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Top 10 list: Salt, light and inspiring headlines in Churches of Christ

A U.S. flag hangs between two fire truck ladders in West, Texas, as firefighters pay tribute to comrades who lost their lives in the April 17 explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. plant. (Photo by Bobby Ross Jr.)

Blogging from Malibu, Calif.
I did a presentation at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures last week titled “All the News That’s Fit to Celebrate: Salt, Light and Inspiring Headlines in Churches of Christ.”
Churches of Christ in the United States face a variety of challenges, including declining membership numbers (as The Christian Chronicle highlighted in the “Are We Growing?” and “By the Numbers” series and, most recenty, in a front-page story last year).
At the same time, God has blessed our fellowship of 1.6 million believers nationwide (and many more around the world) in exceptional ways.
At Pepperdine, I presented my personal “Top 10” list of inspiring stories. My list, I should stress, is by no means exhaustive and undoubtedly leaves out many deserving stories that belong. (I’d urge you to point out those omissions in the comments section!)
My list (with links to related stories from the Chronicle’s archives):

1. Disaster relief: When tragedies occur — at home and overseas — members of Churches of Christ repeatedly open their hearts and wallets. Most recently, that was seen in the outpouring of support after the explosion of a fertilizer plant in West, Texas. Other examples include the relief efforts after tornadoes in Joplin, Mo., and Tuscaloosa, Ala. ; after the Japan and Haiti earthquakes; and after  Hurricane Katrina and, more recently, Hurricane Sandy.

Tom Collier walks to his car after a fellowship meal at the West Liberty Church of Christ, seven miles west of Montezuma, Iowa. (Photo by Bobby Ross Jr.)

2. Small church, big faith: Some of the most inspiring stories — and biggest demonstrations of faith — can be seen in the smallest congregations. In rural Iowa, the West Liberty Church of Christ has remained steadfast in serving God despite declining to a half-dozen members and nearly dying. In Mormon-dominated Utah, members of Churches of Christ describe themselves as “small in number but strong in spirit and faithful to the Lord.” And north of the U.S. border, a “little church on the prairie” thrives in the French Catholic town of Gravelbourg, Saskatchewan.
3. Racial reconciliation: In recent years, Churches of Christ have made strides in bringing together all the children that Jesus loves — red and yellow, black and white. In Houston, for example, black, white and Hispanic churches organized a citywide campaign and “Day of Good Works.” In Detroit, church leaders report progress in ongoing efforts to improve racial unity. Meanwhile, civil rights attorney and Church of Christ preacher Fred Gray received the highest honor bestowed by Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn. — a Christian university that he once challenged in court.
4. Young blood: The exodus of young people from Churches of Christ looms as a major concern, but plenty of reason for hope exists, too. That’s evident when listening to young people discuss their faith or seeing the passion that teens bring to hands-on service projects and mission trips. Likewise, the future of the church seems strong when witnessing the thousands of young people who flock each year to events such as the Challenge Youth Conference, Winterfest, Lads to Leaders/Leaderettes and Leadership Training for Christ.

Members of the Providence Church of Christ, a Liberian immigrant congregation in Rhode Island, sing during a Sunday morning assembly. (Photo by Bobby Ross Jr.)

5. Ethnic diversity: As the nation becomes more diverse, the face of Churches of Christ is changing — with more congregations looking like America. In Rhode Island, Liberians comprise a Church of Christ that is serving not only in inner-city Providence but looking to bring hope and healing to its war-torn homeland. Just miles from the nation’s capital, the University Park Church of Christ in Hyattsville, Md., has a worship service conducted in Twi, the language of Ghana, for more than 100 immigrants from West Africa. A t the Northwest Church of Christ in Chicago, Christians worship each Sunday in English, Spanish and Korean. Congregations such as the Manhattan Church of Christ in New York City, the Culver Palms Church of Christ in Los Angeles and the Strathmore Boulevard Church of Christ in Toronto bring together dozens of nationalities.  
6. Church outside the walls: Some Churches of Christ are embracing new approaches to reach seekers unlikely to set foot in a traditional church building. The Queen City Church of Christ in Charlotte, N.C., started with eight Christians meeting in a house. On a recent Sunday, 225 people — many learning about Jesus for the first time — attended the church’s worship service at a downtown YMCA. In North Little Rock, Ark., the River City Ministry feeds bodies and souls in a part of the city dubbed the “red zone,” resulting in more than 1,000 baptisms and restorations since 2007. For other Christians, bringing church outside the walls means taking it “inside prison walls.”

Young Muslims, many from Somalia, walk the streets of Nairobi’s Eastleigh neighborhood near the meeting place of a Church of Christ. (Photo by Erik Tryggestad)

7. Faith without fear: Most of us never experience true persecution. We don’t understand what it means to risk our lives for our faith. But some Christians know exactly what it means, and they inspire us. As Kenya battles terrorists, a Church of Christ looks to take the Gospel to its increasingly Muslim neighborhood. Tennessee church members John and Jan Bradley serve refugees in Afghanistan. In Mexico, missionaries and native members persevere despite an ongoing drug war. Here in the U.S., Charles and Angela Marsalis refuse to let gang members and drug dealers deter them from sharing the Gospel.
8. One person can make a difference: It’s a cliche, but it’s true. Bobby Lawson, minister for the Park Forest Church of Christ in Matteson, Ill., makes a difference as he rises before sunset to pray with the loved ones of illegal immigrants who are being deported. Melinda Oldham, special needs ministry coordinator for the Brooks Avenue Church of Christ in Raleigh, N.C., makes a difference as she showers Christ’s love on children with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and a broad range of disorders called autism. Chet McDoniel, a member of The Hills Church of Christ in North Richland Hills, Texas, makes a difference as he refuses to let his physical handicaps — including being born with no arms — keep him from delivering an inspirational message of hope in Jesus.

Brandon Armstrong hugs his cousin Rachel Weldy after baptizing her at Michigan Christian Youth Camp in Attica. (Photo by Rebecca Schad)

9. Parachurch ministries: From children’s homes to Christian universities, ministries associated with Churches of Christ do a tremendous amount of good — often while struggling financially. Many Christians trace their faith to heart-changing weeks spent at Christian camps such as Yamhill in Oregon and Gander Brook in Maine. Nonprofits such as the Missions Resource Network and Great Cities Missions help equip churches for ministry and church planting around the globe, while others such as Eastern European Mission, World Bible School and “In Search of the Lord’s Way” work directly with evangelism. (The ministries mentioned are just examples, and I know I’m leaving out many important ones.)
10. Duck Dynasty: Yes, this is a blatant attempt to increase page views on this post (I’ll even link gratuitously below to a video interview with Jase Robertson). But seriously, it seems that everything written these days about the Robertson family — faithful members of the White’s Ferry Road Church of Christ in West Monroe, La. — goes viral, from our “Faith, family and ducks” feature to our recent Dialogue interview with Missy Robertson to our frequent news blog updates.
That’s my list. Now, it’s y our turn: What inspiring headlines would you add to the above list?

  • Feedback
    I am so glad to finally see something decent to watch on tv. The Robertson’s make me proud to be an American. Their love of God is such a great inspiration. Keep up the great work…:)
    May, 9 2013

    Dear Brethren
    Thanks for the news we are getting all the news
    Please pray for us and for the church here in India
    In Christ
    sullurpeta cofc
    May, 10 2013

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