Eleven years before we arrived in Connecticut, the old Bakerville Church on a side road burned to the ground. A little insurance money and two families that seldom were in town apparently paid for the new building. The new church was built to look like an old New England church, inside and out: white clap board siding, granite stairs, four large white pillars, tall, clear windows with lots of small panes of glass, and the traditional bell tower steeple. The church seated about 200. The top of each white pew was trimmed with varnished wood. Each pew had a door on both ends. Up front was the kneeling bench with maroon velvet cushions in front of the white railing, the communion table, a pulpit on one side, a lectern on the other. Wonderful brass chandeliers. The powder blue walls were a perfect contrast to the white paint and varnished wood trim. Beautiful simplicity. In the balcony was the Mohler pipe organ built specifically for this church. The fellowship hall was painted white, had an arched ceiling, windows that matched those in the sanctuary, a hard wood floor, and indirect cove lighting. The yard man of the family who helped provide the church maintained the expansive lawn. I am sure when people drove by for the first time they did a double-take! Impressive!
For the first eleven years after this church was built the minister was a man who did not believe the Bible was God’s word, that Jesus Christ was God’s Son, or that there was life after death. He did believe church people should not dance, smoke, drink, or work on Sunday – but they should tithe. This was not “Good News” – just the reminder that the people should be doing good. The result: 219 members with an average attendance of 8!
If a church does not bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to a community, what does it bring? It is not hard to bring real food to starving people…if the people were there to eat the food. After a few Sundays it became apparent that if people would not come to the church, we would have to go to the people. I began the disciplined work of touching base with each membership family. These were not “spiritual” visits, but just getting to meet the people. George was surprised when I showed up in his milking barn at 5:30 AM. Hal was surprised when I offered to help bale his hay. The Philips/Jones clan was surprised when I arrived as they gathered late Saturday afternoon to enjoy fresh baked goods. A young family was very surprised when I showed up on Sunday afternoon to help them build their house. When a new family moved into town it was easy to stop by and introduce myself as the pastor of “the only church in town” – town consisting of a gas station, a car body shop, and a blinking light.
Three days each week I headed off to grad school – about 30 minutes away. A wonderful time to think and pray.
Very slowly people were beginning to return to the church. And each Sunday morning the simple truths of God’s Word were taught, including John 3:16 and II Timothy 3:16 – “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” These people had not rejected the gospel…they had just given up on the church. The church was like a Deerfoot candle light service: a small light brought into darkness was noticed! There was no great flood of people, just a slow trickle.
To help the people integrate the truths of God’s word into their lives, after the morning service we would set up a table with doughnuts, coffee, tea, plus Kool Ade for the few children who came. I would invite the people to sit around the table for a few minutes to talk about the sermon. The people would look at me, smile, and nod.
Until one Sunday. Then it was that John Steeves, a young man perhaps 20, slammed his hand down on the table and said ”Preacher, I am sorry, but I just cannot agree with what you said this morning!!!!!!” And I responded with “Good – neither can I!” I admitted that I had purposely preached a sermon full of things the Bible did not teach to try and get some response. It worked! Now there were grins…and things began to change. The Bible became the authority for the church, not the minister. My challenge, and your challenge, is to teach the truths of God’s Word as clearly and accurately as we can. This is true when we are a camp counselor, a parent, a Sunday school teacher, or talking with a friend. God will hold us accountable! Even when we do our best, questions will be raised in the minds of those who are listening.
Within the church came the slow realization: Jesus Loves Me! Sunday mornings were a time of worship, of teaching, of encouragement, of guidance, and of celebration. We were the people of God!