Monday, April 18, 2016

Fellowship in a Small Town: Writer's Notebook

The April 17th issue of The Lookout magazine includes my story about Rocky Fork Fellowship in Hallsville, MO, titled Fellowship in a Small Town

Families find a place to worship together at Rocky Fork
Not everything I learned during my interviews and conversations with Rocky Fork leaders and members would fit into the allotted space for the article. 

Here's some of the rest that didn't fit, plus some photographs that didn't make it into print:

Rocky Fork's senior minister, Mark Butrum, was the subject of a 2006 Chrsitian Standard article, The Mark Project, by Daniel Schantz. The Mark Project by Daniel Schantz. More from my interview with Mark Butrum: Why do people drive from as far away as Columbia, Moberly, even Fulton, to attend church at RFF?
I joke about it. When we show up at a visitor's house we’re going to bring you a plate of cookies, to thank you. Because you passed up a lot of churches to come to church in a cafeteria that smells like a cafeteria. So we appreciate it.

I feel like if you find some place that’s got some good pizza, you’ll drive a little farther. You can get pizza anywhere that’s just OK. But if you want really good pizza, you’ll go get it. We’ve got to be able to provide that. Excellence in everything you do. That’s hard when you’re in a temporary building. It takes a lot of volunteers. It seems to be working.
Butrum on the size of the staff:
We have three full times staff. Besides me there's a worship minister and the youth minister. We're looking at adding a full time children's minister. We also have part time administrative help, which is currently my wife. We need to add another role there, too. We’re probably behind on full time staff members, for the numbers we’re seeing. But I get a lot of mileage out of the elders too. We work those guys hard.

Several Central Christian College students have been really involved in the youth ministry and children's ministry. Other people come early help set up chairs, equipment, lights, sound, etc.
Butrum on Sushi:
We have a group called Sushi – it has no meaning – for 20-somethings, for college students and others in that age range. We average about 40 attending, from Columbia and Moberly, MACC, plus some non college
Mark Butrum (in green) greets people as they arrive
Mark Butrum on how people find Rocky Fork:

We have a What We Believe class. They come to hear what our doctrines are, what are beliefs are.

We have people say, 'I’ve been going to Church X for umpteen years and I’m not sure what they believe.' So we teach them what we believe. Bert and I teach that and we lay it all out there, let them ask questions. And we ask them questions. One we ask is 'How did you find Rocky Fork? And what made you come back?'

So often it’s, well I found you because I was driving by the school on a Sunday morning and saw all the cars, or I heard about you through some friends. Predominately the answer of why they came back, it's, 'I liked it; I felt like I belonged, and the preacher was in the parking lot and shook my hand and he knew my name the second time I came back.'

I learned that by accident from Ben Merrold. I went to Harvester Christian Church one Sunday, my wife and I. It was a hot day, they were having a car show. This little man pulling a wagon full of water bottles comes along. He says would you like a water? I said, no thanks, we’ll just go inside.

And he said, I’m trying to get these folks from the car show to come inside. It’s Ben Merrold, pulling a little wagon through the parking lot. And I’m thinking, that’s an awesome idea. The preacher’s in the parking lot greeting people, getting them inside.

Well I talked to him since, and he said 'I’ve never done that again.' But now I do it every Sunday. I try to remember names. I know we’ll get to a point where I can’t do it. But names are important. People matter. They know that, it makes them feel like they belong.

I try to impress that all my folks, to learn their names. People respond to that. They feel like they belong if people know their names.
Butrum on plans for the new building:
One of the things we want to do when we get a building is to make it available to the community for non-church activities. My dream is that when we’re done with our first building would be turn that over to the community as a community center. It would be on our property, but it could be a community center. We’ve talked about putting in ball fields and outdoor tracks on the property so people can use it.
Rocky Fork elder Bert Adams on how he became involved with the church plant:
This idea was given to me, this wasn’t something I dreamed up. We were asked, are you interested in this? At first I didn’t jump on it. God gnawed at me, He said, listen, you gotta quit running from things that scare you. Obviously it scared me because I’m a country boy and I don’t feel like I can do anything. That’s bothered me my whole life.
Rocky Fork t-shirts provide a way for people to identify
themselves as part of the Fellowship
Adams on why Rocky Fork has grown quickly:
I think if you take the religious mask off and allow the people to experience what church should be about rather quickly, the church will grow. There’s not a fa├žade that you’ve got to work through and eventually if you might find it. It’s not masqueraded in something.
Corey Mehaffey,President of the Moberly Area Economic Developpment Corporation, on Rocky Fork's growth:
I think one of the advantages Rocky Fork has had is that this building is not something that intimidates people. Meeting in this community building makes this a community church and takes away that apprehension a lot of people have. People are looking for a place other than home where they can take their family and interact with other families.
Eric Pendell, president of Alpha Omega, a church assessment and campaign consultant service Rocky Fork has hired, on what's next for Rocky Fork:
This is one church that does so many things right. Typically we teach a church we consult a lot about how to do outreach, but Rocky Fork is just years beyond what most churches at this point.
Rocky Fork faces two very practical needs if they hope to continue to grow, according to Pendell:
They just don’t have the manpower to continue what they’re doing. Once they get a few more staff and more organized, they’ll start going forward. Also, the inability to have a place during the week. If you’re going to have church just on Sunday, don’t bother. They want to build a building they can use at least six days a week, with activities where the community can come and use the facilities.
I want to express my thanks to Mark Butrum and to everyone else at Rocky Fork Fellowship who welcomed me, tolerated my intrusions, and took time to answer my questions.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Lloyd Pelfrey & the Future of the Restoration Movement: Writer's Notebook

A few 'extras" that didn't make it into the edited-down version of my current Christian Standard article about Lloyd Pelfrey and the Restoration Movement:

I arrived at Central Christian College of the Bible on a fall day and parked in front of the central building on campus. Prominent of above the main entrance, a sign identifies it as Pelfrey Hall.

Stepping through the front door, the first person I saw, greeting people at the reception desk, is Irene Pelfrey. It’s her husband I was here to talk with and for whom the building is named, an honor he’s earned in his almost six decades at CCCB. He began there as a professor in 1957, the year the college was founded. He has since served as Central’s president (for 26 years), then chancellor, and now as Professor Emeritus.

Mrs. Pelfrey and I talked about mutual friends and family members while we waited for her husband to finish his Post-Exilic Literature class. Eventually he came down the stairs, still in conversation with a student. After a brief conversation with is wife, Pelfrey invited me to follow him to his office.
. . .

TR: What are you doing these days?

LP: The best thing I’m doing is having purpose and staying busy. And my purpose varies from day to day.

I got tired of pressure, that’s why I retired from here in 1998, I was through. No more pressure. No more decisions. I was finished, I was beat.

And now I’m trying to help whoever needs help, whether it’s the church or a person. I was an elder once; I enjoyed it.

I do some speaking and writing. I update my teaching notes on Restoration history all the time. I just keep adding things and adding things.

There are people who like me for various reasons, there’s probably some who don’t like me. I know there are. But I try to be conscientious, although I’ve made some conscientious mistakes.

I’ll go home and process e-mails. I get questions regularly. There’s a fellow over at Fort Wayne who one time asked Jack Spratt a question and Jack said, 'I don’t know, let’s go ask Lloyd Pelfrey.' And that fellow’s been asking Lloyd Pelfrey questions ever since.

I enjoy it thoroughly when people came from four sides at once with different questions.

TR: Which former students have impressed you most with what they've gone on to accomplish?

LP: (He was reluctant to name specific former students)

The person who s probably had the greatest impact is Salonique Adolphe, down in Haiti. Others have gone there too, but he’s revolutionizing the western part of Haiti. The Restoration movement has had a great impact on Haiti. Someone told me - I almost doubt it - that we have 600 missionaries or missionary groups in Haiti.

I had a fear for him when one of the hurricanes hit and it leveled everything he had done. All washed away with the mud. I hoped he wouldn’t quit, but he handled the discouragement and started again. Satan will try to stop anything that’s going well.

Earl Ferguson and his son David have accomplished a lot. David was a defiant little guy but I certainly admired him. When he was here was extremely capable, an organizer.

Pelfrey on Music

Pelfrey notes a decrease in attention to a biblical theology of church music, a willingness to gloss over details.

"In the Old Testament you bow down to worship, you stand up to praise.” He notes. “Today the song leader says “Let’s all stand up to worship.” It’s not biblical, but we all know what it means.”

Pelfrey on the Restoration Movement

"The goal of teaching is to try to prevent them from going back into what they came from. I spoke at a gathering where the topic was the Restoration. I looked out into the crowd and saw everyone there was up in years and I don’t know that they’re going to change or be changed. We’re preaching to the choir. Maybe it’s time to quit doing things like that and just go home and go to work."

Pelfrey told a story from Leroy Garret’s book on the Stone-Campbell movement:

It happened at one of these world convention meetings. A Disciples leader was there and he was telling these leaders from around the world the story of the Restoration Movement, what we believe. Go back to the Bible, be a Christian. He got through and they were all impressed. And one bearded patriarch asked this question, "And have you never divided?”

Pelfrey on Evangelism

The fellowship we have as believers is very important, but I consider it to be of peripheral importance. It’s not the main goal. Other things are there too, like justice. God has certainly always been against injustice, but the purpose of the gospel is not to feed the poor. There are social implications of the genuine gospel, but they are not the gospel.

Back in 1976, when we were having the 200th celebration of America, Standard Publishing put out many study books. People bought all the study books on the things they wanted to study. The least popular study book was the one on personal evangelism. Nobody wanted to go out and do something, they just wanted to sit and study.

You have to have manageable goals. If I tell the people, let’s win the world for Christ, that’s too big, I can’t do that. But I like the idea one of our alumni had one time, in a rural area, he told a person, 'I want you to go call on every person in your square mile where you live, that’s all. Can you handle that? Maybe they’ll reject you, but maybe they’ll invite you back in to teach.'

I was just talking to Bryce Houchen [a student at CCCB] about this. He wants to do something down there in Columbia. I said, OK, can you can you get the people to just call on one side of one street, that’s all. Not the world. Maybe all of them will reject you but one. That’s great. You may have call on ten streets to get an acceptance. Can you do something where you are?

The future is going to depend on somebody having the foresight to teach the people to not just sit and be entertained, but to go do something. Do something, whatever it is. It may be to fix meals for the poor, but do something.

Pelfrey on the Future 

My favorite class has become Israel After the Exile. I show them the connection between the 300 Spartans and the Bible. The Persian King is Esther’s husband. If you read the book of Esther there’s a four year gap. What was he doing? Fighting the Greeks. Oh really?

Alexander the Great. What a great contribution he made despite his immorality, but he had a tender side. I tell the students, You’re studying Greek because of Alexander. Oh really?

And they put all these things together from the Greeks and the Romans and the famous Punic Wars. All these things were getting everything ready for the Son of Man to come at the right time. And those soldiers and kings did not know they were being used by God. I’m impressed that God worked through all those things while people waited for centuries.

I have my own personal theory of ‘What’s the purpose of the United States in God’s plan.’ I don’t’ know, but I have a theory that our purpose was to be a missionary sending nation. And this nation grew across this country, they had what they called a manifest destiny, they thought God gave us this destiny to do this. Then we started sending missionaries to the world because they were no longer strict Calvinist. If you’re a Calvinist you don’t’ need to send a missionary. If God wants those people saved, he doesn’t need your help.

Now those countries are sending missionaries here. The only places Christianity is growing today is not America. Across Europe, it’s declining. God’s about through. The people in other parts of the world are the ones accepting the gospel, with some exceptions among the Arabs, But God is maybe saying, 'You just wait, I’ll take care of them.'

So I think America’s purpose might be over. I don’t know what the end will be. I’m glad I am where I am and I tell young people I’m sorry, you’re going to have to face something. I don’t know what it is.

God is in charge. My fears for the United States of America and for the church, the Restoration Movement are great. I’m not sure what the future holds. I just don’t know, I’m glad I’m 84.

When a nation has served his purpose historically, it’s over. Assyria, the Persians, Greece, the Egyptians, the list is long.

People like to quote II Chronicles 7:14, but we’re not God's people as a nation. Christianity is not about nations.

There’s always a tipping point and I’m not sure what it is. For Sodom and Gomorrah it was ten faithful people. Which led to an old Jewish tradition that there are always ten righteous people in the world to keep it from being destroyed.

Are you one?