There’s a lot of second-guessing happening on the internet these days, popular bloggers lamenting how the church is failing “this generation.” So to balance out all the hand-wringing, indulge me a retrospective on my own growing up years. Here are 5 things my boyhood church did right:
1. Simple preaching – Reverend Morris Wilson never had more than an 8th grade education, but he had a call to preach. His sermons were not complicated, but they connected. He knew how to laugh and how to make us cry. Reverend Wilson (no one dared call him “Morris” – that would be disrespectful) was a master at holding things up to sanctified ridicule: “Some people say this. I say that’s applesauce.” Or to motivate us, he would chide: “It’s time to get off our blessed assurance and get busy.” It was direct, loving and anointed. It’s hard to beat that combination.
2. Adults included kids – My parents went to choir practice at 5 p.m. and the evening service didn’t start until an hour later. At 5:30 p.m. some of the old saints would gather for prayer in the “upper room” over the gymnasium. Tired of running around in the hallways with my brothers, around 12 years old, I climbed the stairs to the upper room one Sunday evening and asked if I could pray with them. They welcomed a boy when they could have chased me away. I remember the prayers of those saints, as they prayed for the pastor, cried for lost loved ones, and asked God to send a revival to our church. Those prayers from Mr and Mrs Whitman, Mr and Mrs Laird and others impacted my young life. They taught me to trust God for things small and large.
3. Bible quizzing – My mother, Marilyn Crofford, was our indefatigable Jr. Quizzing coach, and from the age of 7 I remember studying books of the Bible. We had cardboard boxes with cards numbered 1 to 4, shipped from the Nazarene Publishing House in Kansas City, and we’d pull the card that corresponded to the right answer to the question (see b & w photo above). Later this became teen quizzing as I did my best to follow in the footsteps of my older brothers. By the time I graduated high school, I had memorized large swaths of the New Testament. Quizzing taught me the importance of team work, and much of the Scripture I quote to this day first lodged itself deep within me during those long hours of study. Back then, I was working for a trophy to put up on the mantle next to my brothers’. Those trophies are long gone, but the benefits of digging into Scripture linger.
4. Visiting people at home or in nursing homes – My dad wasn’t a pastor, but he took his job as Sunday School teacher seriously. Some Saturday mornings, he’d go calling on absentees, and he’d take me along. By doing so, he taught me something about shepherding. Or at Christmas time, the children’s church leaders would load us kids up in the bus and we’d go visit old folks in nursing homes. One Christmas, I got to sing a solo on “Away in a Manger.” Those nursing home visits taught us to remember the marginalized, people who otherwise might be “out of sight, out of mind.”
5. Right and wrong – When I was just 8 or 9, I remember one morning in Sunday School when Nada Rogers, my teacher, played a 45 record for us. (Alright, I’m dating myself with this story.) Something came over me that day, and I just had to have that record! Reaching in my pocket, I pulled out the 35 cents my dad had given me for the Sunday School offering. “Mrs Rogers,” I said, “I want to buy that record from you.” “It’s not mine, she said, so I can’t sell it to you.” But I wasn’t so easily dissuaded. I kept nagging her until finally she said: “Greg, for me to sell something to you that doesn’t belong to me would be wrong. Do you understand?” That day, she taught me an important lesson. There is such a thing in this world as right and wrong. There are boundaries that God has laid down, and they are there for a reason.
Does this mean my boyhood church was flawless? Far from it! Academic Dean emeritus Donald Young of Eastern Nazarene College once quipped: “I’m glad the church isn’t perfect. If it was, they wouldn’t let me in.” But for all it did wrong, my church did a lot of things right. What’s more, I suspect what was true in the 1970s is no less true in 2014. What good things is God up to in your church? Tell the world!
Image credit: EPier.com