“What do You want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have You come here to torture us before the appointed time?” Matthew 8:29
There are some passages in scripture that you can read several times, but certain truths or realities may not really “connect” until you pause, meditate, and study. The reality in this passage that the demons were speaking to Jesus via the possessed men who lived in the graveyard was always a truth that I acknowledged, but had not meditated upon.
These men (or I should say the demons within them) terrorized people for miles around and changed people’s travel schedules. They were known to be some truly notorious men who were unclean, living among the dead and, even worse, among evil spirits. Their lives, reputations, personalities, relationships, and much more had been ravaged by the demons who possessed them. I do not know if they did anything to welcome such possession but, generally, I do not believe that many of our neighbors desire that kind of unruly guest in their lives.
The simple truth that these men were not speaking for themselves has hit me squarely between the eyes. Are there people whom I have encountered, or even judged, based on their behavior when they may have not had any control over their realities? I’m a firm believer in personal responsibility, but there are times and situations in which some people may have no control. How do we respond? Do we judge or will we have compassion? While the demons deserve to be cast out, tortured, etc., the men were simply the instruments of this evil presence.
I look back on my life, and I have had many graveyard experiences where I visited or lived in places that most people would not go. Whether it was the “armpit” of Mexico or the hotbed of jihad in Yemen, I strangely walked among people who desperately needed to hear the good news of Christ. While there were many threats to my personal safety, the experience of seeing lives changed by sharing the gospel and making disciples far outweighed the costs involved.
Within our community, there are populations who struggle to have that voice. We could blame it on any number of things, but that does not negate the reality that they are all people like us in need of a Savior. God is moving in wonderful ways among immigrants, minorities, marginalized, and others in great need among us. This is being accomplished by existing churches as well as church plants that serve in new ways with people who have little access to the gospel. There are so many great things happening among PMBA churches that I can’t possibly highlight them all, but I will celebrate some today.
A few recent events that we can celebrate include:
The opening of a new ministry center on the East Side by Crestwood Baptist Church in cooperation with Greg Jones who started Healing Ministries (pictured above).
One of the newest of nine churches planted in the PMBA celebrated their first anniversary! Citizen’s Church Kernersville was blessed with a great attendance, baptism, and cookout on March 27th. (pictured below)
Hispanic ministry is flourishing in new and exciting ways as well. The pastors’ breakfast was well attended, and we are so thankful to see these leaders engaging in new and exciting ways in the PMBA. Two anglo churches (Griffith and Crestwood) are in the process of beginning or hosting Hispanic church plants in their buildings. A joint service was also held by Glennview and Union Cross churches recently as they plan to do outreach together in preparation for Easter.
Be sure to read about the coming events at the PMBA as well! The Every Child Fostering and Adoption evening and our Easter Hunger Initiative are just two exciting opportunities approaching in the days ahead.
Until He comes…go!
A Word from Walker
The weather is warming up and we are beginning to see signs of the much-awaited advent of spring. Coupled with this is our longing anticipation of eventually outstriding the pandemic that has chased us around for two years. As I talk with pastors and church leaders, most feel their churches are back to more regular rhythms in ministry and are thus a little more emboldened to make plans for upcoming months. Still, many congregations have sustained about a 30-35% reduction in public worship attendance. What is the right response to this challenge? Here are some of my thoughts about this …
First, the pandemic has given us an opportunity to diversify our approach. For lots of churches, the most important thing they did was to come together for public worship. While public worship is essential, it is by no means singularly important. For example, if our goal is for the church to be about the mission of making disciples, then what are the indicators that our members are moving beyond the four walls of the church’s physical location to engage the lost with the gospel and see the Kingdom of God expanded? Is it just about worship or Sunday School attendance? I have noticed that churches that were about the mission of moving out into their communities and beyond before the pandemic were doing better than churches that weren’t. Part of the reason for this is that if a church’s missional strategy was attractional, this meant that success was all about bringing people to services or an event. When the pandemic hit, obviously they were stuck because they couldn’t physically gather. Even if this were the case in the past, those same churches had the once-in-a-generation opportunity to shift from being solely dependent on gathering as their core missional strategy to diversifying their approach. A good example of this is accessing technology where previously it was not strategically used. This slight shift gave churches a new way of reaching people. Instead of ditching this, why not keep this approach as an expanded way of reaching more people. Such pivots, and what they taught us about being more innovative in our approach to ministry, should serve as a new leveraging point in creative pathways for disciple-making.
Second, the short-term (at the very least) reduction in worship attendance should move us to spend more time equipping those that remain to become more missional. This means helping them understand their gifts and talents in light of maximizing their investment in others for the glory of God. Instead of wringing our hands over the people we’ve lost, we should be doubling down and developing the people we have. Years ago I was exposed to the ministry of a Foursquare Pentecostal Church that was planted right in the middle of Simi Valley during the height of the technological boom. What their pastor discovered was that about every 2-4 years, their members would be transferred all over the world. For a while every leader in the church was understandably discouraged. Then it hit them … God had engineered this so that they could train up their people to bless other congregations. So instead of mourning over this pattern, they got really serious about discipling their members so that they were ready to bless churches, literally, all over the world. In similar fashion we should treat any reduction in attendance as a stimulant to get serious about discipling the people that are present.
In the coming months we will be introducing a tool called Disciple-Cycle. It is designed to help a church of any size launch a simple, replicable way of getting started in a disciple-making movement. You will hear more about this as we get ready to launch this ministry late second or early third quarter of this year. In the meantime, keep looking at new and better ways of helping the people you have become more Kingdom-focused children of God. We value and appreciate each of you and look forward to finding new ways we can partner together to see great things happen.
Your fellow servant in Christ,