by Erma Williams, as featured in the May Christian Chronicle in response to “Big Questions for Churches of Christ.”
(Due to space issues , the introduction about Erma is limited.) Out of 645 respondents they made Erma’s the featured response. She mentions her 26 years as a member here at Roanoke, and before that at University Park church in Hyattsville, MD. She mentions her work as a trainer for a publisher of children’s Bible class and Vacation Bible School material, which brings her in contact with many former members of Churches of Christ. She hears of totalitarian, controlling and cult-like stories about the Church of Christ.
What would you say defines a Church of Christ?
A Church of Christ is an assembly of believers who look to the scriptures to learn how to be Jesus centered.
What are some of the significant strengths of Churches of Christ?
There is no central headquarters, but there is the desire to search the scriptures for answers and not rely on hierarchy. We have the ability to visit any town in America (or the world) and do the “six degrees of separation” game, knowing someone who knows someone’s somebody.
In recent years, Churches of Christ in the US have declined numerically. Why do you think this is happening?
Distractions. Today we have Google to find answers to everything. Our 24-7 society (think Amazon) says you can get what you want when you want it–at whatever price you want to pay. Why wait until Sunday, much less Wednesday night, to get answers to our religious questions?
At the same time, I believe younger generations question everything we do. They want to know why we take communion each week. Why do we sing a cappella? Why do we not have women preaching? These are questions that make the church uncomfortable, and many of us are unprepared to answer. Too often we reply with “thou shalt not” instead of saying, “Well, let’s look together at what the scriptures have to say.”
Jesus didn’t attack his foes. He answered questions with questions. He allowed his audience to discover the answers. That requires patience, not a five-step plan for salvation–or Google.
Why are you a member of the Church of Christ?
It’s by design and faith. Yes, I grew up in the church, but I took ownership of my faith when I married and moved away from my family and my faith support system.
Marrying a non-Christian made me question everything I did. Seeking answers to my spouse’s questions in the Bible forced me to ask questions too. I have realized over the years that I was very blessed by my faith foundation but needed the extra little kick in the seat to get me engaged.
My foundation is rooted in a congregation that took extra special care and attention when my family went through a tragic incident when I was young. If it weren’t for them, I’m not sure that I would have had the endurance and desire to be the child of God I am designed to be. They taught by showing me, by loving me, and by being Jesus-centered themselves.
What excites you about your congregation?
My church gets it–gets that we are all broken, that all have sinned and fallen short. They understand that there are many outside the fellowship that need to be fed physically to be able to be fed spiritually.
There’s no judgement. We all come as we are, opening ourselves to what God desires us to be
What are your greatest concerns about our fellowship in the United States?
We must realize that churches of Christ have a bad reputation in the marketplace.
As a trainer who works with former church members, I am privy to many testimonies of how the church of Christ has failed them. They recount episode after episode of judgement, unsympathic leadership, and–my oh my–rules they’re being told to follow in order to belong.
A friend of mine attended a congregation whose elders marked an X on hymns they didn’t want led during the worship because of word choices such as “Holy Spirit.”
At a regional youth and children’s ministry networking meeting, during an introduction exercise, a lady beside me literally scooted her chair away from me when she discovered I worship with a Church of Christ.
Later I learned that her church had ridiculed her and her family when she was a teenager over some issue. She said her mom cried all the time and withdrew from the church (she had been involved in many church activities), and her father became aggressive and distant .
On the flip side, I learned of a congregation that split three ways. The elders were publically accused of lying and stealing, and resignations were demanded. None of the elders resigned but told each family leaving the church that they would always be welcomed back.
The elders showed grace, leadership and love to people to people who showed them disdain. Fast forward 20-plus years, and approximately 70 percent of those who left have returned. Many have apologized and become members once again.
We must not only show grace, but also tact and sensibility.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I love the church as much as I love Jesus. I realize on a daily basis that not only am I an ambassador for Jesus, but I am also an ambassador for the church.
Often, there is a pregnant pause when I identify myself with the Church of Christ because of our negative reputation and marketing.
I’m proud of my heritage, my lineage and my foundation.
Still, I wish the church had more of a love and grace approach.
CONCERNS: Judy Hall is now at home and was able to attend Wednesday evening.
Scott Blessing has been house-bound due to his back. He is on all the pain medicine he can take. Pray for pain relief. Those who need continuing prayer are Deanna McRoy; Ellen Tidwell, (Debbie McRoy’s sister-in -law; Lilly, a double lung transplant recipient at UVA Med Center. Joni and Alan Beach’s parents; Del Bolin’s mother; Teryn Gaynor’s mother and step-father. Sheila Jansen and daughter, Amber Weaver. A friend of Del and Leena Bolin’s who is dealing with stress. Melanie Gentry; Wayne Phlegar; Ray and Darnel Barns, Gil Richardson, Jamie Cole, Tim Elder and Jim and Mary Smith. Ask the guidance of God for our graduates as they plan their future.
Today is Super Sunday. Stay and enjoy the fellowship meal in the annex following the service.
Congratulations to our graduates. Laura Hogan graduated from Hollins University. Logan McRoy graduated for James Madison, and Garrett Williams from Virginia Western.
Sometimes the best laid plans of mice and men astray. Such is the banquet for our graduates.
May had conflicts with Mother’s Day and other logistical issues. June presented Father’s Day as well as other time related problems. Let’s remember those who attend the Super Sunday meal with a big hurrah!
Thanks to Susan and Lyn Jordan, along with Lyn or Susan’s sister, who gave Martha Albert, Holly Wagner and others a day off for Mother’s Day. ALSO: Thanks to a crew of folks who regularly pick up and deliver the Panera bread to the Rescue Mission.
THE ANNEX LIGHTS
We have had lighting problems in the annex for some time. The patchwork is no longer working so we will be making the change as soon as we can find an electrician to do the work. New lights will be installed in such a fashion so they can be serviced easier.
The Wagner’s are away today. Thanks to Wayne Flora for delivering the morning message.