On occasion we witness events that command the attention of the world. We hear the reports of genocide, but it seems that the nations of the world cannot act to bring peace. When governments do act, often events quickly descend into even more chaos. Iraq and Afghanistan come to mind. When the passenger jets crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center we began to ask, “Why?” and “Who?” Shortly thereafter we became familiar with the names and faces of the leaders of Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Our national anger was expressed in acts of war. Human evil often has a face that is easy to hate. But how do we cope when the evil we experience has no face? How do we wage war when the tragic event that commands our attention is an “act of god?”
I spent this past week taking a seminary class on Ephesians with several very fine young people. The class discussions were very insightful regarding the past and future of Pentecostalism. There were two primary criticisms offered by my younger colleagues that I wish to address.
Several years ago, I accepted the pastorate of a Church of God congregation of about 120 people in a city of about 8000 people. The church was over fifty years old. Soon after settling in as the new pastor I attended the local ministerial association and introduced myself as the new pastor at the Church of God. One of the members gave me a surprised glance and exclaimed, “Church of God! I didn’t know there was one of those churches in this town!” A few years later, I was invited to preach at a Church of God congregation of about 140 people in a small Georgia town of about 2000. The congregation had been established in that city for more than sixty years. As I drove into the town, I stopped at a local store to buy gasoline. While paying for my purchase, I asked, “Can you give me directions to the Church of God?” After several seconds the clerk replied, “Sir, I’ve lived here all my life, but I don’t know where that church is located.” Of course these stories are anecdotal, but they serve to illustrate a very troubling fact; that is, too many of our local churches do not have a meaningful presence in their community.