‘What God will do … will blow your mind’
Where do Churches of Christ go from here? A panel…
OKLAHOMA CITY — The ancient words of Isaiah, who spoke about God’s people returning home after decades of exile, are relevant in 2021 as churches return to in-person worship services — and as the COVID-19 pandemic drags on.
That was a key message at the KERYGMA Preaching Conference, sponsored by Oklahoma Christian University Church Resources and HOPE Network Ministries. More than 60 preachers from six states attended the event, which takes its name from a Greek word used by Christ followers to represent “the core message of God’s salvation history being fulfilled in Jesus Christ,” organizer Grady King said.
A few snapshots from the event:
• The annual “Fright Fest” at Six Flags amusement parks provided Lamont Ross with an analogy for God’s protection. The ghouls and goblins in the parks are allowed to frighten parkgoers but aren’t allowed to touch them, said the senior minister for the Marsalis Avenue Church of Christ in Dallas.
Ross talked about lessons from Isaiah 7, including God’s message of encouragement to the prophet and his son in the face of their enemies. Judah’s king at the time, Ahaz, also received this message and promised not to test the Lord. But then he attempted an entangling alliance with a foreign power that ended badly.
“Ahaz already has decided what he is going to do,” Ross said. “We have times when we want to trust God, but we also try to do something else.” Such decisions can lead to ruin.
“You don’t have to fight with the weapons of the world,” Ross said, “because God is with you.”
• “Last year was a tough year to be a preacher,” said Kent Brown, minister for the Northwest Church of Christ in Oklahoma City. Many left the ministry, not because they lost faith in God but because they lost faith in God’s people, he said.
Brown spoke about the “suffering servant” depicted in Isaiah 52 and how this depiction defied the messianic expectations of the religious leaders when Christ arrived. A more servant-like attitude is needed in the post-pandemic era, he said, as Christians have allowed themselves to be divided over issues of health, politics and race.
A 30-minute sermon alone can’t undo the influence of a 24-hour news cycle, Brown said. He stressed the need for churches to think outside the pulpit and provide opportunities and encouragement for believers to practice their faith by serving their communities. People don’t enter a dojo to hear a lecture on karate, he said. They go there to practice.
“If we’re not using the tools that God has given us to shape his people,” Brown said, “then we’re failing them.”
“If we’re not using the tools that God has given us to shape his people, then we’re failing them.”
• “The way you talk about women matters, but your actions speak way louder,” said Leah Redling, director of youth and families for The Springs Church of Christ in Edmond, Okla. Speaking to a predominantly male audience, she was part of a panel discussing the challenges faced by women in ministry.
Pay inequality is one challenge, said Becky Burroughs, outreach minister for the Highland Oaks Church of Christ in Dallas. She has interviewed women on church staffs and found that some make half of what their male counterparts do. Men in ministry roles can advocate for females and people of color when it comes to salary equality, she said. “Advocate for those who can’t advocate for themselves.”
Redling stressed the need for ministers and church elders to “listen well, listen often, listen to all voices, intentionally inviting the perspectives of those who are not like us. We must assume we have blind spots that others can reveal.” And church leaders should be willing to act on what they learn.
• “It may take God emptying the pews to refill the pews,” said Dwayne M.L. Case, evangelist for the Northeast Church of Christ in Oklahoma City.
He preached from Isaiah 43, including the Lord’s admonition in verse 18 to those returning from exile: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.”
As churches slowly emerge from quarantine, ministers must find a way to engage in-person and online audiences simultaneously, he said, equating the return to in-person worship with the slow and gradual return of the Israelites to Jerusalem, as told in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Many brought emotional baggage and bad habits from their time of captivity.
“They came back in waves,” Case said, “and they made a mess of things.” Centuries later, “Jesus comes to challenge the politics of God’s people.”
“Jesus comes to challenge the politics of God’s people.”
Subscribe today to receive more inspiring articles like this one delivered straight to your inbox twice a month.
Your donation helps us not only keep our quality of journalism high, but helps us continue to reach more people in the Churches of Christ community.