The Next Great Dispersion

On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. (Acts 8:1b)

Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went (Acts 8:4)

We were discussing this chapter in Acts Sunday morning during Bible class, and since I wasn’t leading the class I was able to meditate more.  Many thoughts came to mind that I decided it would be best not to share.  They were subversive thoughts, much like my political opinions/jabs which are at least half-serious.

What the church needs is more persecution.  Another Great Dispersion.

Should I pray for life to get hard for Christians in Texas, Arkansas, and Tennessee so that more would move up north or–gasp!–even into foreign countries?

One of our older ladies whose brother is a retired preacher in Alabama tells her that young preachers don’t want to leave the South.  Just one man’s opinion but seems to be the case.

My own grandfather, a retired preacher, continually asks me about moving back to preach in the South, as if it were preferable.  I don’t understand why.  I am not saying it’s preferable, more admirable here, just wondering why we should prefer the region with the most churches.  Maybe it’s the corporate, ladder-climbing mentality of working my way up to a big strong church in the south as the goal of every preacher. *sigh*

Oh sure, there are thousands who need the gospel in those regions, but outnumbering the lost often leads to resentment and there would still be plenty to get the job done if half the brethren uprooted.

It seems the early Christians were content to stay in Jerusalem even though Jesus had said that his Gospel would spread to Samaria and all parts of the world.  His people weren’t in a hurry.  It took persecution before they moved to the next part of the plan.

I wonder if God still does that today.  Pushes us.  More than a gentle nudge.  Shoves us out of the nest so we act and do His Will.

—————————————————

And I often think about the pros and cons of Christian schools.  They are a great, safe place for our youth.  I am the product of two Christian universities which I appreciate.

But are they ideal?  Are they the most effective way to accomplish God’s purpose, or is it really a matter of “the ends justifies the means” or a “necessary ‘evil'”?  Is it one more example of outsourcing parenting and outsourcing the ministry of the local church?  Maybe it frees up local congregation to debate petty matters and in-fight.

What if there were more Christian people at state universities?  On the front lines of the battlefield.  Sure, they would need to be mature and strong in their faith but how does secluding ourselves help the big picture?

What if we could send faithful young men and women into state schools instead of immature and weak kids to Christian universities?

Or are we isolating our best young disciples at a few campuses while the rest of the world goes to hell?

What if more of our schools closed down?  Would the dispersion be the end of the church or would it be a blessing to the world?  At the very least, I don’t think it’s black and white.

I realize these are shocking statements but these are the types of things I think about.

What are your thoughts? Besides the obvious benefits of Christian education.

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21 thoughts on “The Next Great Dispersion

  1. Adam Gonnerman

    Regarding dispersion, God will do what he sees as best. For all I criticize the churches below the Mason-Dixon, many of them are power-houses when it comes to funding missions. They might not be leaving their stronghold en masse, but good work is being supported by churches and individual Christians down that way (oh, and don’t forget the ones in the Republic of Texas!).

    As for Christian colleges, I’m glad they exist. The Bible colleges and Christian liberal arts universities serve a useful purpose. I’ll be glad to send my kids to those types of colleges, if at all possible. As for secular campuses, there are many campus ministries. Besides the strong work still being done by the somewhat reformed ICOC churches, there are good ministries on campus through the independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ and a cappella churches. More can always be done, of course, but I don’t think they’re being entirely neglected.

  2. Being a minister in the north, I have some of the same thoughts. Look at the lineup at any major lectureship/seminar and see how many speakers are from areas outside Tennessee, Arkansas and Texas. Look at how Rochester College struggles while Harding, Lipscomb and ACU have monstrous endowments.

    But then, maybe I’m no different. I’m in the north because this is where I’m from, I like it here and I’m comfortable here (I lived in the south for a while and did not like it). I don’t know the answer, but I think we need to talk about it.

    I do take some pride in the fact that one of the top preachers in our tribe (Patrick Mead) ministers in the north!

  3. Jeanne M.

    I was born in Texas, lived there for 37 years. Thought I would live and die there. The Lord had other plans. We moved to Massachusetts with an Exodus group in 1967 to start a congregation of the Lord’s church. My husband was an elder who was constantly called on for counseling. After 7 years, because he felt he didn’t know enough about the Bible, we moved to Lubbock so he could attend Sunset School of Preaching. We never considered staying in Texas, or the south, even with the urging of family there. He became “enamored” to preach, and we moved to NJ (near where Brian preaches) with another Exodus congregation. After five years we moved to Northern PA where we stayed 10 years, then moved to Philadelphia area where we stayed 12 years until he retired at 75 years of age. Our two children consider themselves Northerners, even though they, too, were born in Texas. Because of family moves to VA and FL, we moved to NC to be somewhat nearer them. We have never lost our love for those in the NE. I have written all this, as background for what I believe is one major problem of men not moving North – wives don’t want to leave Mother and family, even though the man would be willing to go wherever needed in the NE. This is not a put-down on women, but an observation made through the 40+ years in the NE. Sometimes the family needs to move back south because of parents’ health issues. But the major drawback to moving to the NE is financial. Sadly very few churches can afford to support a preacher with a family and the wife has to work outside the home.

    And Patrick has often mentioned how he and Kami need to be where it is warmer for health reasons, but they are dedicated to staying there for the foreseeable future, even with that first grandson in Nashville. That is what it really takes – dedication to serving where needed.

  4. Jeanne M.

    In response to Christian colleges and the need for them, my daughter graduated from Lubbock Christian College (now Univetrsity), and I believe she gained a very good education, and a healthy desire for mission work. She married a Sunset student, who came from California. They lived there one year, and she became “homesick” for the NE. Since they were not exactly happy in CA, they packed up “all their earthly possessions” and moved to NJ, where we were living. He preached for a church in northern NJ for 17 years, then another 9 in south Jersey because moving to Florida (another story). Their two daughrs and son graduated from Harding. The son then moved back to Philadelphia area, and now lives in Brooklyn – claiming he is a true Northeasterner. But he is not married, and works two jobs just to live there. The cost of living in the NE is so much more than in the south.

    Unfortunately there are not many faithful men in the NE who are known in the south, to be invited to speak at the lectures, seminars and other events in the south, and the events can’t be afforded in the NE.

  5. brian

    thanks, jeanne, appreciate your wisdom and experience

    adam, no disagreements about the positive benefits, just wondering about the quiet negatives

    jeff, you are a native missionary, those are the best kind

  6. Brian,

    The provincialism of our fellowship has long been a sore point with me. I grew up (and currently live) in Northern Virginia; one of many areas throughout our country where churches of Christ are statistically insignificant. When I started at one of our schools, I was shocked when people asked me what church I attended, not realizing at first that there were several very large churches of Christ in a not very large town. To say that I experienced culture-shock is an understatement.

    Your post asks two questions, about the “quiet negatives” of our provincialism and our Christian schools. I can think of several negatives on both counts, but I don’t want to hi-jack your blog so I will stick to what I find to be the most disturbing consequences:

    We tend to neglect domestic church-planting. It is easy to forget that the unchurched (and by that I mean completely unchurched, not just non-C of C) population in the US is probably the fastest-growing demographic. We need to do some serious catch-up and realize that “evangelism” is no longer about arguing Biblical minutiae with people from other denominations, but rather arguing on why they should trust the Bible at all.

    A Christian college education often has the exact inverse effect of its intentions. Instead of producing servant leaders who are strong in the faith and growing, our colleges are producing a lot of spiritually soft people who have no idea how to navigate a post-Christian society. They don’t know how to protect and reinforce their faith against secular influence and they tend to fixate on the trivial – the so-called “war on Christmas” or jokes made by some stand-up comic. Living in a nominally Christian-dominated culture tends to produce an air of religious entitlement.

    I once heard a Christian college president tell a church group: “100% of our high school graduates should be going to Christian colleges.” This strikes me as figuratively spitting in the faces of our campus ministries at public schools. Don’t we realize that not everyone can afford the cost of one of our schools? And what about those who simply don’t think that it is wise to go into a staggering amount of debt?

    Also, in my experience, the campus culture of Christian colleges tends to promote a very unhealthy focus on externals; as the old saying goes, “Don’t cuss, drink, smoke, chew, or date girls that do.” Though no one would say it out loud, the thinking seemed to be that if one avoids those behaviors then one has a healthy relationship with Christ. I knew plenty of people who would never think of doing those things but were choking on their own sanctimony and self-satisfaction.

    I shouldn’t generalize, and as I stated above I got my undergraduate degree at a Christian school, so I guess that I was part of the problem. However, having to go to a state school for my graduate degree was very much a faith-testing and, as a result of those tests, faith-building experience for me. If I ever go back to full-time ministry, it will be as a campus minister.

    Sorry for the ramble. I sorted this out as I wrote.

  7. Maybe I’m an ostrich with my head in the ground. I was born in Mississippi. I have spent all of my life living in Mississippi and Louisiana (except for three months in Arkansas and a few months in Indiana when I was a toddler). I don’t think of myself as purposefully staying down South. I am purposefully staying near (within driving distance) of family, and I think that’s a fine motive. Anyhow… I don’t see any glory in being up North or down South. I do appreciate all of the work being done by God’s people around the globe.

  8. brian

    not trying to pick on anyone or make people feel guilty, I agree with “no glory north or south” but thinking about the masses in some of the larger southern towns and jealous.

    I don’t think less of you for serving in areas where you are from, we need that as well

  9. Adam Gonnerman

    One more thing I’m mulling over regarding region and colleges is the question of sending kids out of the area to college. Obviously it’s advantageous for a young person if she has a scholarship to a good Christian university in a field she likes and for which she has an aptitude. In that case it makes sense to go out of the area (we’re talking across country) for college.

    All other things being equal, though, I’d prefer it if my children stayed in the area where we live to go to college. By that I mean no more than a day’s drive. I tend to think (someone correct me if I’m wrong) that there’s a tendency for college students, particularly Christians, to marry and settle more or less where they went to school. I know it isn’t 100%, but I’ve observed it in practice often enough to not be able to ignore it.

    If what I described is the case, living here in NJ my strong preference would be for my kids to go either to Mid-Atlantic (in North Carolina) or Ohio Valley (in West Virginia). Both are roughly 8 hours driving distance from where we live. Far enough to experience freedom, not so far as to lose touch with where they’re from. Alternatively, I’d consider local state college if there was a really strong campus ministry.

    Ultimately a number of factors will work together to make the decision. I can only hope and pray for the best for my kids and for the reign of Christ in this part of the country.

  10. brian

    definitely another negative of Christian colleges, Adam,
    either because of marrying someone from that region or just having all there friends in that region, they choose to stay.

    not necessarily sinful, but it’s really the same as church swelling, when all the small country churches die because the members want to worship at the exciting/healthy church in town. Swelling

    we like safety in numbers, we are not willing to sacrifice family or friends, we want to live in a “christian” area/community

  11. brian

    let me put it this way so as not to sound like I am bashing every preacher in the south or every preacher who lives near family:

    has God really called the majority of his people to live in a few cities and states?????

    to accumulate or spread, that is the question

  12. Adam Gonnerman

    Brian,

    Mid-Atlantic Christian University (formerly Roanoke Bible College), affiliated with the independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, reportedly has a pretty good track record of sending people back into this area. Then again, historically people going there were training specifically for mission work. As I mentioned before, it’s only around 8 hours away. I don’t know how Ohio Valley University compares.

  13. @ JD:

    You’re right, and I probably overstated my point. In fact, my comment is choking a little bit on my own self-satisfaction.

    The importance of the gospel being preached is not contingent upon location, and I am grateful for a plurality of preachers and churches anywhere. In the wake of the chain of disasters that have struck throughout the South in recent years, the greater influence and efficacy of southern churches has helped to ease a lot of suffering and bring more glory to God. I guess that I just wish we had more pluralities (if that is a word) scattered around our country. It would help if a lot of the preaching students that come from other parts of the country returned to those parts and applied their training and talents in those places.

    And you are right – being near family is a completely understandable motive.

  14. I attended a 2 state schools to round out my undergraduate education. I found that I was stronger spiritually during this time than when I attended a Christian school for my master’s degree. However, I needed that cloistering as my world was opening up to hurting people in a new way, so it worked for me.

    I thrived at a state school. My sister, however, did not. I wish she’d gone to a Christian school. This has led me to believe it should be very situational. I hope my kids do spend some time at a state school. I hope I raise them to be discerning and brave and Kingdom focused.

    My husband and I are willing to go wherever God leads. Right now it is in Oklahoma. The only place we actively pray we don’t end up? Houston… =)

  15. A couple of thoughts…after realizing that God’s will (not mine) was not for me to venture into another country as a missionary (it’s a long story) but remain in the US as a congregational preacher/evangelist, I have tried to stay in the northern regions where congregations of the CoCs are smaller because I grew up in such a congregation and understand its dynamics a bit more from an insider’s position. I do know of preachers who are from the south and preach in the south…they probably are better equipped for such a region than I, so I hope their reason for remaining in the south is God’s calling and not some other self-serving motive.

    ***********

    As for Christian Colleges/Universities…I know that know college (Christian or secular) can replace the home/family in teaching a child about life. But the university will serve as an extension or as a complimentary partner, assuming that the university shares the same values and goals that a child’s parents/guardians have raised the child with. OR…the university can a tree that has grown for 18 or so years and chopp it down, undoing everything that has been taught to the child. That is because most colleges are doing much more than giving a child an academic education…they are educating them about life – the story they will live out of, the values that are part of that story, etc…

    I preached for 2 years in a town where an Ivy League university was located and I have seen first hand the “life education” they are trying to teach…no thanks. No matter how prestegious their academic credentials are, I don’t want my children being taught what they have to offer. And there are some CoC universities that discust me from the other side of the spectrum because they seemed more interested in indoctrinating a child to their denominational belief than shape a faith that is loyal to Jesus even if it does not look like a traditional CoC.

    What I want in a university for my children (which is a ways off) is a college that will help my children to see the world through the eyes of God, to see how God is at work in the world through his Son Jesus and his church, to understand the values necessary for that God work in whatever vocational endeavors are persued, so that my children who I am trying to raise in the mission of God will become even further equipped for that mission.

    Sorry for the long comment but your post has me thinking… This is a needed conversation.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  16. Jeanne M.

    Sadly another drawback to being in the Northeast, or any area where the church is not strong, is that the preacher is everything to the church – evangelist, hospital visiting, newcomer visiting, opening the building for the exterminator or other worker who needs in the building, sometimes even building cleaning, etc. etc. He is also the only counselor unless by “some miracle” there are men qualified to be elders. This was one of the reasons my husband retired, at 75. He loved being an evangelist, but grew tired of the administrative needs of the church. In the south, in the larger churches, there is a plurality of people to do all the above.

  17. Adam Gonnerman

    Jeanne,

    My last (and I DO mean “last”) full-time ministry was with a church in the southwest. Your one-man-band description of preachers applied to me there as well.

    Still, 75? That’s pretty darn good!

  18. brian

    i bet our Lord is laughing in heaven at that “LAST” comment;

    maybe definitive statements like that seem to get God’s and Satan’s attention.

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