Where We’ve Been and Where We Must Go
This past Sunday we celebrated 80 years of God’s faithfulness as a church family. That Sunday I shared the following with everyone in attendance. I share it here for anyone who may have missed it.
Where Have We Been?
It was 1938 when Raymond Riggs, my grandfather, would preach from the back of a pickup truck on Brush Street and his wife Winona would play the pump organ. He would preach the gospel and urge people to repent of their sins and trust in Christ for salvation right there on the curb.
From 1938—1953, the church grew from 0-180 people. But the most rapid growth came under Charles Thigpen’s leadership when, from 1954-1957 they grew from 180-580 people.
Under Joe Ange’s leadership, the church maxed out in averaging over 700 people in Sunday school.
Then Joe Ange left and it was time to replace him. It appears as if there was disagreement for who should be the next pastor. The church voted on three candidates at one time in December of 1966. One candidate received 86 votes, another received 20 votes, and the winning candidate received 131 votes. That’s 106 people voting against the future pastor, who just so happened to be the founding pastor, Raymond Riggs.
I think I can say with some certainty that there was disunity among the church during that time.
Two frequent things happened in the church after Joe Ange left in 1966. The first frequent occurrence is that many members started leaving. The minutes read things like, 28 members sent letters of dismissal due to lack of attendance, 153 people sent letters of dismissal due to lack of attendance, 37 people sent letters of dismissal due to lack of attendance, 79 people sent letters of dismissal due to lack of attendance.
The Sunday school attendance numbers in 1966 at the end of Joe Ange’s tenure were recorded as 702. Ten years later, in 1976, they were recorded as 332. They continued to decline gradually at that point.
The second frequent happening in the church after Pastor Ange left was a significant amount of people being sent out into ministry.
- 1966: Keith Kenemer licensed to preach
- 1967: Dwight Riggs ordained to preach
- 1973: Steve Hasty licensed to preach
- 1977: Steve Riggs licensed to preach
- 1977: John Dickerson licensed to preach
- 1978: Tom McCullough ordained to preach
- 1985: Kevin Cagle licensed to preach
- 1991: John Dickerson ordained to preach
- 1994: Mark Paschall ordained
I count 9 different men either licensed or ordained to preach in the span of 28 years. That doesn’t include the women sent into ministry! Unfortunately, however, 1994 was the last time our church has ordained or licensed a man to preach.
What has happened in our church since then is we have been a very strong financial support base for people who have decided to go make disciples. This past year, I received a call to be nominated to be on a missions board. I asked this individual why they wanted to nominate me because while I love missions, my heart doesn’t beat for it like Tom McCullough’s or Raymond Riggs’ did. Turns out he had looked up the top giving churches to international missions and our church is one of the top in the denomination we’re affiliated with.
That doesn’t surprise me. Supporting other ministries has been in our DNA for quite some time. You have given nearly $150,000 recently to renovate this building again. You generously give to support missionaries and you generously support my wife and I. You are a loving, giving, supporting church.
So I think we can divide our history into three Phases:
Phase 1: Saving (1938-1966)—from 0-700+ in Sunday school in 28 years
Phase 2: Sending (1966-1994)—9 men licensed or ordained to preach in 28 years
Phase 3: Supporting (1995-2018)—top giving churches to missions, two renovation projects in 10 years
Now, where must we must go?
The number of people we have to support is decreasing. Missionaries are retiring or nearing retirement age, or have already graduated to heaven. Not only that, the number of supporters we have is decreasing. Missionaries mention to me that it’s difficult to raise money. I don’t think it’s because there isn’t money. I think it’s because there aren’t as many people to give in local churches in the United States.
There are three churches right now in Michigan in the denomination our church is affiliated with that are looking for a pastor, but can’t find one. There’s just not many men to do it.
Where did the missionaries we support come from? They were converts or children of converts. Where did the men we sent from 1966-1994 come from? They were converts or children of converts.
There are less to support and less supporters because we haven’t sent anyone. Why haven’t we sent anyone? Because we haven’t seen many saved. It’s all connected.
I humbly submit to you, Central Oaks, that we must throw ourselves into phase 1 again. We have to hear Jesus’ words from Matthew 28:19 loud and clear in our ears until it keeps us awake at night: “Go . . . and make disciples of all nations.” That is a command for every follower of Jesus. It is not optional.
Is supporting those who are making disciples good and biblical? Of course! It’s a blessing! But if we don’t send more, soon there won’t be anyone to support.
Is sending people across the world to make disciples good and biblical? Of course! What an honor to know people serving in France, Africa, Japan, and even parts of the United States! But if we don’t see people saved here, we won’t have anyone to send there.
No one to support means there was no one sent. No one sent means there was no one saved.
We must refocus on the mission Jesus has given us. We are not here to live comfortable lives and enjoy the blessings of God while making no impact on our city. Jesus told His disciples and His Word still speaks to us: “Go . . . make disciples.” You. Personally. Not just give so someone else can. You. Go.
Is society different now than it was in the 1940’s? Of course! A few years ago I talked to some of our longer-termed members Bill and Billie Martin about how they came to know Jesus. Billie told me that before they were saved, she and her family always knew that they should be in church and that they needed God in their lives. Someone invited them to church and they got saved. I think we can agree that the average secular person today isn’t starting at the same place the Martin’s were in the 40’s. Unsaved people in our culture believe in God, generally yes, but they don’t believe they need Him and they certainly don’t think their local church has much to do with it.
There’s work to do, and it will be difficult work that is met with opposition. And frankly, I don’t know what this will look like for us. A group and I meet monthly called The Vine Project Team to pray over this and consider how God might be leading us in our mission to help people follow Jesus. So, while I’m not here today to give you a detailed plan about how we must help people follow Jesus, what I am hoping to convince you of today as a church body is what we must do. We must move from supporters to savers. We must start making disciples ourselves.
Where will the next missionaries we support come from? Only God knows if we will have that privilege, but they might be wearing a burka in the cubicle next to yours. They might be the cashier from your bank with the “tolerance” bumper sticker on their hybrid. They might be the little boy or girl you pray with and kiss on the cheek every night before they go to sleep. They might be your transgender neighbor. They’re just not saved . . . yet.
Jesus’ command must become our mission again: “Go . . . make disciples.”