What's So Good About the Choctaw Church of Christ?
I want to begin with a confession. That's always good, some dark matter to start off with. I have been guilty myself of having had the elders for lunch. I don't mean they came over to my house and I fed them lunch. I mean, I've had them for lunch.
It means that maybe something happened or didn't happen at church. and this can be anything from a leak in the roof of the church building to the support of an additional missionary or perhaps the renovation of some part of the building, or even the changing of the order of worship on a Sunday night. And my reaction, not always of course but sometimes, has been:
- Why did the elders do that?
- Why did and why didn't they do it this way?
- When are they ever going to start doing it this way?
- How are they going to start doing the thing that I want them to start doing?
- Are they ever going to stop doing the thing that I don't like that they're doing?
You have the elders for lunch. Having preached for over 40 years, I'm fairly certain that I've been for lunch a time or two myself. And of course, those with me join in with their own grievances. Using the church's leadership as the target of our collective frustration as well as our desire to make things better. You see, having the elders for lunch is not born out of meanness or hatred, but rather out of a distorted sense of how things really are.
In other words, I complain because I see only what I want to see, instead of seeing what really is.
When I stop to think about it, I realize that my discouragement or my loss of enthusiasm and negative attitude begin to overtake my faith when I forget certain basic things. For example,
1. I forget that the men who lead us are only sinful human beings, just as we all are.
The difference being that they have a responsibility to lead and are constantly judged for that by the church and will eventually be judged for that by the Lord. I need to remember that my role is not to judge. God will do that and He'll do it fairly when the time comes. Rather, my task is to love. My task is to support. My job is to pray for those who lead because I also will be judged by God when the time comes (Romans 2:6-11).
Another thing that I forget is the following:
2. Judging, complaining, second guessing, murmuring, grumbling are of the flesh, not of the spirit.
They are reactions and responses to disappointments or disagreements and they are things that are from below, not things that are from above. Usually they lead to dissension and division and even heartache. If you're not sure this is so, then read the book of Exodus or come to my Leviticus class and see the destruction that was caused by those who grumbled against Moses in different times.
Of course, mistakes are made and less than optimum courses are sometimes chosen. And of course, leaders weaknesses in certain areas are plain to see. However, our response to disappointment and the feeling of impatience when the changes that we want to see happen don't appear. It's not murmuring or silent rebellion. I think today we call that passive aggression. The true Christian response is prayer, constant, fervent, directed prayer to the Father. Sometimes the most powerful spiritual posture is to be still before the Lord, because in doing so, you demonstrate that the strength of your faith is more important than the strength of your ideas.
It is very important to remember that the church belongs to God, not us. He can make it stand, or he can let it fall based only on His will and power, not on our opinions, our task is faithfulness. If you're wondering, what's my job? Your job is faithfulness. God can work all things, including disappointments and frustration for good, even for the well-being and growth of his church. How do we know that persevering in faith and prayer and serving in times of frustration is not God's way of preparing leaders for the next generation? You learn to lead by managing to follow while you're frustrated.
So in having Elders for lunch, I forget that they're exactly like me. They're human. I forget that I can choose to react to disappointment and impatience from the flesh which undermines the unity of the church or I can react from the spirit which builds up the body and strengthens its weak spots. Denying Satan a foothold from which he can cause harm. And I forget to focus on what is good because pointing out and complaining on the weaknesses is easy. It's more fun, and it appeals to the sinful nature of my flesh.
What's so good about the Choctaw Church of Christ?
If I made the effort, could I find the good? Sure I can. Here is a couple of good things that I've thought of.
1. We have the correct biblical goal.
Our goal is not to relate to the current generation's musical taste or dress or values, as many churches do. They have good musicians in a band with performers singing modern Christian songs whose melodies are nice and easy to remember all day, ministers in ripped jeans and t-shirts using slick graphics to punch up their lessons. I get it. I understand you have to look and sound like the demographic that you're after. It works. Our friends next door have four services with the with the same performance in each lesson every Sunday and the very same performance that was on Sunday is repeated on Wednesday for those who come on Wednesday night, I get it.
In their favor, I have to commend them for pouring a large part of their resources into their youth program where they have several full-time staff members working just with their their youth. I commend them for that. Their goal is to grow their congregation using the latest technology and church growth methods. I've been doing this a long time. I hope been watching them a long time. I remember when they first built that building. So I know what's going on. I know what the goal is. I know how they're approaching their goal. But you see, our goal is different. It's our goal, our mission statement. And it informs everything we say and do.
Our goal is to be a faithful New Testament church.
Our goal in 1993, when I first came here, was to be a faithful New Testament church. And our goal in 2000 was to be a faithful New Testament church. And in 2015, it was to be a faithful New Testament church. And in 2023, it's to be a faithful New Testament church. And in 2043, it'll be I pray to God to be a faithful Old New Testament church no matter what's going on across the street. The reason that this is our goal and our mission statement is because this is the goal that the Holy Spirit sets for us in God's Word, the Bible spoken by Jesus Himself. It's not a goal that a bunch of people in a committee came up with. It's not a goal that the elders sat down and said, what's our goal going to be? No, we must be faithful to Jesus Himself and faithful to obey all of his teachings.
Where do we get that idea? We get it from the Scripture, Jesus Himself says.
But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
- Matthew 24:13
Endures what? The one who is faithful till the end will be saved.
Go there for and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
- Matthew 28:19
That's our goal. That's our method. That's our mission. That's our manner. That's our work. That's what we're about.
Striving to be a New Testament church means that our focus is to live and function as Christians, guided by the New Testament in every generation, no matter what the style is, no matter what the decor of the moment.
The good news for us as a church, is that since the Choctaw Church of Chris was establishment in 1939, 84 years ago, it has never swerved away from this key biblical teaching. It was established in 1939 in Choctaw, actually outdoors, it met for the first 2 to 3 months outdoors in a tent and then moved to a small rented quarters and in 1939, the brothers and sisters who gathered to be the Church of Christ in Choctaw, all they wanted to be was a faithful New Testament church here in Choctaw. That's all they wanted to be. From back then, when Choctaw was just a small town, a rural congregation, until today, as we are becoming an assembly of middle class, professional and business owners, our goal, preserved and promoted by our leaders remains the same. We strive to be a faithful New Testament church. Nothing more, nothing less. 84 years ago, most of the people wore jeans and long dresses to come to church. And on Sundays, most of the men wore suits and ties. Today, we dress differently. We wear jeans any time. Only the preacher is wearing a tie and even not only the preacher.
When Jesus returns, he will not be looking for the largest church. He won't be looking for the culturally relevant church. He won't be looking for the most influential church. No. He'll be coming for the church who has been faithful to his word. In other words, he'll be looking for faithful New Testament churches, whether they are five member house churches or 5000 strong megachurches. His criteria will be the same for all. Have they been faithful to my word? Not, how did their preachers dress? That'll count for nothing.
So what's so good about the Choctaw Church of Christ?
2. We have kept the Great Commission.
Jesus expressly said that we are to make disciples of all nations by baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit. But that wasn't just a suggestion. That's not a passage used to prove that baptism is necessary. I mean, although you can use it that way. That's a description of the job we have. There are many churches who have grown to quite a large number by making disciples, by accepting Jesus as a personal Savior, or by answering an altar call or by speaking in a tongue, but this is not what Jesus taught. This is not what He commanded in His word.
Being a faithful New Testament church means preaching the Gospel of Jesus preached and making disciples in the way that He instructed us to make disciples.
That is by preaching the gospel and then baptizing (immersing in water) those who believe and repent of their sins. That's the New Testament method. Of course, this is slow. Of course. It's complex. Of course it's inconvenient. Wouldn't it be a lot better if he would have said, just yell out and say everybody who loves Jesus raised their hand and people would raise their hand. Okay, you're all saved. Man. I go for that, but that's not what he said. That's not what He taught.
Being a faithful New Testament church is being faithful in the way that we teach the New Testament. The good thing about Choctaw is that this church spends over 30% of its budget on the work of evangelism here in the United States and in several countries around the world. Here are the results in Choctaw for 2022:
201 people were baptized because of what we do. They would not have happened if we would not be here doing what we do. And every single one of them was work. Somebody had to be taught. Somebody had to go to somebody's house. Somebody said, hey, I'm ready to be baptized. Can I come now? Sure. It's only Tuesday and it's 10:00 at night. Sure. Let's go to the building and turn all the lights on. Oh, the water's cold. We don't care. Let's go in the water, 201 times and I'm don't want to complain about the water here because in Zimbabwe and in Kenya, let's go down to the creek.
It's quiet. It's not flashy. It's slow. It's grinding hard work in several countries. But we're doing exactly what the Lord commanded in exactly the way that He taught us and we do it in this way because both of our obedience and the results glorify Him, not us.
That's what a faithful New Testament church does.
It obeys Jesus Christ in what He taught in order to give Him the glory, not us. And so what's so great about the Choctaw Church of Christ? It's a new, faithful New Testament church, and we have obeyed the great commission. And third:
3. We survived COVID.
This might not sound like much, but if you look around not just at the group across the street, over here, but if you look at sister congregations, you'll see that this this was quite a feat. And what you might not know is that this success is largely due to the wise decisions made by our elders.
We were first to offer a complete service online as all the elders and all the ministers, along with many of the deacons, would come to the building every single Sunday to conduct a full service for members online. You might not remember that, but when COVID hit, everything shut down and I mean it was shut down tight as a drum. I remember I was still working as a minister then on staff and the elders had a meeting. They had to decide what are we going to do? And so they decided, let's have our service. And because we had experience in streaming, we already had the system in place. So all the elders would show up. And if you remember, you would dial in Sunday morning at 10:30 and you would have announcements and Titus would be leading singing, and Marty would have a sermon. Somebody else would head the. In other words, you had a full service online. Well, what you may not have known as we were the very first to do that, and we were practically the only ones that were able to do that.
If you switched to another congregation of the Church of Christ somewhere else, they may have had their preacher sitting in the office giving a devotional, or they may have been playing, some old tapes that they had in their archive. But a live service on line, fully loaded with prayer requests and all. Yeah, we were the only ones. Others followed suit, but we were the only ones who did that. And then we were among the very first to open our doors and conduct live services. While other churches stayed locked down again, the elders had to come together and say, What are we going to do? Are we going to open?
It's easy now looking back. But at the time there was a lot of pressure. A lot of churches decided they were going to stay closed. Some people say, no, there's nothing to it. So they decided to open the doors. And I remember the our emergency crew who usually cut down trees and limbs and do all that kind of stuff after a tornado, they came in and they disinfected the building. Maybe you don't remember that because you didn't see them because they would come early and do that. And Gail and her crew would also come in and clean bathrooms and it was a lot of work. And slowly people would come.
We took a lot of criticism because of that. People say, oh, you people are reckless and blah, blah, blah. But the question was, what does a faithful New Testament church do? Well, it meets and it worships God, and it has faith that God will protect us. And then we again were among the first and few to return to a complete slate of morning service. Evening service, Wednesday service, a full youth program, complete Bible School from Cradle Roll all the way to adult classes. In other words, we played offense while others were playing defense.
Many churches have not returned to complete function to this day, and many of them have now canceled Wednesday service and Sunday night service because that died out. I mean, if you stay closed for a year people end up doing something else. We even have people from other churches that come to our Wednesday night service because they don't have one.
Many churches even shut down their youth program. Why? No youth. Not only did we survive intact, but in the middle of all this crisis, we hired a Youth and Family Minister to guarantee that our ministry for youth would continue. Not everybody agreed with that. What, you want to do what? People aren't coming. Attendance is down and you hired a Youth and Family Minister?
Where are the youth? They'll come back. And then when I retired from staff ministry because of health issues, the elders recruited and hired a dynamic young preacher to keep our pulpit ministry strong. What, you wouldn't hired another minister? Yeah, we did. And in addition to this, if that wasn't bad enough, we also took on an additional missionary in Zimbabwe. What? And then we appointed a missions coordinator because we were having too many missionaries where to keep track of everybody. And so the result of these decisions, because these were decisions not accidents, they were decisions. The result of these decisions are the following.
- We're gaining back the third of members we lost due to COVID, not with old members returning, but with new families being baptized.
- The new people placing membership in our congregation and our youth group while others are shrinking. Our youth group is larger than it has ever been, and that's largely due to our Youth and Family Minister and the very, very hard work and devotion that he has made to our children.
- We're not only making budget, we're surpassing budget.
- And most encouraging is the number of men we now have who are capable of praying and presiding at the Lord's table and teaching a class. Have you not noticed all the new faces that are up here leading prayer, doing communion?
- This is not to forget how many young women who have picked up the torch from our older sisters and have begun to teach and direct and organize in our children's program. And it would be remiss on my part if I did not mention the Dowell and the Hunter families, along with the Peggy's and the Niecies and the Jeanies and so many others who labor in our fellowship ministry, there's something going on. If you want to gain weight, this is the church for you.
Brothers and sisters, this is church growth.
So what's so great about the Choctaw Church of Christ, while other churches of every kind were decimated and were closed down due to the worldwide scourge of COVID. The Choctaw Church, against all odds, grew spiritually, numerically and financially. And much of the credit goes to our elders who made the right decisions at the right time.
It all comes back to our basic goal and mission statement, which is to be a faithful New Testament church. This this overall principle is what distinguishes us from all the churches around us. It is the difference between ourselves and our Baptist friends across the Reno Street, the fact that they are bigger or that they have a band, is that what the differences between us and the? No. Those are just superficial differences. The core difference is that we strive to be a faithful New Testament church and they don't. Period.
What about the Grace Church across Choctaw Road, is the difference between us and them the fact that they are smaller than we are and that three of their four ministers that they have are women? Is that the difference between us and them? Or that they have a band for worship and we don't? Again, not the core difference. What makes us different in the way we evangelize, the content of what we teach, the framework of our fellowship, how we worship God and how we are organized and function, and our service to the Lord and our brethren in the world is that we follow carefully what the Spirit of God has taught us about all of these things in the New Testament.
This is not a criticism of these believers. It's simply an observation.
If you said to them, are you a faithful New Testament church? They go, Huh? I guess we are. It's not a thing. It's not a doctrine for them.
Of course, there's always room for improvement. We can always be better. We can have clearer insights. We always have the problem of the entanglement of sin to overcome. However, despite all these things, we have the correct biblical goal to aim for. That's so important.
As a preacher, there were times I said to myself, this job is too hard, why should I try? And I was reminded, but we have the right goal. We're shooting for the right thing to be a faithful New Testament church is a biblical goal. This is our guide in the effort to avoid doctrinal and application errors that plagues so many church groups today who are sincere in their beliefs. But they lack an overriding biblical principle to avoid error and worldly practices that creep into their assemblies.
There may be more pandemics, brothers and sisters. There may be more economic collapse. A war with Russia, more Chinese balloons overhead, or robots trying to take over the world. What are we going to do? Well, we continue to be a faithful New Testament church as we have been since 1939. Through wars, depressions, droughts, civil unrest, the hippie generation, the first man on the moon, the arrival of the Internet, political scandal, electric cars, and the invention of artificial intelligence. We at Choctaw remain rooted in the fertile soil of the New Testament, and we continue to bear fruit in every season as a faithful New Testament church.
And returning to the issue of leadership, we should be thankful that despite the normal flaws and limitations of being human, our present elders have managed to keep this church aligned with this most basic objective without turning us to the left or to the right. Despite the pressure to do so, and for this, I commend them, as we all should.
A Note to Future Elders
The time will be upon us soon enough, when there will be a changing of the guard and other men will be charged with leading this congregation. And now I speak to these men. When your turn comes, work with all your might to make things better, to serve, using all of your gifts, to get things done that have been neglected. But remember one thing as you go forward into an unknown future:
The goal remains the same and you will be judged for your ability to maintain this congregation as a faithful New Testament church.
Do not forget that. Do not forget that the building may change how it looks and the members come and go year in and year out but the goal of your efforts will be the same as those who came before you and those who will follow you after. And that is to maintain this congregation as a faithful New Testament church until Jesus returns.
I would be remiss at this point if I didn't show you what the New Testament teaches about salvation.For those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God here from Jesus's own lips is the shortest, clearest and most concise teaching in the New Testament about salvation.
The one who has believed and has been baptized will be saved; but the one who has not believed will be condemned.
- Mark 16:16
Many people try to twist Jesus's words here or claim that this particular passage doesn't appear in certain ancient manuscripts. But every major Bible version includes it because it simply repeats in simple language what Jesus and the Apostles teach (Matthew 28:18; Acts 2; Acts 22:16).
A New Testament church teaches what Jesus teaches and a New Testament Christian obeys the Gospel in the way the New Testament teaches it by being baptized, meaning by being immersed in water as a repentant believer. If this has not been your experience, then as the New Testament instructs us, I continue to encourage you this day to not delay and come to Christ by repenting of your sins and being baptized in his name.