Is there a future for Old Military Road Baptist Church?

 

In a megachurch world, we are forced to ask, "Is there a future for Old Military Road Baptist Church?"

This is a Wal-Mart Super Store world; gone are the mom and pops. This is a Home Depot world. Who wants to shop at Joe's Hardware? Is there a place in this world for Old Military Road Baptist?

I attended there yesterday. It is located on the outskirts of the sleepy town of Jacksonville, Arkansas. It is one of those towns where they not only don't have DSL at the hotel I stayed at; they can't even spell it.

I counted exactly 84 seats in the sanctuary of Old Military Road Baptist Church. The stage was about six inches higher than the main floor. There was one instrument: an almost in-tune piano. I didn't try, but I am sure I could reach up and touch the ceiling; it was that low. No vocal band. No guitars. No PowerPoint. No keyboard. No choruses. Pretty much vintage 1950 worship. It is a slice out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Is there future for Old Military Road Baptist?

Yes, in every way.

First, despite its small size, Old Military Road Baptist has been growing. They have tripled in attendance in the last ten years.  As I looked around, all 84 seats where pretty much full. In fact, that number 84 was based on six people sitting on each pew. They had seven in some of the pews. If every church in the Southern Baptist Convention were growing this fast, we would be halfway to my goal of 20 million in Bible study attendance by the year of 2020.

Old Military Road Baptist Church has other tell-tell signs of life. There are beautiful multi-colored flowers out front that would be the envy of any botanical gardens. (They explained to me that the person who takes care of them sometimes sleeps on the church pew and sets an alarm at 2:00 a.m. to water the garden. I asked, "Is that really necessary?" "If you want the flowers to look like those do it is!") The lawn was manicured. The paint fresh. They had a new fellowship hall out back which the church has constructed over the past decade or so. When I say the church has constructed, I mean this very literally. The men of the church have spent virtually every Saturday for years physically building the new fellowship hall. I saw pictures of what the building looked like 14 years ago. The transformation was dramatic.

More than the building that houses Old Military Road Baptist Church, you could see that the church itself is alive. The people seemed happy. The music may seem old fashioned to some, but they clearly love it. People these days are asking about the music, "Is it contemporary?" What we need to ask is, "Is it alive?" There was lots of back slapping and hugging and laughter. That evening was the reason I had come.

This year marks 14 years of service by their pastor, my brother-in-law, David Vosburg. Sadly, David is not well. He is in near constant pain despite a pain killer patch that he wears and a double dose of pain killing drugs. He has had a long string of health problems, including two kidney transplants, and several kinds of cancer. I noticed David's mom and his sister--both of whom had given David a kidney-- were in the services this special weekend. The week of September 11, 2001 David was experiencing his own private tragedy as his arm was amputated to rid his body of cancer. Bad news was, it didn't work and they had to come back later and remove much of his shoulder. The cancer came back again and we just don't know what the future holds. What does a church like Old Military Road do in a case like that?

They named the fellowship hall after him. I watched David cry uncontrollably like a baby as they unveiled the plaque that read, "In honor of our pastor and friend, David Vosburg. . ." They placed a wooden sign above the door that read, "Vosburg Hall." I say I watched; it was difficult through my own tears. I was there for the service where the fellowship hall that he had personally led the church to build took on his name. He had personally hammered nails and hung sheet rock and painted walls. Now, it is the David Vosburg Fellowship Hall. Fifty years from now a child will ask his dad, "Why is this called Vosburg Hall?" The father will walk inside and show his son the plaque that I saw unveiled Sunday night that reads, "In honor of our pastor and friend. . ."

Military Road is very much alive and doing well. Like most of the churches in America, it has less than a hundred in weekly attendance. But there is love here. There is support here. There may not be PowerPoint or a band here, but there is life. While God is using headline churches like Willowcreek and Saddleback and off beat churches like The Prayer Cave and The Spirit Garage (The church with the really big door), he is also using churches like Old Military Road Baptist Church. As Rick Warren says, "It takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people."

What does it take to be a church that is used by God? Does it take a band or modern choruses or an electric guitar? Do we have to be with-it and hip and modern or post-modern and innovative? No. Many of those churches can be used of God as well, but you don't have to be like that to be used of God.

My sister, Mary, told me about a church in their area that is small like theirs and has a bi-vocational pastor like they do but that is where the similarities end. They have a band and do praise choruses and all that. "I am just not like that," Mary said. "It is just not who we are." Indeed.

What does it take to be used by God? Why is Old Military Road showing such signs of life despite the fact that they are not doing what a lot of the books and conferences these days say we have to do? In a word, love. What the world needs now is love, sweet love. And at Military Road Baptist Church, they have love in spades. They love God. They love each other. They love their pastor and his family. People come to where the love is.

Love is the commodity of the church. We are in the loving business. I am fond of saying that love shows itself in common, ordinary, pedestrian ways. It shows itself in Diet Coke and Ice Cream and coffee cake. People who are opposed to the gospel are not opposed to ice cream. They will come to where the love is.

Jesus said, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." John 13:35 [NIV]

George Barna quotes a person thinking of returning to church:

"I probably wouldn't know good religious teaching from bad, or a great sermon from one that breaks every rule in the preaching manual. But I sure know nice people from jerks and real people from hypocrites. I would stay at a church with lousy teaching but genuinely friendly--people who got to know me and cared about me and respected my needs and boundaries--before I would stay at a place with perfect teaching and lousy people."
Barna asks the unchurched which is the most significant factor in selecting a church:
  • Theological beliefs and doctrines
  • The quality of the programs and classes for children
  • How much the church is involved in helping the poor
  • The quality of the sermons
  • Getting a personal invitation or recommendation from someone they know and trust
  • How much the people in the church seem to care about each other.

Correct answer: the last one: how much the people in the church seem to care about each other. Apparently, they are smart enough to see that if the people care for each other, they might just care for the new comer, at least in time.

While you think about innovation and music styles and how to deal with the post-modern issue, don't forget to ask these questions: how can we become an incredibly loving church? How can we demonstrate our love for one another in ways that are unmistakably obvious? How can we show love to a world where an epidemic prevents most from ever knowing true community?

If we love them they will come and they will come to love our Lord.


One Magnificent Obsession

Recommendations:

Josh Hunt has done a tremendous job in setting forth a challenge of growing and reaching out through Bible Study Groups. The dream to double at stated intervals is a worthy goal and one that is obtainable. He has given “how to” in a very clear and straightforward way. I commend this book to all who want to see their Bible Study grow.

Jimmy Draper
LifeWay Christian Resources

Josh Hunt has a passion for the lost and the hurting. Even more importantly, Jesus has a passion for the lost and hurting. One Magnificent Obsession is not a book about numbers and statistics. It is about a passion to reach and help the people behind the numbers. Read this book and be prepared to have a heart change to see God’s Kingdom grow.

Thom Rainer Dean,
The Billy Graham School
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Josh is onto something in this book. The challenge of doubling in two years is more a matter of will than of knowing how. This book will help any leader cultivate a heart for what I see surfacing among most of the emerging churches–a heart for multiplication.

Bill Easum
President, Easum, Bandy & Associates
www.easumbandy.com

Josh Hunt is the master of practicality. If you want to know how it works, ask Josh Hunt.

Aubrey Malphurs
Author, Advanced Strategic Planning