Food Bank Update
On Thursday, November 17, we received an unannounced and unexpected inspection of our Food Bank ministry. We have received a written review of that inspection. The results were overwhelmingly positive. This surprise inspection again proves that it is no surprise that our Food Bank is exceptional.
What We Knew
We knew that our Food Bank ministry was something special. For 2016, we have served an average of 499 people per month. In addition to the people we serve, we also engage the high-quality volunteer efforts of 12-to-15 of our members. The result of these efforts is priceless "best foot forward" public relations. The Liberty Church of Christ is well known and well respected for our Food Bank.
What We Didn't Know
We did not know that we were subject to inspection by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). In fact, USDA has only recently started inspecting "food pantries" (their term for operations such as ours; they use the term "food bank" to describe much larger operations like the Houston Food Bank). We are in the USDA loop of inspections due to the fact that we "distribute" food.
Not only did we not know that we were subject to USDA inspections, but we also had no idea about the kinds of things that the USDA would be inspecting (nothing like a surprise inspection covering surprises!). We only learned about their checklist as the inspector went down the list.
In brief, the checklist focused on policies and procedures, security, and record keeping necessary to make sure that the food we distribute is safe and fit for consumption. We received "checks" for all items except one. We do not have (yet - we're working on it) a written summary of our policies and procedures. We can't feel too bad about missing this one mark - recall that we did not know we were subject to USDA inspection and did not know what items would be inspected.
How We Passed With Flying Colors
Three things ensured the success of our USDA inspection.
1. First, on the day that inspector came, we had a huge crowd. Even so, the distribution was very organized and "tame" (the inspector's words). Evidence of good procedures were visible in what was happening.
2. Second, Wayne did an outstanding job working with the inspector. Good inspectors can "smell" effective coordinators, and Wayne didn't smell bad at all.
3. Third, good inspectors can also smell bad record keeping. When Barb was able to immediately hand the inspector every piece of paper he asked for, he was obviously very pleased.
Three Other Things
Three other factors greatly pleased the inspector.
1. The inspector told us that what he fears the most is a food pantry that is disheveled and dirty. Wayne and his crew deserve all the credit in the world for keeping our FLC tidy and clean.
2. The inspector also told us that he distrusts food pantries that lack oversight. He spoke negatively of small, independent religious groups in which the director of the food panty is also the one and only leader (pastor) of the church. He was pleased that we have a "board" of elders who oversee our Food Bank.
3. The inspector told us that we save ourselves a lot of trouble by receiving a food truck, emptying it, storing very little food, and not having refrigerated storage. Failure to maintain proper temperatures in refrigerated storage is one of the most common "dings" received by food pantries. The inspector wondered why all food pantries do not operate like we do.
The positive conclusion of this inspection will likely be the conclusion of all USDA inspections. The inspector told us that the USDA employs only 150 inspectors nation wide and that they are to spend on 15% of their time of food pantries. He told us that due to USDA's limited personnel, and due to our excellent inspection, we will probably not soon see another inspector.
The New Heroes
Identifying heroes is good business for any organization. Heroes are those who live the virtues and values of an organization with drive and dedication. Hard-core, full-metal-jacket riflemen in the Marine Corps are an example. Selfless, caring nurses at a hospital are another. By identifying and praising heroes, organizations give an "attaboy" of encouragement to workers, and, at the same time, identify the highest and best traits expected of employees.
Heroes are people who act as prototypes, or examples, by which others learn the correct or 'perfect' behavior...Heroes may be the janitor who tackled a burglar or a customer-service agent who went out of their way to delight a customer. In such stories they symbolize and teach the ideal behaviors of an organization.
This article is written about changes being suffered by Churches of Christ, changes reflected in difference between the heroes we once honored and the heroes we now honor. Who are our new heroes? What impact are they having on us?
The Old Heroes
Our heroes have been historically defined by practical and everyday characteristics that are closely associated with our work and worship. Not imaginary ideals, this list describes many real Christians.
- Attends services on Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night; rarely misses; sacrifices other priorities to worship.
- Teaches at least one Bible class per week (and treats the kids to an occasional outing).
- A "cheerful giver."
- Often engages in personal evangelism; often builds up discouraged members.
- Is known to frequently visit members who are ill or in the hospital.
- Regularly engages in personal Bible study; firmly grasps "the truth of the Gospel."
- Can be depended on to show up for work days, or even to show up on their own to take care of things that need to be done around the building.
The New Heroes
Undergoing wrenching changes like almost every other institution in our society, The Churches of Christ have been battered by change. Some see these changes as positive and productive. Others see these changes as damaging and destructive.
These changes have been accompanied by entirely new descriptions of our heroes. Our new heroes possess such a "get it" sense of "grace" that they:
- Skips lots of services and feel pretty good about it (because all forms of guilt and shame are really, really bad).
- Eschew Bible teaching and Bible learning (because they do not consider doctrine to be important).
- Cheerfully avoid giving very much at all.
- Replace evangelism with the pleasure of their company.
- Visit members who are ill or in the hospital (if it can take them away from services).
- Disregard Bible study (because most conclusions reached from Bible study are "Legalistic").
- Depend on others to take care of the work (because those who really "get it" about "grace" have better things to do).
The Impact of Different Heroes
As long as there are hard-core, full-metal-jacket riflemen, the Marines are in good hands. As long as there are selfless, caring nurses, patients in hospitals are in good hands. As long as the old heroes dominated Churches of Christ, we were in good hands.
But what will come of us if the new heroes come to dominate? When attendance and giving are no longer priorities, when Bible teaching and Bible-bases conversions are not longer considered important, and when workers are replaced by feelers, what will come of us?
Churches Are Closing All Over Europe
In a great many ways, the United States is the child of Europe. Born of European explorers, peopled with European immigrants, the US also maintains family ties with European culture. Our political and social institutions as well as our artistic and educational traditions are European. There are other "genetic" contributors to US society to be sure, but our main lineage is decidedly European.
For the most part, our European ancestry is positive, or, at the worst, neutral. It does us no harm that English Common Law undergirds our own legal system. It is really quite nice to be able to embrace Shakespeare and the Beetles, Beethoven and BMWs, Italian food, and IKEA as our own.
Only when it comes to religion is our European connection a bad thing. Because of our many other cultural connections, what first happens in the European soul eventually enters American hearts and minds, and churches are closing all over Europe. This article is written to report on this trend and to sound a warning about its effects.
"Europe’s Empty Churches Go on Sale"
A story in the January 2, 2015 Wall Street Journal carried the headline "Europe’s Empty Churches Go on Sale." The article included the following falling numbers.
The Church of England closes about 20 churches a year. Roughly 200 Danish churches have been deemed nonviable or underused. The Roman Catholic Church in Germany has shut about 515 churches in the past decade.
But it is in the Netherlands where the trend appears to be most advanced. The country’s Roman Catholic leaders estimate that two-thirds of their 1,600 churches will be out of commission in a decade, and 700 of Holland’s Protestant churches are expected to close within four years.
Explanations for the decline in Europe's one-vibrant Christian presence include the following:
- Europe's "graying" population reflects religious stratification by age: the younger generations of Europeans are far less religious than older generations.
- The difference between the generations reflects growing secularization and decreasing religious interest: the younger generations are getting the secular message that Christianity is out of step with the times and unimportant to their lives.
- The Christian decline is accelerating: in the past ten years, church attendance has dropped precipitously.
- Europe is being inundated with immigrants: the changing face of European religion is Islamic.
Crossing the Atlantic
Remove "Europe" from the sentences, and the four factors listed above describe exactly like what is happening to the U.S. Our close association with the religious conditions of Europe prompted the Wall Street Journal to say, “Within another 30 years the situation in the U.S. will be at least as bad as what is currently evident in Europe.”
What To Do?
These chilling facts and figures are not pleasant, but we are not helpless in their presence. They call for sober reappraisal and recommitment.
Unlike the closing decades of the last century, being a Christian in the opening decades of this century requires guts.
- Recognize that forces throughout our society are conspiring the reduce your commitment to Christianity.
- Recognize that the people around you are less religious than they need to be and will influence you to be less religious than you need to be.
- Recognize that genuine Christian commitment is now a minority opinion.
Unlike the ease of depending on continuing increases in membership and forever increases in contributions, being a leader in today's churches requires gutsy calls. The March 15, 2014 New York Times included an article entitled, "Denominations Downsizing and Selling Assets in More Secular Era." The July 19, 2016 ChristianityToday reported that "decrease in worship center size and capacity" is a growing trend in modern churches.
The 1980s and 1990s saw a boom in church building as congregations added square feet. Paralleling the building boom was a boom in ministry spending. Church leaders were considered unfaithful if they did not increase spending on unlimited confidence on unlimited increases in contributions. The combination of mortgage payments and expensive ministries overtaxed budgets - which in turn turned off members who felt pressured to give more in financially more uncertain times.
Regarding the future, the famed theologian Yoda said, "Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future." What was true on the Dagobah System "long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away" is becoming more and more true in American churches. Unlike the stability enjoyed by past generations, the present generation of Christians is having to adapt to unsettling changes as we consider the future.
Thom Rainer is an interesting American religious writer. His blog is www.thomrainer.com. Rainer recently peered into our present to see our future. Here are his "16 Trends In American Churches." Much of Ranier's language is mainstream Protestant and has little meaning for us. I have reinterpreted as necessary.
- Church Security is a fast growing focus. Interpretation: threats of violence, various kinds of abuse, and various kinds of theft must be taken seriously.
- Decrease in church building size. Interpretation: gone are the days in which the size of our faith was measured in square feet.
- Churches must rethink revitalization. Interpretation: As memberships and budgets decrease, churches must take a "back to the basics" approach to doing the most what they do the best.
- Ministerial training is a good investment. Interpretation: is there a message for churches in the investment in training done by business and industry?
- Churches will continue to age. Interpretation: get used to it.
- Churches need to educate, reeducate, and reeducate again. Interpretation: we need to refocus on doctrine, leadership skills, relational skills, and practical ministry skill.
- Small groups in churches will continue to be important. Interpretation: programs like our Brothers Keepers are now considered to be essential and foundational (so why is there so much resistance?).
- Churches will continue to desegregate. Interpretation: church families must embrace the "family" image of different races and ages working together harmoniously and not as separate ministries.
- The trend toward multi-site (multi-campus) churches is creating new denominations. Interpretation: even denominational people see this.
- Longer preacher tenure. Interpretation: musical preachers doesn't pay for anyone.
- The rise of alternate ministry placement organizations. Interpretation: does not apply. The Churches of Christ have never depended on what the denominational churches consider traditional means of filling preacher vacancies.
- We will get more Millennial members. Interpretation: religiosity increases with age. Some Millennials will eventually come around.
- Accelerated decline in American churches. Interpretation: prepare for a post-Christian society; prepare for shrinking memberships.
- Churches will no longer be viewed sympathetically by the government. Interpretation: as tax bases shrink, the government will look lustfully at ways to tax churches.
- More bi-vocational ministers. Interpretation: we call them "part-time."
- Changes in ministry models from entertainment to activities. Interpretation: it's about time. It never worked anyway.
Like shopping at the mall, Christians need to be of two minds about what Paul called, "This present evil world" (Gal. 1:4). We might have to shop at Deerbrook Mall in Humble or at Parkdale Mall in Beaumont, but we do not have to buy everything we see. Similarly, Christians have to live among the customs of their times, but we do not have to buy everything our culture is selling.
This Present Evil World
Paul saw through the world's sales pitch. "This present evil world" (KJV), or "the present evil age" (ESV), is Satan's current ad campaign. "The father of lies" (Jn. 8:44), Satan lied to Adam and Eve in the Garden, and he is lying to us still.
You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die (Gen. 2:16-17).
"But the serpent said...'You will not die'" (Gal. 3:4).
Lying contradictions against the direct words of God are the stock and trade of Satan. These are the lies that stock the shelves of "this present evil world." These are the lies that so many believe as they fully embrace "the present evil age."
What's in the Stores?
|God Says...||Satan Says...|
Men and women have complimentarities and differences.
There are many reasons, religious and practical, for maintaining sexual purity.
There are more and better reasons to drink less than to drink more.
Practice moral and ethical discipline, for you do not know when the Lord is coming.
Seek first the kingdom of God.
Add Bible knowledge.
Come out and be separate.
There are no differences between men and women.
Premarital sex, extramarital sex, same-sex sex, whatever: go for it.
You are really missing something if you are not a regular drinker.
Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you die.
Prioritize religion after everything else (in other words, last).
Are you kidding?
Fit in Comfortably.
So Where Can We Shop?
Playing a clever game of point-counterpoint, Satan has convinced us that the only alternative to living hip-deep in this present evil world is to cloister ourselves away in a convent or adopt the plain styles of the Mennonites. Concluding that we just cannot possibly live like nuns or the Amish, we conclude that there is no good alternative to living lives that are indistinguishable from the world. But there are more than just two extreme options, and there are perfectly good ways to defy "The god of this age: (II Cor. 4:4).
Like many who no longer got to any malls but who are instead shopping on AMAZON, many Christians are declaring, we live here, but we do not have to live like here. They are choosing to deliberately disengage from our culture, and to purposefully detach themselves from all of its sinful ways. What does that look like?
- They are overwhelmingly emphasizing relationships with strong Christians because, "Evil companions corrupt good morals" (I Cor. 15:33).
- They are choosing fun activities that allow them not to "forsake the assembly of the saints" (Heb. 10:24-25).
- They are heavily editing their choices of TV, movies, and etc. in order to keep their mind away from earthly things (see Phil. 3:19).
- They are not simplifying their lives to reduce tension and stress, but they are desinlifying their lives to reduce tension between themselves and God (see Rom. 6:1-2).
- They are rejecting "the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world" (Gal. 4:9) and returning to "pure and undefiled religion" (Jas. 1:27). "Reject" and "return" are code words for "repent."