by David Sisler

Driving back from Atlanta a few weeks ago with my son, Matthew, I happened to notice some new construction. An incredible building was going up off to our right. I nudged Matt and said, "Look over there. Someone is building a beautiful church." Matt stretched the comfortable stretch of a six-foot something who would still rather be dozing, said, "They are building a building. It remains to be seen if they are building a church," and promptly napped off.

Sometime earlier, I had let my fingers do the walking. I was looking for the phone number to a pastor's study. I found the number, but in the process I also discovered some interesting things about our local churches, and perhaps about churches in general.

What started me on this adventure was an advertisement for a "prayer and healing miracle service." I believe in all four: prayer, healing, miracles and service. It is easy to over-emphasize the dramatic parts of Christianity, like healing and miracles. Too little attention is given to prayer. Much public prayer is simply, "Ourfatherwhoartinheavenhallowedbethyname," and who knows what we really said, or to whom? Serving generally consists in satisfying only our own needs.

It struck me as unusual that there was designated a specific day and time for the "prayer and healing miracle service." Do we allow God to perform miracles in our lives at his convenience, I wondered, or do we demand him to conform to our schedules? The "name-it and claim-it" ritual of the modern faith movement reduces God to a puppet whose strings we pull.

I am sure the ad writer merely wanted to communicate that a special time was designated for parishioners to gather and pray for God's intervention in their lives. But it just struck me funny, and I continued reading. In fact, I read the entire church section of the yellow pages.

One local congregation schedules an "hour with God" one day a week at 11:00 a.m. We need to schedule that hour more often.

One church reports that there is no morning worship on the third Sunday morning of each month. How many churches could honestly report that and more than once a month?

There is a "church that cares," a church "where everyone is welcome," a church where "all faiths are welcome," and a church whose "door is open to everyone." Caring and welcoming should be a forte of every church. Sadly, they are not.

Another mini-message was "a church where everyone is important." It is probably true for that congregation they advertise it. But too many folks get lost in the shuffle. I never could figure out, however, those attenders who came in after the worship had already started, spoke to no one, left before the final "amen" had sounded, and then complained that it was an unfriendly church where no one ever spoke to them!

An increasing number of local churches are pastored by a "Doctor." One is listed as a Ph.D., one is a Th.D., and one is a D.Min. Many of the other credentials are probably honorary degrees. There is nothing wrong with an honorary degree, as long as the recipient has the humility not to use it. What is it about a certificate from a non-accredited two-year Bible college, which only awards bachelor's degrees, that makes a non-earned "Doctor" preferable to the time- honored "Reverend," or better still, "Pastor?" I wonder about shepherds with imitation sheepskins.

Many churches advertise their orthodoxy. Consider: "preaching Christ crucified and teaching a full inspired Bible," "the Bible is the final authority," and my personal rhyming favorite "the church that preaches what the Bible teaches." Philosophers ask, "If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there, does it make a sound?" If a man stands in the pulpit and does not point men and women to the Christ of Calvary did he preach?

Continuing my study of the yellow pages, I found some interesting facts about church names.

The monikers include numbers ("First" and"Second"), virtues ("Faithful," "Hopeful," "Pure," and "Holy"),and locations ("Calvary," "Galilee," "Gethsemane," and "Jerusalem").

Over all "First" was first, "Second" was fourth, and "Saint" was second. "New" outnumbered "Old" four to one. Also listed were "Open," "Good," "Thankful," "United," "Living," and "In Focus." No churches were "Closed," "Bad," "Unthankful," "Split,""Dead," or "Out of Focus." At least no one admitted to it.

You can learn a great deal about churches when you let your fingers do the walking. The interpretation of those advertisements is all mine. But I wouldn't have noticed it, if they hadn't written it. Sometimes we say more than we realize.


Published in The Augusta Chronicle 3/25/2000

Copyright 2000 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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