songs mixed in as recorded by artists such as the Kingston Trio, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, and Woody Guthrie among many others.)

Then there was the young woman who was asked to occasionally lead worship at one church we served. She agreed, but informed me that she had not started attending church until she was 17 when she committed herself to Christ. From there she attended a congregation that used only contemporary music. But, she said, if I wanted to use a more traditional hymn, she would do her best to learn it and lead it.

One week I requested that we use the great hymn “How Great Thou Art” in the worship. I sent her a link to You Tube where she could hear it. Her response was that it was a “nice song” and she would do her best.

However, on Sunday morning she approached me before the service with a worried look on her face and asked whether I thought people would know it.

I assured her that they would, and said, “Whenever we sing ‘How Great Thou Art’ everybody thinks they are George Beverly Shea and sings out loud and strong.”

She looked at me with a blank stare and asked, “George who?”

At that moment, I felt very old. (By the way, when I explained that Mr. Shea had accompanied Billy Graham in his crusades for many years, she said, “Billy Graham? I have heard of him.”)

Ah yes, the aging process isn’t just aching muscles, a slower gait and a fuzzy memory. It’s also a shift so great that there is, at worst, a divide which is sometimes difficult to cross and, at best, a totally different way of doing things that continue to glorify the Lord and bring people to Him even as they leave the older generation in the dust.

That being said, it is important and exciting to note that a younger generation is stepping in to pick up the leadership mantle and carry forth the work.

The older generation is leaving us (the next to last living professor from my days in seminary just died a month or two ago). With them they take their knowledge and experience, but also their own style of doing things and reaching out.

While I often miss the old ways, I am absolutely grateful for those who step forward and, in their own way, with the new technology and methodology, and address the need of a younger generation to know our Lord Jesus Christ.

I don’t always understand their ways or their technology or even their vocabulary (hootenanny? What’s that?).  But I want to cheer on their commitment and dedication.

I also want to encourage them to remain true to the Gospel; to focus worship on our Lord and not the worship leaders; and to preach the Word of God as revealed in the Bible rather than their own understandings or wise sayings or personal interpretations.

I am reminded of the eternal biblical truth:

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever. Give thanks to the God of gods. His love endures forever. Give thanks to the Lord of lords: His love endures forever.  Psalm 136

We will be with the Lord forever. 1 Thessalonians 4: 17

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Hebrews 13:8

The word of the Lord endures forever. 1 Peter 1:25

To the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Jude 1:25

So, if you don’t know what a hootenanny is, don’t worry about it, just sing out praises to the Lord. If you don’t know who George Beverly Shea was, don’t worry about it; just keep witnessing to what Jesus Christ has done in your life.

As long as the methods are honest, the treatment of others just, and the proclamation of the Word is true to the Gospel, sing it out! Live it out!

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. To receive notification of future posts, please click on the “follow” button at the top of this page or write to missionaryjournalist (at) gmail (dot) com. If you no longer wish to receive these announcements, please let me know at that same email address.

On being alert and taking simple action to avert a catastrophe

By Kenneth D. MacHarg

I read a fascinating news story about how, through being alert and taking simple action, a woman named Donna Hubbard was able to save a young boy from exploitation, and possibly from injury or death.

This alert airline employee on a flight from Honduras to the United States noticed a couple carrying a child who was sweating, lethargic and appeared to be in pain on her flight. According to Reuters, “After take-off, Hubbard and her crew spoke to the man and woman separately, who gave different names and ages for the boy. Hubbard told the Thomson Reuters Foundation she was suspicious that he was being trafficked, kidnapped or even being used as a drug mule.”

Most importantly, she did something about what she observed. She notified the pilot who radioed ahead for police to meet the plane upon its arrival.

Trafficking and human slavery statistics are overwhelming in our modern world. According to the Global Slavery Index, 46 million people globally are living as slaves, trafficked into exploitation, sold for sex or trapped in debt bondage.

That statistic is hard to believe. After all, didn’t we rid the world of the scourge of slavery through the work of William Wilberforce in England over two hundred years ago and with the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 in the United States?

Obviously not. Today, slavery exists out-of-sight, but often in plain view in our own towns and cities. In fact, there is more slavery in the world today, including in the United States, than at any time in history, including before it was banned in so many countries.

I became fully aware of that when I read the incredible book Not for Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade – and How We Can Fight It by Dr. David Batstone who is an ethics professor at the University of San Francisco.

Dr. Batstone tells the story of eating frequently at an Asian restaurant in the San Francisco area. It was one of his favorite places which contributed to his shock when he heard it had been raided after authorities discovered that most of the employees there were trafficked slaves.  His book is an excellent starting point to help us understand the extent and terror of this world-wide scourge.

Unfortunately, this horrendous crime is all around. But, many of us may have the opportunity to intercede and rescue a child, a woman, any person from this criminal, cruel treatment.

Sometimes, it’s just a matter of being alert to what is going on around us.

CNN offers these suggestions, especially to those who travel, whether by airplane, or along interstate highways:

Warning signs:

1 — A traveler is not dressed appropriately for their route of travel.

You might notice right away that a traveler has few or no personal items. Victims may be less well dressed than their companions. They may be wearing clothes that are the wrong size, or are not appropriate for the weather on their route of travel.

2 — They have a tattoo with a bar code, the word “Daddy.”

Many people have tattoos, so a tattoo in itself is obviously not an indicator, but traffickers or pimps feel they own their victims and a barcode tattoo, or a tattoo with “Daddy” or even a man’s name could be a red flag that the person is a victim.

3 — They can’t provide details of their departure location, destination, or flight information.

Traffickers employ a number of tools to avoid raising suspicion about their crime and to keep victims enslaved. Some traffickers won’t tell their victims where they are located, being taken, or even what job they will have.

Because victims don’t have the means to get home or pay for things like food, they must rely on traffickers in order to get by, forcing them to stay in their situation.

4 — Their communication seems scripted, or there are inconsistencies with their story

Sometimes traffickers will coach their victims to say certain things in public to avoid suspicion. A traveler whose story seems inconsistent or too scripted might be trying to hide the real reason for their travel and merely reciting what a trafficker has told them to say.

5 – They can’t move freely in an airport or on a plane, or they are being controlled, closely watched or followed.

People being trafficked into slavery are sometimes guarded in transit. A trafficker will try to ensure that the victim does not escape, or reach out to authorities for help.

6 – They are afraid to discuss themselves around others, deferring any attempts at conversation to someone who appears to be controlling them.

Fear and intimidation are two of the tools that traffickers use to control people in slavery. Traffickers often prevent victims from interacting with the public because the victim might say something that raises suspicions about their safety and freedom.

7 – Child trafficking

A child being trafficked for sexual exploitation may be dressed in a sexualized manner, or seem to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

A child may appear to be malnourished and/or shows signs of physical or sexual abuse, such as bruises, scars, or cigarette burns.

All it took on the airline flight was the concern of Ms. Hubbard and her willingness to call in help. But it is going to take much more, from each one of us, to uncover and eliminate this torture: encouraging public officials to take action, participating in or contributing to one of the many organizations that work to alleviate the suffering, reading and being informed, keeping alert as we travel or shop or eat out, and praying.

I pray that each of us can be aware and be ready to step in and take action to save a life from slavery.

***

For more information, check out these websites:

http://news.trust.org/trafficking/

https://polarisproject.org/

https://www.notforsalecampaign.org/

https://www.ijm.org/ (A Christian organization)

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. To receive notification of future posts, please click on the “follow” button at the top of this page or write to missionaryjournalist (at) gmail (dot) com. If you no longer wish to receive these announcements, please let me know at that same email address.

Hi Ho Silver or Let Us Bow Down in Worship? Which will it be?

By Kenneth D. MacHarg

An article in the local newspaper highlights a new church forming in our town. It’s a “Cowboy Church” which caters to those who either are or dream of becoming a cowboy or cowgirl.

Nothing wrong with that. Churches are finding great success in leading people to the Lord by targeting specific interests and serving a niche clientele. After all, the majority of churches that Polly and I have served have focused primarily on expatriates and third-culture people.

And this one does just that. “You have people that have never owned a horse or gun but they sit and grew up watching Bonanza and the Lone Ranger,” the paper quoted the new pastor as saying. “If you’ve got a Western or country heart, then the…Cowboy Church is the place for you.”

That sounds fine, as far as it goes. But what really got my attention was the statement that the service “will end with a gunfight reenactment.”

Wait a minute. A gunfight reenactment? I’m sure the folks at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina would want to see that. Or, perhaps not. One of their services ended with a gunfight a few years ago that left nine people dead.

Now, this isn’t a launch into the gun-rights debate, though there may be some hints here and there.

It’s more a concern about what worship is all about and the blatant misuse of entertainment in what should be a God-focused experience, not people-focused.

(I have written about this topic before. See here, here  and here)

For the life of me, I cannot understand how a reenactment of a gunfight has any place in a service of worship.

Lest we forget, the audience in our worship is the Lord, not the congregation. The actors (worshippers) consist of the people in attendance, and the direction of the action is Godward, not human oriented.

From the opening prayer to the Bible readings, the praise music, hymns, readings, the preaching of the word, the time of commitment, the baptism, the sharing of communion, the closing prayer and benediction, all are elements of worship that are directed toward God and designed to please Him and only Him.

When we dilute what we do with distractions, interruptions, and, yes, entertainment, when we finish the service with something other than a focus on God and his saving power through Jesus Christ, we are missing the whole point and are attempting to please ourselves rather than worship our powerful and almighty Lord.

From Psalm 96:1 we read: Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.

That does it, powerfully, honestly, and completely. We don’t need anything else than that.

 

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. To receive notification of future posts, please click on the “follow” button at the top of this page or write to missionaryjournalist (at) gmail (dot) com. If you no longer with to receive these announcements, please let me know at that same email address.

Seen it all

By Kenneth D. MacHarg

Sometimes I think I have seen it all, then the Lord puts something in my path that makes me just shake my head in amazement.

        I thought I had seen the worst when I came to know Martha Carina a number of years ago. She lived in Quito, Ecuador’s worst squatter settlement, in a wooden shack precariously balanced on a rock high on the mountainside overlooking the city. The first time I visited her house the family had only wooden platforms but no mattresses on which to sleep. They had few blankets, no food, little clothing.

        Later, thanks to the generosity of a few contributors, Martha Carina and her family lived in a simple, but to them, palatial cement-block house on the same site, but more firmly anchored to the ground. They ate simple meals and Martha certainly looked better. I saw her several months later and occasionally over the years and was pleased that she was healthy, growing, and lived near a newly forming evangelical church.

        Then I walked the streets of Mexico City one day a year or two later, visiting street children. One group, junior high age, proudly showed us their hole under a viaduct where they lived in unspeakable filth. As we talked, some wandered or turned away to take a sniff of glue while others just breathed it in unashamedly in front of us.

        We joined them and some LAM missionaries for a meal on the worn grass near where they lived. They heard a Bible story and were encouraged yet again to accept Jesus Christ as their savior and turn their lives around. It takes many Bible stories and a good deal of prayer to reach such difficult youth.

        It wasn’t too much later that I joined a group of Christian lay people on a cold, rainy night in Quito as they worked with street children living in the city’s sprawling Carolina Park. They too are ministering through food, clothing, Bible stories and love. The children shivered as a cold wind blew down the street chilling all of us to the bone. But what startled me there was to learn that there were two-year old children living in the park, some with their mothers, others depending on a band of other two to four year olds to protect and nurture them. I guess people dump off children in the park in the same way they abandon pets when they no longer want them.

        Yes, I thought I had seen it all until I walked on a municipal garbage dump in Mexico City. We had to close the car windows to keep the flies out, the stench was nauseating, blowing plastic bags circled in the air like vultures. In the midst of all that stinking, festering garbage and the rabid dogs were people, God’s people, raking, sorting, and living in that trash. Families with children earning five dollars a day for 15 hours of work, seven days a week. They were surrounded by cardboard and plywood shacks in which they live along with disease, and the ever-constant smell.

        Yet, on that dump, home to 3,000 people and, a pastor told me, one of Mexico City’s smaller dumps out of dozens, Christians are ministering, sharing the word, bringing people to know the Lord. Most of the people who live there came from troubled backgrounds in other towns and cities, I was told. And, many of them, once they came to know Jesus Christ, picked up and returned home to new lives.

        Indeed, the Gospel brings hope and new life to children in squatter communities, street kids and garbage dump dwellers. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (II Corinthians 5:17 NIV).

        Amidst the pain and suffering, the aimlessness and lostness, people of God are reaching out in the name of Christ to bring that hope and to transform their lives. I praise God that He has given us the opportunity to see His work in Latin America.

This article was adapted from the book, Inside Track, Latin America Through the Eyes of a Missionary Journalist which is available for sale from Amazon.com.

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. To receive notification of future posts, please click on the “follow” button at the top of this page or write to missionaryjournalist (at) gmail (dot) com. If you no longer with to receive these announcements, please let me know at that same email address.

Seminary training: crucial or a nice option?

By Kenneth D. MacHarg

Just because I went to seminary doesn’t mean that I think every pastor must do the same.

But, I do think it isn’t a bad idea and that any pastor will benefit and be a much better, more accomplished, deeper servant of God if he or she does.

However, according to a recent article in the Christian Science Monitor many of today’s new pastors are rising up out of their home church and moving into the pastorate without the kind of formal education and shaping that an earlier generation not only wanted to do but, in some cases (such as mine), was required to do.

The Monitor explains, “What’s emerging…is an example of a quiet but revolutionary shift under way in American mainline Protestantism. Across the country, hundreds of long-established congregations are finding new roles for laypeople as the churches undergo a fundamental change from full-time to part-time clergy.”

The newspaper goes on to explain that one of the main motivating factors for this shift is the declining size of many traditional, Protestant churches which are no longer able to afford a full-time, seminary trained pastor. Thus, they are turning to lay members to assume the responsibilities on a voluntary or part-time paid basis to keep the church open.

The article also demonstrates that most American churches did not have full-time pastors until the early 19th century. And, in that era, many home-grown pastors had no formal theological or seminary training.

Yet, they did well, pastored effectively, and the churches prospered and grew.

One has to praise the Lord for that, and to recognize that God can call whomever He desires and infuse that person with His Spirit to guide, train and build him or her as an effective shepherd of the people.

However, it’s not just traditional denominational churches that are shrinking which are looking for local, untrained leadership to guide them into the future. Newly planted, independent or non-denominational churches are also starting up with dynamic leadership which has little or no training or experience in theological study, homiletics (preaching), counseling or even church administration.

As I observe the numerous newly-birthed churches popping up all over our part of the country in old grocery stories, school auditoriums, strip malls and other previously-used facilities, it is notable how many of their leaders are good people who are struggling to be theologically solid, trained in ministry skills, and effective in reaching out evangelically to those who are seeking a spiritual home.

I do have to express my concern, however, for churches and pastors where the leadership is sorely lacking in the totality of training that a theological degree offers. By that, I mean a full degree that is designed to train men and women for pastoral service from an accredited seminary or Bible college.

Why do I think this is so important? Because seminary or Bible college training produces pastors and other church leaders who are well-versed in biblical studies, theological doctrines, Christian pastoral counseling techniques, psychological and sociological training that provides a broad understanding of the milieu in which they work, homiletics which trains in the areas of sermon preparation and delivery, church organization and management, church history, missions studies and so on.

When pastors work their way through a full seminary training program, they go to churches prepared, seasoned by contact with other seminary students and caring professors, and professionally capable to leading their flocks with care, quality and compassion.

And it’s not just the classes and the books that are important. Equally crucial are the informal insights, nuggets of information and wise guidance that comes from educated, experienced professors who bring a life-time of service and knowledge to the classroom.

Many of the gems of wisdom that I picked up in seminary came in response to a student’s question or an off-hand comment from a professor that wasn’t in his notes, but came to mind in the context of another discussion.

Seminary today doesn’t mean that a family has to pack up and move a thousand miles away for three years. Many degrees can be obtained online or in seminary branches that are popping up in major cities around the country.

However it is done, churches and pastors can better assure that their leaders are adequately trained by providing them with an education offered by qualified teachers in accredited seminaries or Bible colleges.

The local church and the Kingdom of God will be blessed when we provide the highest quality, educated and trained leadership to our churches.

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