The Epiphany

      If you have read some of the essays in this blog, you will have correctly determined that attending church is a regular duty in my schedule of events, and I am privileged to be able to call myself a Christian and, more specifically, a Pentecostal. If you have read further, you will know how I feel about contemporary “Christian” music and about my current church which my wife and I have attended for the past four months. I put the term “Christian” within quotation marks because in referring to music, it is “Christian” only within the context of the words being sung, not within the sound, rhythm, or instruments with which it is presented. Disregarding the words and grooving with eyes closed to just the music, a listener would swear he was at a rock concert at the Toyota Center or, in extreme cases, at Joe’s Bar and Grill. But I digress…this essay is not another rant about the music. Well, mostly not, anyway.
     My current pastor recently demonstrated why he has won my heart and loyalty in such a brief time. His sermon concerning drifting away from the church was such an impassioned plea of concern that it would have taken a truly unconcerned soul not to have been touched by it. I have been told by pastors of the past how they cared for their churches and the members thereof, but this time I actually believe it. The reason I believe it is his actions follow his statements. I have seen his concern demonstrated to various members of our congregation in the short time we have been members, and I have confidence that when my time of need comes, he will be there to offer whatever spiritual support I need. If you are in need of a caring church with a supportive pastor, let me offer this address.
     I awoke the day after his sermon at 5:00 a.m. and could not get back to sleep. There were two events which occurred in our church service the previous night which I could not get out of my mind and which left me with a feeling of urgency and maybe a little depression when I finally arose about 8:00 a.m.
     My pastor is an old, old man of sixty years. Well, that’s the way he kind of feels about it. Being about ten years his senior, I could tell him a thing or two about aging, but at the same time, my heart goes out to him, because it’s in the fifties when a person…okay, a man, anyway….begins to feel his mortality. In my fifties I began to realize that I couldn’t do the things I did when I was even in my forties. At the same time, just like in the case with my pastor, I began to see my parents decline physically before my very eyes, and there was nothing I could do for them. And seeing them decline reminded me that what I saw happening to them was reserved for me, also, just a few years hence. It is an experience reserved for every living creature, a cycle of life that began with creation.
     Anyway, my pastor, now in his Golden Years, was recently tapped on the shoulder by the national leadership of the United Pentecostal Church, International, to be a mentor to young, aspiring ministers and to offer them guidance and encouragement while they are gaining experience in their maturation as ministers and pastors. As he was mentioning this to us in the introduction to his sermon last night, he threw out a statistic that made alarm bells go off in my mind. I had heard similar statistics from other church organizations, but I guess since I am somewhat focused on Pentecostal affairs, they had never caused me much concern. His statement was simply this: Within the United Pentecostal Church organization, eighty percent of the licensed ministers are above the age of 45 with only twenty percent under that age.
     Taking that statistic and projecting into the future, the prognosis for the church appears bleak. In another twenty years, when the current crop of seasoned, experienced ministers begins to slip into retirement, the church will face a critical shortage of spiritual leaders. Could the UPC be faced with the same situation many religious organizations are already facing? That is, local church congregations with no spiritual leaders? The prospect is frightening, because within Pentecostal organizations, the pastor is more than just a hired manager, he is placed in his position with a certain amount of divine guidance; even though the local congregation does vote on his selection, the prayer is always that God will guide the wisdom of the local voters to make the right decision. But just as the Children of Israel in the Old Testament made wrong decisions in the desire for a leader, local congregations in the future may feel forced due to limited choices to make leaderships decisions which could prove to be unwise and destructive. There will always be plenty of zealots who claim to be ministers from God who are just charlatans with their own agendas, but if there is a shortage of sincere ministers who aspire to lead a local flock in accordance with God’s guidance, the results will be traumatic. I fear for my children and grandchildren.
     There is one solution, and in the context of the situation, perhaps the upcoming ministerial shortage is but another sign that this solution is the only possible outcome. Should the church be (in biblical terms) caught away or caught up…i.e. taken out of this world or raptured…during the Second Return of Jesus Christ as taught in the scriptures, then the predicted shortage will never occur. You have to wonder…do we not have to worry about a shortage of ministers in 25 years because….we won’t be needing them anyway?
     The second event that occurred in our church service last night was probably not even noticed by the majority of the congregation. During his sermon about drifting away from the church, our pastor used the analogy of a drifting boat and an anchor that would not hold the boat in position. He then asked us to sing the old hymnal “I’ve Anchored My Soul in the Haven of Rest.” I knew there would be many in the audience who would not know the song, but I was stunned when I began to realize that neither did the musicians know how to play it! Our primary musicians are in their mid twenties and have grown up in the church…and they did not know the song. At that moment I had a most distressing epiphany and came to the conclusion that the old songs are officially lost to history. That common thread that bound a congregation together regardless of position or musical skill and created an atmosphere of great spiritual consecration…namely, congregational singing of the spiritual classics…was gone forever. I am convinced the loss of this common thread is a contributing factor to our shortage of young ministers. Young men and women are not called to the ministry by dancing to the crashing sounds of drums, thumping bass guitars, and wailing keyboards. It is in the spiritual depth and quietness of a simple song of worship that the still, small voice of the Master is able to speak and call the soul to higher service.
     After the congregation had gathered around the altars at the front of our church for a moment of final consecration and the dismissal had been given, my wife told me,“I wanted to go up there and play that song so bad!” I thought to myself that she and my mother-in-law who was in attendance were probably the only two people in the church who could play “I’ve Anchored My Soul in the Haven of Rest” on the piano from memory. How tragic.