One of my personal highlights from the week long sojourn in Shaver was the devouring of two books.
The first book I finished off was Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way to Build a Winning Team by Bill Shanks. Shanks' book is the traditionalist's answer to the Moneyball craze of Billy Beane and the Oakland A's method of scouting and player development. Shanks pulls back the curtain on the Atlanta Braves scouting and development philosophy during the era of John Schuerholz, Paul Snyder, Bobby Cox (who, incidentally, was thrown out of the game last night against the Giants setting a MLB record for most ejections in history at 132). As opposed to the high tech approach advanced in Moneyball, i.e. scouting via statistical data, the Braves have held to the timeless method of scouting by projecting with a high priority on makeup, most notably through a high commitment to drafting high schoolers as opposed to the A's preferred method of drafting collegiate players. Any baseball fan whose read Moneyball has to give Scout's Honor a read for the sake of the counter-argument.
The second book was one of those books that has set on my bookshelf for several years and finally drew away my attention long enough to be read in full. Theology Matters: Answers for the Church Today is a wonderful compilation of essays from some of the best and brightest scholars among Churches of Christ. Edited by Mark Black, Randy Harris and Gary Holloway, Theology Matters discusses the nature and work of God, Salvation, Scripture, the Church, Worship, Evangelism, Ethics and Eschatology in the course of 28 essays. Published in 1998, the book is an excellent primer from some of the finer minds in our heritage regarding the essence of theological thought.
While we were away, the news became public knowledge that my long-time friend and co-worker, Jimmy Mitchell, has accepted an offer to return home to Arkansas. Jimmy has been invited by the leadership of the Northside Church of Christ in Benton (my home congregation) to return and serve as their Youth and Family Minister. Jimmy interned at Northside during college and it was at Northside that he met his wife, Elizabeth. They are now blessed with a beautiful daughter named Jenniva.
I count among the real blessings of my life the privilege to have worked alongside Jimmy in both Hot Springs Village and Marble Falls. Now, Northside receives the great blessing of Jimmy's passion, enthusiasm and skill.
I'm pumped! Our 2007 season tickets for Fresno State Bulldog Football arrived in the mail yesterday. We have found the cost of living in California exorbitantly more expensive in all areas save ticket pricing for college football. We picked up a family plan of season tickets and a parking pass for less than the cost of one season ticket for Arkansas football in the SEC.
Guess becoming a fan of a non-BCS team does have its perks!
Here's a highlight of paragraphs from Evertt Huffard of Harding Graduate School of Religion in Memphis. These paragraphs come from Theology Matters, chapter twenty entitled "How Does Theology Influence Evangelism?"
"Consider a problem much closer to home, where a biblical theology of the church relates to evangelism. Older established churches seldom develop a reputation for evangelistic zeal. They need a theological challenge that defines their very reason to exist. In fact, the strongest argument for new church planting is that they have a clear purpose to exist and have the best record for making new disciples. Few churches over twenty years old are evangelistic. Evangelists or preachers with a commitment to evangelism will find ministry in this context very frustrating. The church may give financial support to a mission effort but develop a status quo posture at home. The loss of evangelistic activity might explain why most of these churches tend to grow old and die. When the purpose of the church shifts to self-preservation, it loses a theologically valid reason to exist and dies spiritually long before it dies physically.
Recent studies also show that large churches are not as evangelistic as smaller churches. Based on the diagnostic analysis of 112 Churches of Christ, John Ellas discovered that growing churches tend to baptize more people than declining churches, except for churches with more than 700 in Sunday morning worship attendance. As churches grew larger, they declined in evangelistic effectiveness. Should this not raise a theological question? Would God equate bigger churches to kingdom growth?
Although I would not argue that smaller churches are more spiritual, a strong case could be made for the need to define the purpose of the church, large or small, or it will be distracted by a survival mindset if it is small or a self-sufficiency mindset if it is large. Both problems can only be corrected by a theological rationale for existence and commitment to the purpose of God for the church in a specific community at a given time in history.
Paul spells out the purpose of the church for Christians in Ephesus. God's plan assumed a spiritual war in which the church would manifest the wisdom of God -- to the end that God would be glorified (Ephesians 3.10-21). This theological principle connects with reality for any church, especially the older or larger ones, at the point of evangelism. To go months or even years without a baptism in a local church will leave many without the slightest evidence that God's power is at work in the church. The primary evidence of divine victory comes from the hearts and lives that are being transformed into his glory" (245-6).