Skip to main content

The Shrinking Ministry

The Shrinking Ministry

by Rick Shrader

There have been a number of articles, books, and statistics shared recently that have highlighted the fact that the number of pastors, missionaries, and full-time Christian workers is declining in the 21st century. Churches find it difficult to locate or call new ministers. Mission agencies report that their numbers are shrinking every year. Schools at all levels are smaller with fewer students in each one. George Barna published an article titled, “The Aging of America’s Pastors” in which he showed that there are more pastors over the age of 65 than under the age of 40. In 1968 55% of pastors were under 45 years old, but by 2017 only 22% were under 45.

In the Spring ’22 edition of The Baptist Bulletin, Mel & Kristi Walker gave 6 reasons for the decline including the price of theological education, Covid burnout, inward-focused churches, a lack of motivation, family opposition to ministry, and the difficulty of ministry. In the Summer issue, Brandon Crawford also gave 6 reasons adding the demographic challenge of waning veterans and veteran benefits, and the ecclesiastical challenge of smaller churches with smaller salaries and opportunities. Each of these articles referenced Woodrow Kroll’s 2002 book, The Vanishing Ministry in the 21st Century (the 1991 edition was about the 20th century). After reading the book, I was impressed by Kroll’s insight and predictions of a vanishing ministry from so many years ago. During these years Kroll was president and teacher of Back to the Bible Radio Program and former president of Practical Bible College (now Davis College, Binghamton, NY). Kroll lays much of the blame on the increasing secularization of Bible colleges, the lack of emphasis for commitment at Christian schools, and the “upward mobility” of Christian families which discourages youth from ministry.

I found these and other concerns about the shrinking ministry very helpful, insightful, and concerning. I am 72 years old and have been in ministry for about 50 years. When I entered Bible college in 1968, all Bible colleges were full with not enough housing and classroom space to meet the need. When I entered seminary in 1972, there were 100 male students (plus 2 girls, one of whom I was fortunate to marry) of which the great majority entered full-time ministry. As a seminary student there were many opportunities to serve in local churches and I served as a youth pastor and interim pastor during those early years. Throughout my years of ministry I have been privileged to teach in Bible colleges and serve on Bible college and seminary boards. I have been pastoring since 1985. I’m simply saying that my generation has seen a lot come and go. I want to add a few of my own observations about the problem of shrinking ministry and then join these men and others with some possible solutions.

What are some reasons? 1) The cost of college or seminary education is an obvious deterrent to ministry but it also is unavoidable in the 21st century. Nevertheless, if a student leaves his education years with huge debt, it is very difficult or impossible to live on a minister’s salary, especially as a new or young pastor. Associate positions are even more difficult to afford. 2) The rise of para-church (and related) ministries has pulled many of our potential ministers away from local church work to greener grass in other places. We seldom get these workers back into our local church ministries. 3) I also think that the dissolving of our denominational names and the weakening of our fellowship and associational ties causes many of our men to be pulled away from our churches. As a young man myself I bristled at the feeling of being a cog in a fellowship machine. Then I realized that Sunday schools, youth groups, youth camps, Bible colleges, seminaries, mission agencies, church planters, all complete a necessary cycle for keeping like-minded ministry going. As these connections became looser, schools, churches, and mission agencies have suffered. 4) I agree that the Covid years have hurt churches and schools. The necessity of live-streaming and zooming has resulted in less in-church attendance in-class enrollment. Our services and schools may be available to people and students all over the world (and praise the Lord for it!) but those good men are not available to our churches or mission boards. 5) Kroll has a chapter called “WAGAPS School Teachers.” That stands for “We’re As Good As Public Schools.” He even says, “In his effort to provide a superior education, the WAGAPS Christian school teacher drives his students as far from life-time ministry as possible.” Kroll’s point is that many times our schools (and I would add our churches) have tried so hard to keep up with the cultural Joneses that we have unwittingly pushed our young people away from ministry which appears less acceptable. 6) Lastly, I will combine a few concerns. Pastors, teachers, and church parents have not raised up a generation for ministry. Our own children may be discouraged from ministry; our associates and assistants do not follow through into further ministry; we have often cursed our own cause to the point that young men do not want our conservative churches; and we have pushed an “upward mobility” mindset to the point that young people either cannot or will not “consider the cost” of ministry. I only add these few possible reasons for a shrinking ministry to the observations of others.

Are there solutions? Taking the four sources I’ve mentioned, there are some 19-20 “reasons” (many overlapped) given for the decline. Also, from these sources there are some 17-18 “solutions” offered. Space does not allow me to list them but they are easily accessible. I will add a few of my own. 1) I concur with the need often mentioned for better mentoring of young men and more intentional presenting of the “call” of God to ministry and the “surrender” of a man to God’s call. Kroll added the “burning of the bridge” behind a man who answers God’s call. This is a proper emphasis for youth camps and mission trips, but why not for our pulpits and classrooms as well? 2) With so many churches on the verge of closing or giving up, I believe we need to be more open to accepting men of varying educational backgrounds for varying levels of ministry opportunities, even godly and intelligent laymen. There are many churches and ministries where a seminary education is necessary, but there are many ministries where college level or institute level preparation would be welcomed. After all, most of our theological schools started as Bible institutes (including Spurgeon’s and Moody’s) when other schools could not supply the need and then they grew into their current status. Today, a young man accepting a position in a needy church can easily further his education online while gaining valuable experience. 3) We have many good and qualified men serving in associate roles who could and should move on to leadership roles. I realize there are many obstacles for such a man and his family including finances and location, but the churches have needs and these men are able to fill those needs. I know of single men and women who have moved to far-off locations just to find a church to which they could be of some help—and they are warmly welcomed. 4) There are many small rural churches that are being ignored by young men due to various reasons. Perhaps it would require a by-vocational situation for a while (not always) and would bring little or no personal recognition. Perhaps a man would have to be more traditional than he would like. I believe these churches afford a great place to learn to preach, administrate, love people, marry them and bury them. Isn’t that ministry? In addition, these situations allow a man to study, grow, even continue his education and these churches would love to have them. 5) All of our fundamental and conservative churches and ministries need to re-evaluate where we came from and why we are here. The church at Ephesus was scolded by Jesus for leaving her first love. The solution was to remember, repent, redo, or else be removed (Rev 2:5). There was no more strategic church in the first century than Ephesus. However, in 30 years, with such leadership as Paul, Timothy, and John, it had lost its way and needed to go back to the basics. The pull from culture today is worse than it was then. Churches and movements often lose their way in a generation or two. Perhaps it is time for us to remember where we came from, repent of where we are headed, and redo our purpose before we are removed due to ineffectiveness. Our ministry may be shrinking and the laborers few, yet the fields are still white unto harvest. Ministry is not a career opportunity nor a path to success. It is service. Our rewards come in the next life. There are still plenty of places for service for the one with the servant’s heart.

 

GPS – The Junctions in the Road

GPS – The Junctions in the Road

by Rick Shrader

Life is a series of intersections which demand a choice of one direction over another. Paul found this true on the beginning of his second missionary journey in Acts 16. He wanted to turn left to Asia but was “forbidden by the Holy Spirit” (vs 6). Then he wanted to turn right toward Bithynia but “the Spirit did not permit them” (vs 7). He ended up in Troas until God called him to Macedonia (vs 10). God knew that the right turn at the right time would make a world of difference in Paul’s ministry. It would be nice if we all had the advantage the apostles had of direct revelation from God for even the smallest decisions. But we don’t.

The greatest junction in any person’s life is the decision to accept Jesus Christ as Savior. This, of course, will change everything in a life. The second greatest choice is the choice of whom we marry. Young people cannot see all the changes and directions that being married to this person will bring. Your children will be the life-long image of you and this person. The relatives with whom you spend the rest of your life will be determined by this person. Where you live, the occupation you have, the life-style you choose, even the way you worship, will be determined by this choice of a marital partner. Choose wisely!

Robert Frost began his famous poem by writing, “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both and be one traveler, long I stood and looked down one as far as I could to where it bent in the undergrowth.” We can stand at the junction in the road and look a little ways down that road but we cannot see past the first turn. Beyond that is the unknown. Fortunately for the believer, God sees it all and knows which way is best. But we must be in proper fellowship with Him if we are going to know His will for this choice. God can work things out for good wherever we go, but there is still that “good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God” (Rom 12:2). The job of parents and grandparents is to advise and counsel our children through these turns in the road. Even if we made mistakes ourselves (and who hasn’t?), we have learned and become wiser. We cannot make the decisions for our adult children, but by keeping the communication lines open we can be the help that makes  the difference.

Once we start off down the chosen path, there is a point where we cannot go back. This can be a blessing or have difficult consequences. Choosing the right partner in marriage, answering God’s call to ministry, going to the right school for education, are examples of blessings in our choices. A deserting partner in marriage, an offer of a drug or drink, a conviction of a crime, are choices that carry life-long consequences or an un-reversable change of direction.

But I also believe there is a point where the decision of a certain direction can be reversed. In the Bible it is called repentance. God can bring immediate conviction and discomfort to your heart that warns you of a wrong direction. He may bring someone into your path with good advice that warns you and changes your mind. Jesus told the church at Ephesus that they should remember where they took the wrong turn and then repent and go back to that point and start again (Rev 2:5). Part of our job as parents is to catch the child in a wrong direction while there is still time to turn around. This can require tender or tough love because our child cannot see very far ahead. You can. You’ve been there. If any of us lack wisdom, let us ask of God, Who gives it to all of us liberally.

 

Book Review

The Vanishing Ministry in the 21st Century.                    By Woodrow Kroll

I have been following a series of articles on the shortage of ministers needed to fill ministry positions. These articles referenced this book by Woodrow Kroll, the former president of Back to the Bible Radio Program and former president of Practical Bible College (now Davis College). Kroll wrote a first edition in 1991 on the 20th century need, and followed that by this second edition in 2002. Kroll, being a college man himself, spends a lot of time in the book relating the history of college trends that have hurt ministry rather than helped. The foremost of these is the watering down of “vocational” ministry majors with non-ministry majors. This has been primarily due to the need of tuition income but it has also caused the percentage of ministry majors to decline. Kroll devotes chapters to his reasons for a decline in ministry-minded men: Secular self-interest; upwardly mobile parents; misguided Christian school teachers; social mission work rather than gospel work; false calls to the ministry as well as call to ministry without follow-through. Among his few solutions is the return to preaching the call of God on a young man’s life and the challenge of ministry as a vocation to our young people. At the end of the book (in 2002) he presents the new millennial generation as a bright hope for the future. Sadly, Kroll’s optimism at this point has failed to materialize. In fact, Barna points out (in 2017, see below), “The lack of leadership development among millennials and Gen-Xers and the lack of succession planning among Boomers” have contributed to the lack of ministers today.

Statistics

George Barna’s article “The Aging of America’s Pastors” (March 1, 2017) gave some interesting statistics on the diminishing ministry. There are currently more pastors over the age of 65 than under the age of 40. In 1968 55% of pastors were under 45 years of age, and in 2017 only 22% are under 45. When Barna did his first study on this in 1992, only 6% of pastors were 65 or older but 25 years later 17% are over 65. Barna attributes the rising number of senior-aged pastors to longer life span, economic need, and to “second-career clergy,” i.e., men entering the ministry later in life, and also to the lack of younger men taking their place. In addition to these declining numbers, Brandon Crawford (Baptist Bulletin, Su ‘22) relates that 80% of college and seminary ministry graduates will quit within 10 years.

Kroll cited a number of statistics in his book concerning the “vanishing ministry.” In giving a history of the problem he quotes Higher Education in Transition, “While the majority of college graduates of the 17th century entered the ministry (as preachers or missionaries), this percentage dropped to 50% in 1750, 22% in 1801, and 6.5% in 1900. This trend continued throughout the 20th century. Among freshmen who entered college in the fall of 1980, for example, less than half of 1% indicated ‘clergy’ as their probable career occupation.”

What Can Seniors Do?

Most solutions for the reduction in ministers available to churches have to do with schools, finances, and mentoring young men. These are all important. We have a growing percentage of seniors in our churches as well, so some of the responsibility falls on us. 1) We can encourage our older pastors to remain longer or be more proactive in guiding the church through the transition period. 2) We can welcome the ministry offered to us by younger men in the church. Younger men might see the call of God on their lives if they had opportunity to minister in various ways within the church. 3) We can also rely more on ourselves for lay leadership from within the church, even in the area of pulpit supply, visitation, and teaching. The immediate future may demand that the older, godly saints do many of the things paid staff once did. 4) Finally, we can encourage our own children to encourage their children to listen for God’s call on their lives. This will take living as examples in ministry, believing that a life in ministry is greater than an upwardly mobile secular life, and praying specifically and diligently.

Give of thy sons to bear the message glorious; Give of thy wealth to speed them on their way; Pour out thy soul for them in prayer victorious; And all thou spendest Jesus will repay.

 

 

GPS – The Date Palm Tree

GPS – The Date Palm Tree

by Rick Shrader

%%tb-image-alt-text%%

Thomas à Kempis wrote, “Vanity it is, to wish to live long, and to be careless to live well.” The Bible is full of illustrations about older age that encourage us in our later years. One of those is the Psalmist’s picture of the palm and cedar trees in Psalm 92:12-15.

12 The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree, he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. 13 Those who are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. 14 They shall bear fruit in old age; they shall be fresh and flourishing, 15 to declare that the Lord is upright; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.

The palm trees are an interesting landmark in biblical history. We see them in the oases of Elim and Jericho, on the walls of Solomon’s and Ezekiel’s temples, and its leaves used in the feast of tabernacles and at the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. The palm tree was actually a date palm that produced large clusters of dates each season. It was used, and is still used, throughout Israel for food, shade, material, fodder for camels, and even various drinks. The text describes seven unique features that the psalmist applies to older age.

It flourishes (12). The date palm lived from 150 to 200 years unlike the grass which comes and goes in a day (see vs. 7). In 2005, 2000-year-old date palm seeds were excavated at Masada and replanted. By 2007 one male seed had grown three feet tall. The scientist reported, “It’s a boy!” and named it Methuselah. Even Methuselah didn’t flourish for 2000 years.

It grows (12). Like the cedar, the date palm grows about 80 feet straight up and blossoms with huge arching leaves and clusters of dates. The psalmist must have been thinking of his forbears whose white hair is their crown and glory.

It is planted (13). “Those who are planted in the house of the Lord.” To grow and flourish in God’s house all of our lives is a blessing not only to ourselves but to all our posterity. The faithfulness of those years will be remembered by coming generations.

It flourishes (13). “In the courts of our God.” These trees provided shade in courtyards and also in the temple area. Their tap root was extremely long and deep and brought life and health to the house. “Our fathers have told us what deeds You did in days of old” (Psa. 44:1).

It bears fruit (14). “In old age.” Not only did these trees live 200 years, they bore large clusters of dates weighing hundreds of pounds every year until they died. The huge leaves that they shed were used for baskets, clothing, and other house-hold purposes. “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children” (Prov. 13:22).

It is fresh and flourishing (14). “Flourishing” could be translated “green.” The bark of the date palm tree was full of sap used to make wax, resin, oil, and sometimes a very potent drink. Even the camels could eat of the bark. Fibrous strips from the trunk were braided into rope and the huge leaves into baskets.

It declares the Lord (15). He is “upright” and “my rock” and there is “no unrighteousness in Him.” Just the physical presence of this stately tree reminded the psalmist and, no doubt, any who passed by in their caravans, of God’s glory.

The date palm tree is a beautiful biblical picture of the value of older age. “The silver-haired head is a crown of glory, if it is found in the way of righteousness” (Prov. 16:31).

Book Review

Parenting Essentials, by Andreas & Margaret Köstenberger

I have recommended Köstenberger’s larger book, God, Marriage and Family already. He and his wife Margaret, together, have also written a few books on the family. If I had to recommend a smaller, more readable book to fathers and mothers, I would recommend this one. It is built around three “R”s, Realistic (for the parent, child, and world), Relational (relating to God and one another), and Responsible (for character, education, and mission). The authors are strong on the traditional family, discipline, Christian education—especially home schooling, and viewing the home as our most important mission field. Though a respected theologian, author, and seminary professor, Köstenberger is a very practical, down-to-earth father. He relates this story about leading his son to Christ. “He was barely four years old, and he and I were in worship. He told me he needed to leave (for a restroom break), so I went with him. While there, he took the opportunity to ask me a spiritual question. One thing led to another, and by the time we left the bathroom, I had led him to a saving knowledge of Christ!” I think that is a wonderful story that needs to be repeated often.

“GPS” Groups

In May we met for our second GPS meeting at our church. The subject this month was leading children to Christ. For grandparents, this is something that we have all been through and are now watching our children presenting the gospel to their children. We went over the basics (the “irreducible minimum”) of what it takes to understand the gospel. It was easy to relate some of the warnings and also the blessings of children coming to Christ at an early age. There is obviously an “age of accountability,” or a time when a child understands, is convicted of sin, and is ready and willing to receive Christ. This varies from child to child and from situation to situation. Children that have grown up in a Christian family and a good church, understand the gospel message quickly and early. Testimonies of children being saved was also a blessing during our meeting.

Statistics

Last month a report was published by the Cultural Research Center of Arizona Christian University. George Barna is the Director of Research. Their report was the American Worldview Inventory 2022. The first headline I saw about the report was titled, “Poll Shocker: You won’t believe how many pastors actually have a biblical worldview.” Following that up I found Barna’s own article. He writes, “A new nationwide survey among a representative sample of America’s Christian pastors shows that a large majority of those pastors do not possess a biblical worldview. In fact, just slightly more than a third (37%) have a biblical worldview and the majority—62%—possess a hybrid worldview known as Syncretism.” The report also listed associate pastors at only 28%, teaching pastors at 13%, youth pastors at 12%, and executive pastors at 4%. No doubt this study was done from a broad field, but at least it was done by evangelicals. This research can be found at ArizonaResearch.edu/culturalreseachcenter/research. Barna’s article at https://www.arizonachristian.edu/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/AWVI2022_Release05_Digital.pdf

Lessons on Prayer

As I grow older I realize the advantage of prayer in new ways. First because I have experienced answered prayer many times in my life. Second because I am acutely aware that I cannot do as many things as I used to do and I find myself going to God instead. Third because I have a greater trust now in God’s providence than in my wisdom. And fourth because I see eternity clearer and know that an eternal perspective on things is much more important than earthly priorities.

Somewhere C.S. Lewis said that God has given man the “dignity of causality” in two ways: we can do things and we can ask God to do things. Though the things we do are sometimes amazing, they cannot compare to what God can do. Unfortunately, however, we spend much more time doing things ourselves than asking God to do them. In addition I would add, when we do get around to asking God to do things, our requests are seldom aligned with His will (Jas. 4:1-3; 1 John 5:14). But, oh, what power there is in prayer properly made!

 

GPS – A Biblical Picture of Long Life

GPS – A Biblical Picture of Long Life

by Rick Shrader

%%tb-image-alt-text%%

Someone said, “Life is hard and then you die.”  But what if you didn’t? What if life was easier and then you lived a long time? What if you lived forever? Well, that is what God created us to do!

In the Garden of Eden

Adam and Eve were made in God’s image as eternal beings who have souls. We are not animals nor angels. We were created to marry and produce children, to work and produce things (Gen 1:27-28), and also to live forever near the tree of life (Gen 2:9, 3:24). However, Adam and Eve sinned which brought death and an eventual end to their physical life on earth (Gen 2:17).

After the Garden

For the first time Adam and Eve looked at a corpse. Their son Abel lay lifeless on the ground. God’s promised penalty was taking place. But life also was continuing. Another son, Seth, is born in God’s likeness and image (Gen 5:3). And even though death continued to place an end on life, men lived almost a millennium (Adam, 930 years, Seth, 912, Methuselah, 969). The earth was still conducive to very long life.

After the Flood

The earth’s atmosphere changed after the flood and life was harder and shorter. Though Noah would live 950 years, his progeny would live shorter and shorter lives. Shem would live 500 years (Gen 11:11), Terah, Abraham’s father, 205 years (Gen 11:32). Noah sinned by becoming drunk, causing his son and grandson to see him uncovered, and sin began to shorten life through violence and immorality (see their children and their cities, Babel and Sodom, 10:6-20).

Under the Mosaic Law

Most of the Old Testament concerns Israel under the law of Moses. At the very beginning, under the shadow of Mt. Sinai, God gave the 5th commandment to honor one’s parents, “That your days may be long upon the land” (Exod 20:12). The Shema, in Deut 6:4-9, instructs fathers to teach their children, “That it might be well with you” (vs. 18). Obedience and long life were vitally connected in the Old Testament time.

The Church Age

Paul reminds us that obeying one’s parents is still God’s will and the 5th commandment still contains the “promise” of long life (Eph 6:1-3). Pastors are described as “elders” and grandparents as “aged men” and “aged women.” The church must care for widows over 60 years old. Fathers are those who should have “known Him who is from the beginning” (1 John 2:13, 14). Most importantly of all, the gospel contains the promise of “the life that now is, and of that which is to come” (1 Tim 4:8).

The Kingdom Age

The millennial kingdom will contain those in physical bodies who live the entire time, 100 years old being considered a mere child (Isa 65:20). Many more will be there in resurrected bodies with amazing ability to navigate time and space. Israel will “possess their possessions” (Obed 17). Then we will all be transferred into the eternal state where all believers will be immortal. God’s purpose for human beings will be accomplished forever.

Want life to last forever? Regeneration brings inheritance “reserved in heaven for you” (1 Pet 1:4).

 

Book Review

My Grandfather’s Son. By Clarence Thomas

This autobiography of Justice Clarence Thomas takes his life from birth (1948) to confirmation as Associate Supreme Court Judge.  Thomas grew up poor on the back side of the tracks in the little town of Pinpoint, GA, not far from Savannah.  It was a time of racism and difficulty for black families in the south.  Clarence Thomas hardly knew his father and was raised (and his brother Myers) by his mother.  However, when he was about 7 he and Myers were sent to live with his grandfather and grandmother.  He called his grandfather “Daddy” and his grandmother “Aunt Tina.”  The whole book is dedicated to how his “Daddy” raised him by discipline and hard work.  Judge Thomas originally wanted to be a Catholic Priest but ended up going to Yale law school.  He became personal and life-time friends with MO senator John Danforth when he was Attorney General of Missouri and gave Clarence his first law job in Jefferson City.  The  book is politically interesting because it is about a poor black boy rising above his circumstances, fighting racism in the government at various levels, becoming a conservative and Republican when he was expected to follow the PC route for rising blacks.  Two interests that Thomas had that I liked were his love for Corvettes and his love of reading Louis L’Armour.  I can identify at least with the second.

“GPS” Groups

This month we will hold the second GPS group meeting at our church. In our first meeting we took the time to introduce the concept. We are trying to do more than just a lunch and fellowship though those are fun things to do. We want to dig deeper into the problems seniors, especially grandparents, face in the present culture with their kids and grandkids. Some of those challenges are, unwanted divorce, children out of work and needing help, social pressure from the “woke” culture, grandchildren walking away from church, and difficult situations such as immorality, substance abuse, and civil disobedience. None of us are experts nor excellent counselors. We’re grandparents who care about our kids.

Statistics

Familiar with your family tree? There’s a good chance you’re not. More than half of Americans don’t know the names of all four of their grandparents.  A recent survey of 2,113 U.S. adults, including 1,911 from the top 10 Nielsen market areas and 202 from Salt Lake City, found that there is a massive knowledge gap when it comes to recent family history. Knowledge of past generations varied by city, as 66 percent of Boston residents could name all of their grandparents, compared to only 26 percent of those in Philadelphia. San Francisco residents weren’t much better at 34 percent, while people in Chicago and Dallas only slightly higher at 36 percent.  Study Finds, “Family tree stumped: Most Americans can’t name all 4 of their grandparents!” April 6, 2022.

Lessons on Prayer

One of the most difficult ingredients in prayer is consistency. How often has better prayer been a new year’s resolution that failed? We may start out strong but in a few days or weeks we seem to be skipping regular times and then they get dropped altogether. The apostle Paul doesn’t write a letter without addressing prayer. I don’t think anyone was as busy as he yet he stressed consistent prayer constantly. In his last letter addressed to Timothy, while in the dark prison, he wrote, “I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day” (2 Tim. 1:3). In the earliest book of the Bible, Job, being an industrious man, would rise early and offer sacrifices for his children every morning in case they had sinned. Verse 1:5 which describes those sacrifices and prayers says, “Thus Job did regularly.” We are never too busy for the things that matter to us most.

Greatest Need in the Church?

One missionary answered, “Godly Grandmothers, who have lived out the principles of the book, who have reared their families, who have known a measure of success, having faced the challenges and the disappointments and the failures, who provide necessary instruction to young women.” Wm. Barclay, Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, 248.

 

When I Am Weak

When I Am Weak

by Rick Shrader

The apostle Paul said, “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10). Paul had just described his translation to heaven, what he had seen, and the “inexpressible” words which he heard. But even the great apostle needed a thorn in his flesh to keep him humble in light of such a great experience. He asked the Lord three times to remove the thorn because he thought such a handicap was a great hinderance to an effective ministry. No! Just the opposite, the Lord explained, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (vs. 9).

By all human standards Paul was one of the strongest Christians who ever lived. He  was not only naturally intelligent but as an apostle he displayed “signs and wonders and mighty deeds” (vs. 12). His writing was inspired and “bold” (10:2). His preaching was in “power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much confidence” (1 Thes. 1:5). So why did Paul want to change things? Paul thought that his infirmity in the flesh was a purely human or natural affliction and that without it he would have a more appealing appearance. But God doesn’t deal in divine eugenics. He has made us for His own purpose and if we have infirmities in our flesh, it is something God has chosen to use for His own glory. In fact, we are stronger for having to rely on God.

Some good men believe that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was his numerous persecutions and afflictions (especially described in 11:23-33). Others believe Paul had a physical malady, probably poor eyesight and an unappealing physical appearance (see 10:1 and Gal. 4:15). Either way, and I hold to the latter, Paul prayed that the thorn would be removed so he could be a better minister. As an older man myself, I can identify with both discouragements. Age takes its toll on me and I wish my body could operate as it did when I was younger. My mental capacity is still there (well, mostly) but my bodily presence is weaker. I also feel the impatience and tiring of our culture with older age. So I could pray that the Lord would make my life more appealing to those around me. Rather, I hear Him say, “These are the things that make you strong. What you think is weakness makes my strength perfect.”

Paul’s reaction to the Lord’s reminder was, “Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my  infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (vs. 9). The word for “most gladly” (edeōs) appears five times in the NT and in this chapter again in vs. 15, “I will very gladly spend and be spent for you.” When he realized that his physical infirmities were actually an asset, Paul said he would most gladly “boast” about them rather than ask for their removal.

What does this mean to us as senior saints? Aren’t we supposed to grow older in life? Doesn’t the Bible say that older age is to be honored? Shouldn’t we become more mature and have a closer walk with Christ in our later years? It is not only that we are closer to heaven because we are older, and for that I rejoice, I will “most gladly” accept my older age because it forces me to accept God’s power in my weakness; it enhances godliness in my life as a treasured thing; it highlights my priorities because I am over my wasted years; and it makes walking with God what I really want and not just what I need. My prayers are more fervent; my church life is more enjoyable; my witness is more bold; my thoughts are more of God. When I am older, though it seems I am weaker, I find in many ways that I am stronger.

God forced Paul to admit these priorities 14 years before he wrote 2 Corinthians (vs. 2), that is, before he went on his first missionary journey! But with this new found strength Paul became that great servant of God. Hudson Taylor once said, “When God wants to do His  great works He trains somebody to be quiet enough and little enough, then He uses that person.” Oh, that we could come to this understanding when we are young, and not have to wait until our older age forces it upon us! But thank God it does. It makes the time of our sojourning here be in fear, and it lets goodness and mercy follow us for the rest of our lives.

 

Race and Gender

Race and Gender

by Rick Shrader

God made all humans of one race because we are all children of Adam and Eve (“He has made of one blood every nation,” Acts 17:26). In a practical way differences in skin color are the same as differences in hair color or the color of our eyes. These things are different due to where we live and whom our ancesters married. These colors can change in a couple generations. Opposite of one race is the fact of two genders, male and female. (Jesus said, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning made them male and female,” Matthew 19:4). We cannot change those two, add to them nor subract from them. Every human being is born male or female to which any father standing in a delivery room can attest. But fallen man tries to multiply races and do away with genders. We try to divide by skin color of which there is really only one, but we will not admit to human genders of which there are only two. Like our attitudes about changing culture and inviolable nature, we find ourselves opposite of our Creator.

 

God’s Statue Reminders

God’s Statue Reminders

by Rick Shrader

I am glad that God didn’t remove the reminders of our sin from the Bible. Those reminders are like statues that stand in public places to remind us of things that should not be done again. Only if we think that humans are perfect and without sin would we think to destroy these because, as some think, sin must be society’s fault, not ours. But if, as we know, men are sinners, we would be careful to make the statues of our past sins prominent as reminders of what can happen if we again neglect the truth of inborn sin. Adam’s fall and sin in the garden; Noah’s drunkenness; David’s adultery and murder; Solomon’s serial fornication at the end of his life; Elijah’s fleeing from Jezebel in abject fear; all of these and more stand as unfailing statuaries of potential sin. The monuments of Israel’s sins in the hallway of 1 Corinthians chapter 10 are prominent reminders of a nation’s failures: the golden calf at Mt. Sinai; Balaam’s sin when 23,000 died; the fiery serpents that came as a plague because of murmuring; the utter failure at Kadesh Barnea when all over 20 years old eventually died in the wilderness. Paul at the foot of these statues wrote, “Now these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition.” These are the kinds of things that unbelief would tear from the Bible if God would permit. But God pronounced woe on anyone who would take these reminders from His Word. Woe to any nation that removes the reminders of their negative history. They are doomed to repeat them.

 

My Grandfather’s Legacy

My Grandfather’s Legacy

by Rick Shrader

%%tb-image-alt-text%%

I was born in 1950 with two grandfathers.  I loved them both.  “Grandpa Doc” Shrader was a dentist in Iowa, my father’s father.  “Grandpa Sam” Condren was a simple man, a butcher in a local grocery store in Springfield, MO, my mother’s father.  Both were WWI veterans, grandpa Doc in the medical core, and grandpa Sam a machine gunner in the trenches of France.  I didn’t know grandpa Doc as well only because I didn’t spend as much time with him as I did with grandpa Sam.  My brother and I spent almost every summer in Missouri with grandpa Sam and grandma Maude.  Though I just wanted to fish with grandpa on the river, grandma was a special lady for many reasons, among them being her biscuits and gravy and blackberry cobbler.  I remember the earlier days when grandpa was still cutting meat at the local market and we spent a lot of time playing games with neighborhood kids on the sidewalks and front porches.  But my best memories are after grandpa was retired and we spent weekdays at the cabin on the Niangua River.  On weekends we came back to their home in Springfield and always attended church on Sunday.  These summers continued during my formative years until other obligations and family schedules changed.

“Drop your line right over that log.  I think there might be a big one right there.”  Grandpa Sam had the paddle to the square-ended river boat and my brother Joe and I sat in the other two seats, simple boards stretched across the middle and ends of the boat.  Daytime fishing was done with cane poles and live minnows on the hook.  At grandpa’s suggestion (never really a command), I lifted my hook and minnow out of the water and lowered it beside the log in the river.  Almost immediately a heavy tug hit my line and the fight began.  “Help me, grandpa,” I pleaded.  I knew this was a good fish but I didn’t think I could get him in the boat myself.  “If you’re gonna fish with me, you have to land your own fish,” grandpa replied.  Moments later a 3lb smallmouth bass came over the side and landed in the boat.  I still have a picture of me (at five years old) holding the fish with my brother Joe crying to one side because it was my fish not his.  I learned a lot about life on that Ozark river and in the one-room cabin where we spent many summers.

“Keep your paddle on one side of the boat and keep the boat pointed into the current.  We need to tie a line on that big tree limb over there.”  Grandpa had lived his whole life, except for military service, in about a 50 mile radius of the cabin on the river.  He grew up on a farm nearby and had brought grain, with a wagon and team, to the old mill that used to be on the river.  He knew every fishing hole by heart.  Grandpa taught us how to look at the river, take into account the water condition, see whether the water level was low or high, and then pick the places to set the limb-lines and trot-lines for the night.  As a boy, the greatest thrill was to catch a big catfish on one of those lines we set overnight.  After we tied on the lines going up the river in the evening, we baited the hooks coming back down the river just before dark.

“Now, Tow-Joe,” grandpa’s name for a mystical giant catfish, “might be on that special line tonight, that one we tied on that big tree limb, and if he is, you boys may have to jump out of the boat and ride him to the shore.”  After returning to the cabin and eating supper, we would sit out in the yard and listen to grandpa tell fish stories.  My brother and I would laugh at the stories but we would also sit with glassy eyes imagining the story just in case it might be true.  “If you listen you might already hear the old fella slap the water with his tail.  Yep, I think he just might already be on that line.”

Grandpa Sam wasn’t just about fish stories and spending all day on the river.  He grew up in a log cabin the size of my living room where his father raised eight boys.  I still have the rocking chair that my great-grandfather had in that cabin.  Grandpa fought in the terrible trenches of France in WWI earning the purple heart.  He and grandma ran a small market and diner during the depression era in Springfield, and later he cut meat for a local market across the street from his Springfield home (until the market closed they used grandpa’s recipe for sausage).  One of my favorite pictures of grandma and grandpa Condren is a picture taken with their Sunday School class at High Street Baptist Church in Springfield.  He loved his pastor and his church.  It was this mixture of a veteran, depression era, plain spoken, Christian man that did so much in shaping my perspective on life.  Take your fishing seriously but have fun and laugh.  Work hard until your feet hurt but do it with pride.  Plant a garden, go bird hunting, spend time on the river, but always be back in time to go to church.

Boys need fathers and they need grandpas too.  A father may raise the boy but a grandpa shapes his vision of what a whole life looks like.  My life still looks a lot like my grandpa Sam.

 

 

2011 Greeting

2011 Greeting

by Admin

From all of us who have been blessed to bring this ministry to you,

May God’s blessings be upon us and our brethren in this season of our Savior’s birth.

Since 1992 the Aletheia paper has been published every month as a labor of love and a work of faith.  Next month we will enter our nineteenth year.  We are encouraged by open doors which God has placed before us for continued publication of this paper, expansion of our web site outreach, and also for church planting opportunities.  This ministry has defended the Word of God, the priority and dignity of the local church, and the Biblical, historical faith of Baptists.  We believe in a conservative approach to church ministry and a priority of godliness as well as separation from ungodliness.  We have found many friends over the years committed to the same values.

I would like to thank all of you for reading this paper and also for your end of the year gifts which you have so generously given throughout the years.  We have never wanted this to be a support ministry that takes needed money from church budgets.  We have always been able to print and mail this paper because of your freewill gifts.  Thank you!

Rick & Ann Shrader

Matt & Tarah Shrader

 

 

Reading List

Reading List

by Debra Conley

Reading List for Recapturing the Classics

 

The following list is intended to be a suggestion of works I think should be included in any liberal arts education. Why these works? Primarily because of the influences of the philosophies represented in the works, the genre and form emanating from social eras, and for the continual allusions to these works readers find in modern print. I am firmly convinced that successful critical thinkers and excellent writers are those who have strong backgrounds in reading critical thinking and good writing. Multiple works by one author are listed under the author’s name; single works of literature are listed by title.

There will also be a list posted (eventually) of works of literature you will enjoy or might want to read but that are not necessary for the background of liberal arts as I have explained it above.

I have listed my suggestions in chronological (time) order for ease of finding a particular work. Thinking in these chronological lines, though, is valuable when referencing the works by philosophical eras. It will also help you to relate contemporaries and their common ideas.

Mythology

Capturing the primitive explanations for events of nature, the need of man for a deity, and the consequences of behavior are the primary reasons for reading ancient mythology. I like the explanations in the version by Edith Hamilton better than Bullfinch’s.

Homer

Read the Iliad and the Odyssey in translation, of course. Social order and boundary wars, heroes, and trials suffered at the hands of the gods give us good insight into ancient ways of life. I already know what you are thinking: These books are very thick and might be good reading for a journey on the slow boat to China. If you just can’t fathom reading the complete work, select a reliable “retelling” such as the Puffin Classics series. Tales of the Greek Heroes, The Tale of Troy and The Luck of Troy are some in that series that will fill you in on the same legends. Some of the Great Illustrated Classics are at least true to the original plot, but do leave out religious significances.

The Aeneid

Everyone knows the story of the Trojan horse, taken from this great work of Virgil’s. This Roman poet (Publius Vergilius Maro 70B.C.-19B.C.) recorded the history of the invasion and conquer of Rome by the Trojans. Leaving the city of Troy under the leadership of Aeneas, the Trojans establish a new “country” called Latium and establishes the Latin race according to Virgil.

Aesop’s Fables

The Greek slave had a tremendous insight into human nature and the moral conflicts that man has with his nature. Don’t skip reading these in their original form if you can locate a copy. I have an 1885 edition which contains 350 of the fables attributed to Aesop. The difference in content between these and modern (especially children’s editions) is astounding. But if you can’t find one of these older, less edited versions, read what you can find. These fables are greatly alluded to in modern writing. One current popular business book, Who Moved My Cheese?, could easily have come from a number of these fables, as the premise is nothing new and the intent of the message is the same: adapt or be eaten. Read The Herdsman and the Lost Bull or The Fox and the Goat or ten others and apply the comparison. You will quickly see the simplicity of this business book that is still a best seller.

Sophocles

This is the name of the author of what I consider the most critical (i.e., necessary) works of Greek drama. His tragedies form the foundation of modern works, especially that of Shakespeare. Try to find a copy with explanations of the form of Greek drama, also a good background to have. Many school textbooks will have this explanation of exposition, rise and fall, climax, antagonist and protagonist, etc. I strongly suggest reading a modern translation of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex (the King) and Antigone. There is a second play, Oedipus at Colonus, which is part of the trilogy but not necessary for modern allusions. Here you will find the explanation of the modern complex dubbed the Oedipus complex.

Plato’s Republic

The first writer to approach the idea that the Pagan gods were not real set in motion an idea we still claim (at least superficially) to embrace: that philosophically critical thinkers are primary to a lasting society.

Aristotle, Plutarch, Ovid

I’ll get letters for this, but these are three authors that you should read something from if you have the inclination but otherwise, there are more important authors and works to address if you are playing catch up at a late stage in your life.

Beowulf

This duel between good (Beowulf) and evil (Grendel) is stylized in this first English epic, a long narrative poem recounting the deeds of a national hero; in this case, Beowulf.

Dante’s The Divine Comedy

The Italian author writes of an imaginary journey into Hell, referred to by him as The Inferno. This section is often used as a work in itself. The entire work is classified by Dante as a comedy because his final journey takes him to Heaven through Divine revelation. This dreamlike journey is the catalyst that convinces man to turn from sin and pursue the Divine in hope of Heaven.

Wyclif

Jon Wyclif was a premier student and later Professor at Oxford (England). He became well known for his assertion that the Pope is human. He also attacked practices of the Roman church for which he was condemned and forced into retirement in the English town of Lutterworth. It was here that he wrote the majority of his best known works, including the Bible which bears his name. Still considered a heretic for these writings after his death, his body was exhumed, burned, and his ashes ordered to be scattered such that no trace of the man could ever be found.

Geoffrey Chaucer

Of course, the Canterbury Tales cannot be overlooked. The humor and levity written within the context of human frailty is Chaucer’s trademark. Be sure to find a copy with an explanation of the Pilgrimage to Canterbury and its significance. The Prologue, only the introduction to the Tales, describes the crazy quilt of characters making the journey in Chaucer’s work. Two of the most popular Tales can be found in many 9th or 10th grade literature books. “Chanticleer and Pertelote” (The Nuns’ Priest’s Tale) is the story of the clever fox who tricks the prattling rooster. “The Black Rocks of Brittany”, told by the Franklin, is a strong portrayal of true love and its strength. If early literature could have been put on film, this story would be a real “Chick Flick.”

Erasmus

This scholar from the Netherlands is one I think every student of literature ought to read simply because of the vastness of his impact on the modern written word. His acknowledged great work was the first printed translation of the Greek New Testament. He undertook this task because he found numerous errors in the much used Latin Vulgate. Note: vulgate means common; it is the same root from which we get our word vulgar, meaning to be too common or familiar. Erasmus’ corrections and subsequent consistency of pattern for grammar, spelling, and sentence structure became the basis for much of our modern English rules of grammar. One of his works, Christian Solders’ Manual, is not well known but is a defense of the Bible being available to every man in his own language. This ability to read the Bible for oneself is the basis for true Christianity, according to Erasmus.

Martin Luther

The leader of the Reformation in Germany deserves attention for his lasting gift to the wresting of Christianity from religion. You should not skip a reading of his Theses (written in 1517), nor of his many great hymns.

Utopia

Sir Thomas More was a student of Erasmus, and a counselor to King Henry VIII who opposed the divorce Henry sought from his legal wife, Catherine of Aragon, for which he was beheaded by the Monarch. Probably the premier humanist of his day, this work explains More’s fascination with Cicero and the idea of man being sufficient unto himself.

William Tyndale

Again we find a true scholar dedicated to the work of translating the Scriptures into language for the common man. His English New Testament was one of the first translations from the original Greek. Known as the Worms version because it was completed in that German town, it is estimated to be the primary basis for much of the King James Version of the New Testament. He was publicly strangled and burned in 1536.

John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments

This is the original title of what we now call Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. These are gruesome but first hand accounts of the execution of Christian saints at the hand of the Catholic and English churches. Any time you feel persecuted, read just one of these accounts!

The Legend of King Arthur

I will recommend here that you find at the least some explanation of King Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable.