Can Churches of Christ be saved?
KRESS, Texas — "Oh land of rest, for thee I sigh.…
As aspiring ministers step up to the pulpit at Sunset International Bible Institute, their fellow students and teachers shout those words of encouragement. The phrase has become a motto for the 55-year-old school in Lubbock, Texas, which shares a campus with its overseeing congregation, the Sunset Church of Christ.
For 23 of those years Truitt Adair has served as president of the institute, which trains preachers for Churches of Christ in the U.S. and around the world. Recently, he announced his decision to transition into the role of chancellor at the beginning of the 2018 academic year. Related: Sunset International Bible Institute seeks successor to longtime president “I love Sunset, and I am not planning to go anywhere,” Adair said. “I want to help the next president enjoy the same mentoring that I received when founding president Cline Paden passed the baton of leadership to me in 1993.”
Truitt AdairUnder Adair’s leadership, Sunset developed an international division with 72 partner schools in 42 nations. Hundreds of students study the institute’s curriculum online and through DVD courses. The institute now offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in ministry.
During Adair’s tenure, the institute became debt-free and quadrupled its budget. The school completed a $12 million campaign and created a foundation with an endowment of more than $7 million.
As Sunset’s board of directors searches for the institute’s next president, its members salute Adair as “a visionary leader” who “led the Institute through an incredible period of growth over the past two decades,” said chairman Bob Crockett.
Born in Phoenix, Adair is a graduate of Sunset and Abilene Christian University in Texas. In his 50-year ministry he has served churches in Texas and Arizona. For two years he worked as a missionary in Lagos, Nigeria, and has participated in mission efforts in India and Eastern Europe. He has preached in 30 foreign countries and nearly every U.S. state.
He and his wife, Sandra, have four children, 11 grandchildren and two great-grandsons.
Many churches in the U.S. aren’t growing. Why do you think that is?
Churches grow when they are healthy in certain important factors and diminish when they are unhealthy in those same factors. Churches that are intentional in developing greater health in leadership, spirituality, worship, unity, evangelism, relationships and stewardship are far more likely to grow.
This is true up and down the doctrinal spectrum. Doctrinal orientation will certainly determine what kind of church we grow, but this is not the greatest determination in whether a church is likely to grow.
Many congregations that have radically changed their doctrinal positions, gender roles and worship style in the name of growth now find themselves half the size they were when they began their evolution. Others that could be considered pillars of faithfulness to doctrinal purity are bleeding members and dying. The problem is exacerbated by population shifts, economic factors, aging membership and congregational divisions.
Are we too narrow in our appeal to society?
We cannot change gospel truth to conform to our culture but should seek to adapt our methodologies to broaden our appeal to receptive sinners in our society.
Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” He was so uncompromisingly narrow in some areas that his contemporaries rejected and killed him.
However, in other areas he was broad in his appeal to the culture of his day. He associated widely with the religiously committed and the non-religious, with the prosperous and the poor, with the educated and the unlearned. He was rightly accused of being the “friend of sinners,” including prostitutes, tax collectors, zealots and the hurting and rejected.
‘We cannot change gospel truth to conform to our culture but should seek to adapt our methodologies to broaden our appeal to receptive sinners in our society.’
Later, Paul became “all things to all people,” in order that they might be won to Christ. But Paul was uncompromising in insisting that his message and way of life be taught “everywhere in every church,” as we see in 1 Corinthians 4.
In Galatians, he wrote that those who “teach another gospel” than the one he taught would be condemned.
That is very narrow, but it is also very biblical.
Why do you think Churches of Christ are losing young people?
I have interviewed a number of young people and a number of leaders of youth ministries, campus ministries and young singles’ ministries. There are two streams of thought regarding the loss.
Some cite millennial culture and its affinity for relative truth and tolerance. This stream of thought lays the blame at the feet of our education system, the media and cultural pressures.
“How can we better reach millennials with the Gospel and keep them in the church?”
The second line of thought blames parents and church leaders for their failure to recognize and compensate for the strong pull of an ungodly culture by providing more and better teaching and Christian models.
Perhaps a more important question is, “How can we better reach millennials with the Gospel and keep them in the church?”
Young people want the church to be real and relevant. They want to be engaged and involved in something that has value and meaning. They will resist participation simply out of duty. They are turned off by and often walk away from a congregation that expects them to settle back into a comfortable pew and “do church as usual.”
Should we be planting new churches or rescuing dying churches?
Generally speaking, new churches grow faster and convert more people than older congregations. There would be greater Kingdom growth if more of us would help plant new congregations in new population centers as cities expand.
While I am not ready to give up on revitalizing dying congregations, putting more resources into planting new churches may be more productive for long-term Kingdom growth.
What are the most exciting initiatives of Sunset around the world today?
One of the most exciting is the Solar Player Ministry launched in 2014. This mission provides small solar powered MP3 players that are loaded with the entire Bible, World Bible School lessons, New Life Behavior series and the complete teaching curriculum of Sunset International Bible Institute, composed of more than 40 courses. The players also have several hours of gospel singing.
Since 1.5 billion people around the world live without electricity, a solar-powered unit that can be recharged and played using the power of sun to teach about the Son is very effective.
The Solar Player Ministry is working because, years ago, we began an International Division which now partners with 72 preacher-training schools in 42 nations, training nearly 3,000 international student preachers at any given time. We graduate between 350 and 500 each year.
What is Sunset doing to prepare ministers who are skilled and tuned in to the needs of today?
Good ministers need not only the Word of God, but also people skills, servant hearts and the ability to lead and work well with others — especially congregational elders.
That is why we have emphasized internships for new ministers to work for a time with experienced and successful ministers and elders before they “solo.” We arrange both summer internships for current students and longer-term (one- to two-year) internships for recent graduates. This is especially critical for younger and less experienced students.
What makes a highly effective minister?
An effective minister will teach and preach a well-planned curriculum of God’s Word that he has studied and researched thoroughly. He will equip others to serve by teaching and training members publically and privately.
A good minister prays daily for his people and for open doors to reach the lost with the Gospel. He learns how to be a good steward of his resources, including time, ability and money. An effective minister knows how to work with a broad spectrum of ages, ethnicities, financial strata and social classes. He knows when to rebuke sharply and when to gently persuade.
What makes a highly effective church elder or leader?
An effective elder must know the Word of God and also know the God of the Word. Elders both lead and feed God’s people. They guard the church against error and evil. An elder must be able to influence God’s people to participate in spiritual growth and significant service. According to Ephesians 4:11-12, job one for leaders is to equip the members for ministry. The path to effective leadership is good discipleship.
Those who have learned submission to Christ can more credibly persuade others to follow their example of service. There can be no more effective and pleasant church situation than for elders who are true spiritual examples of Christian discipleship to lovingly shepherd and provide visionary oversight for people who willingly follow them in becoming more like Christ.
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