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Church has changed, but heart remains

For more than 47 years, Joyce and I have been part of the Memorial Road Church of Christ in Oklahoma City.
In those 47 years, membership has grown from 100 to more than 2,500. The church’s leadership, ministries and facilities have changed quite a lot.
The foundational principles have not.
What God wants the church to look like is wonderfully expressed in Paul’s prayer for the Philippians, “that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ — to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11)
Our church isn’t perfect, of course, but I believe that, for the past half-century, it has remained a place where believers seek to know God, to have a relationship with him and to represent him to others, near and far.
Memorial Road, initially called the College Church of Christ, was launched on the campus of Oklahoma Christian College (now University) on a Sunday morning in July, 50 years ago.
Three years later, as the congregation moved into its first building, we expressed our desire to be guided by the eldership (three kind men) and to serve the family of God meeting there.
Early in our life with the church, I coordinated the adult Bible class program. We had four adult classes — organized by subject, not generations — on Sunday morning and five on Wednesday evening when a discussion format was possible. For pre-school and elementary classes, five rooms were available, and junior and senior high had three rooms.
In those days, we knew every person at worship, and we knew each child and could match each with his or her parents.
Today, even with a 2,000-seat auditorium, most Sunday morning there are two worship services. (We often combine services during July and Christmastime.) Instead of using songbooks, the church sings from the music on a screen.
We hardly know one-third of the people at the worship service we attend. We always are introducing ourselves to people who have worshiped with the church for five or six years.
Instead of three elders, the church has 25 and more than 30 employees, including office staff and maintenance workers. We have a pulpit minister who preaches most of the time, but at least five other staff members preach occasionally. The church has a wing for elementary classes, a building for the youth and a wing for pre-school.
The congregation has more than 20 adult Bible classes, which function almost like churches within a church. Each adult Bible class has an elder family and chair that helps with organizational matters.
I attend a class known as Fifty-Something Forever, and I am the second-oldest member of the class. There are probably a couple of people in their 50s, and the rest are older.
Still, the members stay in the class and have their closest relationships there. We have a wonderful class member who sends e-mails with all prayer requests and other information about members. The class has many strong, persistent prayer warriors.
I share this personal story to suggest that “external” elements of church life may change, but as long as the heart of the community — Christian seekers — is set on loving God and honoring him by the faithfulness of their lives, the church is still the family of God.
Paul communicates in many of his writings that the unity of the believers makes a powerful impression on the world, just as the godly lives of the believers made people take notice and drew people to God. In 1 Corinthians 12 and in Romans 12, he recognizes the organic unity of the church by comparing it to a human body with many parts — each with its function.
So long as the church recognizes the supremacy of Jesus as its center and focus, so long as the church is firmly devoted to Jesus and his spiritual calling.
Today the church — not a building but the people who worship — is the temple of God. So the 2,500 people we worship alongside are the temple, just as the 100 who worshiped nearly half a century ago were the temple.
We should all be praying for the unity of the church and that the believers will be a light to show the way to God.

CONTACT [email protected].

Filed under: Insight

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