Categories
church church (nature) church attendance church growth church of Christ evangelism Uncategorized

Dying Villages (And Dying Churches)

Neal Pollard

Liza Zhakova and Dima Zharov have written an extensive expose of a phenomenon I was totally unaware of—the depopulation of villages throughout the Kostroma region northeast of Moscow, Russia. 200 villages have been abandoned and 20,000 villages have faded away, a remarkable, mystifying fact for a vast region—it counts merely “660,000 residents for its 23,000 square miles” (source). Factors contributing to this include “low living standards, high unemployment, and a lack of housing and public services” (ibid.).  The ones who have remained are an odd assortment who either prefer isolation or cannot see another way.

Appreciation for salvation, the power of the gospel and the beautiful simplicity of the restoration plea, the exalted mission of the church, and much more should cause the church to spread and grow across the nation and throughout the world despite the opposition of the darkest forces against it. But, especially in America, the statistics show a decline in total number of members even as the nation’s population rises. Last Spring, Christian Chronicle reported that over 100,000 fewer souls were members of the church in 2015 than in 1990 (source). The United States’ net population increase over that period was 70 million (source). My experience in visiting churches in various parts of the country and in visiting with brethren from all over is that most churches are not experiencing growth. Some have seen an increase in attendance, almost always as the result of transfer from other congregations (over doctrinal issues, lack of resources and activities, or even churches that have to close their doors). But instances of churches that are taking the gospel into their communities and winning souls should, per the factors cited above, have us growing like wildfire.  In especially “mission fields” and rural areas, the church is often fighting for survival. My parents and brother, for example, work in a ministry called Carolina Outreach. Through their exposure to churches in the Carolinas, they witness and work with tiny congregations fighting to keep their doors open. They lack funds and workers to get the gospel to the souls in need of the truth in that part of this nation. I have spent over 20 years as a local preacher in states that are typically considered a mission field, outside of the traditional “Bible Belt” (i.e., Virginia and Colorado). In these and surrounding states, I have been saddened to hear about churches closing their doors or simply fighting just to “keep their doors open.”

As the Lord looks down at these shrinking parts of His glorious body, His heart must be breaking. Yet, He gave us the blueprint to address this problem and to reverse this trend when He gave us the New Testament. It is not more vibrant youth programs. These are wonderful and beneficial, but many of us faithful to Christ today grew up in small churches with virtually non-existent youth programs (including Kathy and me). It is not big, beautiful buildings. These can at times cause more problems than not. It is not extremism, whether to the right or the left. Building on the foundation of man is sand (Mat. 7:24-27). It is a resource available to everyone, in rural and urban areas, in depressed or booming economies, in north, south, east or west. In a word, it is “commitment.” The first commentary on the first church begins, “They were continually devoting themselves…” (Acts 2:42). Christianity meant everything to them in their daily lives. They were dedicated to seeking the lost, dedicated to helping each other, dedicated to following their Lord and Savior. They were dedicated in prosperous and perilous times. Their living hope was so strong (1 Pet. 1:3), they persisted even in dire persecution (see the rest of 1 Peter).

What a challenge this is to me. My dedication and commitment has room to grow. My complacency and apathy must decrease and His importance in my life must increase. If the church all over catches hold of this, the familiar phenomenon of “dying churches” will be a bad memory. May God grant us the strength and courage to reverse this tragic trend. May it begin with me!

zhakovazharovdesert-16

Categories
medieval Middle Ages New Testament Christianity persecution Uncategorized

Could You Survive A Medieval Winter (Or An Ancient Persecution)?

Neal Pollard

How would you like to try and negotiate a Russian winter the way our Medieval forbears did, sans electricity, modern food conveniences, and Netflix? The Middle Ages, an approximate 1,000 years from about the time of the fall of the western Roman Empire (in Rome, Italy) to the time of the collapse of the eastern Roman Empire (in Constantinople, Turkey), also had a “Little Ice Age” from 1300 to “about 1870.” Sandra Alvarez writes, “Winter was a frightening time for many people; if there was a poor harvest, you could starve to death, and there was always the chance of contracting illnesses that could easily kill you, like pneumonia…. Winter was the most dangerous time in the medieval calendar year” (medievalists.net). A few years ago, a medievalist reenactment group (who know such existed?) selected one of their own “to live on a farmstead, with only ninth century tools, clothing and shelter for six months” (ibid.). Once a month they checked on him to make sure he was still alive.  The volunteer was undoubtedly hearty, but he could have left if he needed or wanted to. His more ancient counterparts could not.

I find it interesting to think about how people lived in the past, throughout the different periods of history. Dave Chamberlin is the master of transporting his students back to Bible history, describing the housing, diet, habits, and mindset of those in Old and New Testament times. It is incredible that people who lived so starkly different from us had the same feelings, needs, desires, and thoughts that we do today. How masterful that God wrote a book as ancient as the beginning of time and as modern as the morning news. It guides and directs us more adroitly than the best-selling survival guide by the world’s finest team of experts could.

As a Christian interested in restoring New Testament Christianity, I think about my first-century forbears. I assemble to worship in a much different style of clothing, singing songs with different tunes and illustrating sermons with different current events. As Christians visited at the conclusion of worship, did they have ancient equivalents for our talk of football, medical procedures and doctor visits, children’s and grandchildren’s social, athletic, and educational activities, and the like? Often, their pressing problems centered around surviving in a culture that, at times, detested them even while they enjoyed the great benefits of their godly lives. Their thoughts and prayers periodically centered around losing their jobs and possessions for being Christians (cf. Heb. 10:34) and even their homes, safety, and the threat of death (Acts 8:1ff; 12:1ff).

In some ways, our times are decidedly different. We enjoy many advantages and suffer a few disadvantages compared to our physical and spiritual ancestors. The time may come when we must face a winter without cars, electricity, and store-bought food. The time may come when we must face a culture so hostile to our faith that it costs us in a way none of us has yet experienced. The way to cope then would be the way we must cope now, by trusting a God whose provisions we often take for granted, whose love for us is greater than we could fathom, and whose promises are more enduring than life, death, and the grave. In the greatest trials, we can say with Paul, “31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:31-32). Nothing can separate us from His perfect love (Rom. 8:35-39). That, my friend, is timeless!

2992730336_d7f06aca71_z