My, my, my. Did we ever have church yesterday morning! Claire and I are in Branson and we re-visited Friendly Baptist Church, a church we have attended a few times since meeting many of their members when we joined them two years ago for the Life Chain. In fact, we assembled with them again yesterday afternoon for that same pro-life witness.
But let me get back to the church service. Before I go into a description of this church, however, let me warn you that you just might find my remarks a little unsettling. Why? Because they may suggest some important things that your church should be doing too…but are not. If that’s the case, be aware you are far from being alone. Indeed, the reasons that I’m talking about them is both to encourage you by the fact that there are still churches in America like this…and to illustrate a few “targets of opportunity” for all of us to work towards in those of our churches that need revival and reform.
First of all, let me say that the sermon was a fine, biblically-centered one. Excellent content. Well-crafted and delivered, though with humility and compassion. Relevant. Bold. Furthermore, it was a sermon which presented illustrations of a “grown-up sort” instead of Hollywood film clips, pop music lyrics, video game parallels, GIFS and memes, corny jokes, quotes from modern celebrities, and so on. I really appreciated that. Instead, the preacher used several other Scriptures to illustrate and expand the morning’s text (James 1:26-27) as well as insightful references to Charles Dickens, Martin Luther, Alexander Hamilton, the opportunity of a new Supreme Court Justice who would oppose Roe v Wade, the terribly poor record of the food stamp policy to alleviate poverty, the U.S. Constitution, the counter-productive rhetoric and actions of Black Lives Matter, a kind but firm presentation of biblical truth to someone caught up in sexual perversion, and more. The sermon was challenging, persuasive, and presented important and immediate applications for the hearers.
But though the text of the Bible should always be the star of a Sunday morning church service, there are other elements. In this case, there were times of prayer, Bible reading, and music. (And, I mean, a lot of music -- but I’ll get to that in a moment.) Let me begin with a review of the prayers. There were prayers lifted to God for the effect of that afternoon’s Life Chain, for the health of the President and First Lady (and other members of the administration who had tested positive for the Covid virus), and the health of several members of the church congregation who were undergoing trials. Also, there were prayers for Amy Coney Barratt and the Supreme Court; for persecuted Christians around the world, for an overcoming end to the lies, chaos and destruction fomented by the devil; for the pastor and his hearers; for police and firefighters; for the election; and for all of us to hear carefully and heed consistently the message God had for us through His Word. These were critically important matters for believers in our time that were brought before the throne and Claire and I really appreciated that often-neglected ministry.
The Bible reading included a lengthy reading of Proverbs 14 by one of the congregation’s lay leaders who gave an excellent introduction to the text before asking those who could to stand while he read the Bible text itself. Later, the pastor began his sermon with reading from Chapter 1 of James and the congregation stood for that as well.
And then there was that wonderful music. We purposefully arrived at Friendly Baptist Church early because we knew that 8-12 musicians show up long before the service begins. They come to play beloved hymns about a half hour before with dozens of the saints coming in to enjoy the worshipful concert. These musicians (mostly older) play guitars, keyboards, fiddles, saxophone, steel guitar, harmonica, and more. It is a really superb ministry with the people listening to great old hymns (instrumentals only) as they sing along, pray, enjoy memories, and prepare their hearts for the teaching of the Word. But when the service starts, there are plenty more hymns to sing as well as 2-3 special music presentations. It was, as we have experienced before at this church, charming and inspiring and something which well contributes to a wholesome body life for the congregation.
But I’m not done yet. Let me finish by telling you a bit about the announcements, the church bulletin, and what’s going on throughout the week at this church because they reveal how much further the ministry of the church goes beyond the Sunday morning program. In this too, I must say, the church is unfortunately unusual among evangelical churches of our day. For instance, the announcements included a heartwarming pitch for the Life Chain outreach given by the pastor. He spoke eloquently about the need for such public witnesses for the sanctity of life, warmly thanked the congregation for their faithfulness in this outreach in the past, and then gave a personal charge to everyone to join him in the afternoon’s event. Perhaps it’s needless to say, but that also impressed Claire and I a great deal. Later, one of the members of the missionary committee explained how a final push for Operation Christmas Child would let them beat the record for the number of shoeboxes they had set in previous years. Yes, there were a couple of announcements that dealt with programs centered around the church building but how refreshing it was to see how this church sees it’s “holy business” as being outside the walls of the building too.
This visionary perspective was even seen in the church bulletin for there we saw another pitch for Samaritan’s Purse Christmas Child outreach, more information about the Life Chain, information about two other missionary endeavors, and finally, the weekly prayer calendar suggested by the Voice of the Martyrs, Wow. And the building is used beyond that Sunday morning too. For although, Covid has caused them to suspend Sunday evening services for awhile longer, there’s still Sunday School classes, a Monday night Bible study, a sewing circle, Wednesday night prayer service, and who knows what else?
Like I said, we really experienced church yesterday morning. And how we pray that other American churches would rediscover (and quickly too) the need to speak to truth to the culture, to challenge pew-sitters to stop being molded by the world, to heartily seek to equip and mobilize the church in counter-culture outreach, to get seriously involved in pro-life ministries, to find new respect for the beauty and power of traditional hymns which have been so beloved by generations, and more. Thank you, Lord, for allowing Claire and I the blessing, the inspiration, and the serious challenge that came our way yesterday through the brethren at Friendly Baptist Church.