Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Once upon a dying church...

I read an article in the Religion section of the Tulsa World from Saturday, August 18, 2007. The article is about the decision of Rogers Heights Christian Church, a once thriving congregation in the heart of Tulsa, to close their doors. The congregation didn’t wait until they were in their final throes of death and instead opted to be responsible and leave a legacy of their ministry. Their assets are being turned over to the Oklahoma Disciples Foundation, where they will be used to continue to support the mission of the church, including community outreach and new church development.

I support the congregation of Rogers Heights Christian Church in their decision. I think it’s great that they had the foresight to see the inevitability of this outcome, to plan ahead for it, and to use their resources to leave a legacy. Truly they should understand that closing their doors doesn’t mean that sixty years of ministry have been all for naught. Lives have been touched and changed through that church’s ministry, a process which will continue through their gifts to the Oklahoma Disciples Foundation.

While I support their decision, I do wish to respond to a quote in the article. Clyde Rickets, a trustee of the congregation, is quoted as saying, “We are apparently the victims of changing times. The theatre churches are taking over. People like to be entertained.” This statement is partially true. Times have changed and society has with it. People’s wants, needs, and desires have changed. So does this mean that Rogers Heights Christian Church and other congregations in similar situations are the victims? I think not. If they are the victims of anything they are victimized only by their own inability or unwillingness to adapt. While society has changed, and will always continue to change, the Church’s responsibility to minister to the people of their community has not. If society changes the Church has a responsibility to speak the Gospel to people in and through these changes. It’s too bad that many congregations see the changes in society and think their only option is to become victimized by the situation, die a slow death, and lash out at society with statements like the aforementioned one. Perhaps congregations could instead choose a better option, perhaps a more difficult one, of adapting to the changes in society and continuing their vital ministries in different ways.

I hope the future will see many people touched by the continued ministry of Rogers Heights Christian Church and all others who have faced similar fates. My prayer is that the people of these congregations will see this time not as a time of victimization, but instead as a transition into a world of great possibilities. I also pray that congregations who are vitally ministering to their communities now will see future changes in society not as obstacles, but as opportunities to share the Gospel.

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