Dr. Theodore F. Adams was the legendary pastor of Richmond’s First Baptist Church from 1936 to 1968, and president of the Baptist World Alliance from 1955 to 1960. He was on the cover of Time Magazine December 5, 1955. Almost 50 years after leaving the First Baptist pulpit, he is still revered.
The 1950’s were a booming era for churches. And those churches that also had a gifted pastor like Ted Adams were busting at the seams. I’ve heard some of the old-timers recall that all you had to do was open the doors and get out of the way. The pews were filled every Sunday.
A lot of churches that boomed in the 50’s are struggling to survive these days. With dwindling congregations, aging buildings and an unhealthy measure of nostalgia, they’re trying to figure out how to bring back “the good old days.” They point to the mega churches, the embodiment of American success and wonder, “why can’t we be like that?”
That’s the situation for the fictional Eternal Hope Baptist Church of Homer, Alabama in our film SHOOTING THE PRODIGAL. They remember the good old days when the church’s founder, Brother Big Bob Cross presided over a thriving enterprise. But these days, there are lots of questions and few answers: How do we keep the young folks engaged? How are we going to keep the church doors open? And, of course, “What would Brother Big Bob do?”
Like those nostalgic board members in the film, I wonder if we’ve lost sight of the church’s true nature.
What’s the church for?
Eugene Peterson writes…
We look at what has been given to us in our Scriptures and in Jesus and try to understand why we have a church in the first place, what the church, as it is given to us, is. We are not a utopian community. We are not God’s avenging angels… Maybe the church as we have it provides the very conditions and proper company congenial for growing up in Christ, for becoming mature, for arriving at the measure of the stature of Christ. Maybe God knows what he is doing, giving us church, this church. (Practice Resurrection: A conversation on growing up in Christ. Eerdmans, 2010)
By the end of our movie, Brother Bob and some of the Eternal Hope congregation get it. They look around and see people, not issues. And they celebrate this milestone on their journey: the dawning realization that they are family! Others, like the Older Son in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son… and like some of the church board members in our story… stand outside the party with arms folded and lips pouched out, jealous and resentful.
The nature and work of the church is all about relationships… Christ-followers helping each other… and reaching out in loving, compassionate ministry to the people around us. Loving the people God loves.
“This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and celebrate!” (Psalm 118:24)