“What Restless Children and Church Decline Have in Common” By Hunter Williams

This may not come as a surprise to you, but being a parent of three kids under 4 years old comes with many challenges. The ceaseless questions, cries for snacks, and skinned knees require constant attention! One challenge we are currently facing is our son’s out-of-whack sleep schedule. He doesn’t have a problem with going to bed. He’s actually a pro at falling asleep quickly and on time. The main issue is that he likes to wake up REALLY early. No matter what time we put him down for bed, he is up the next morning before everyone else, screaming for mommy and daddy to come get him.

After several mornings of waking up before the sun, I started researching sleeping patterns to uncover the reason for my son’s early wake-up routine… and you know how searching for answers on the internet goes. I got dragged down the rabbit hole of endless medical articles that led me to discover some interesting facts about the human body’s smallest organ: the pineal gland.

This tiny organ (measuring at less than ¼ of an inch) has a big job, and that job is to produce melatonin, the hormone that helps us sleep. Without the help of this little organ, we would be restless, drowsy, and struggle to adapt to the changing seasons. These random facts led to a profound insight… not about my son’s sleeping habits… but about the future of the church.

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul uses the human body as an analogy of the church. Just as the body is made of different parts, so too, is the church made of different people with different gifts. Paul uses this analogy to confront lies that had crept into the church at Corinth. Many of these members saw themselves as more important than others, because they had greater social status or spiritual gifting that was deemed more significant and valuable. Paul corrects this misunderstanding through his comparison of the church and the body. Every single part of the human body is needed for it to thrive, no matter how small a part might be. The brain and heart are major players no doubt, but if they are detached from the other members, there isn’t much they can do. Thus, every member of the body is needed, even ones as small as ¼ of an inch.

The church is beautifully unique in the same way. It is made up of different people with different gifts, abilities, personalities, and skills. This diversity is by design. God has placed specific members within specific churches to fill specific needs at specific times in specific communities. This means that every member in a local church is indispensable, because they fulfill a particular role that no one else can. By the Spirit, each member is equipped with spiritual gifts to build up the church and empowered by His presence to proclaim Christ to the world. If members are refused opportunities to serve the church, it not only creates division but it can also lead to decline. After all, if an organ stopped functioning, it would lead the body to shut down. In the same way, if members of Christ’s body aren’t given space to function as God designed, then the church is causing itself to shut down.

As a person whose work focuses on child discipleship, I am led to wonder how this truth might change the way we view children in the church. If every person who puts their faith in Christ is indwelt by the Spirit, equipped with spiritual gifts, and empowered to proclaim the gospel, then why are children often treated as exceptions to these truths? Paul makes it clear that every member of the body of Christ drinks from and lives out of the same Spirit. This means that every member, no matter how small, has the same calling to build up the church and advance the gospel.

If members of Christ’s body aren’t given space to function as God designed, then the church is causing itself to shut down.

With that being said, let me ask you, “Do the children in your church serve the body in meaningful ways?” Oftentimes, children are seen as people to watch, teach and control, but if they are believers in your church, then they are much more than babies to be sat. They are fellow members that God has placed in your church to fill specific needs at this specific time. If they are refused opportunities to serve due to their age, size, or ability, then a portion of the body isn’t functioning in the way it was designed to serve, which can lead to decline.

This may sound intense, but think back to the pineal gland I mentioned earlier. It’s the smallest organ in the body but, despite its size, is invaluable to the function of the body. Without it, we would be restless, have disrupted memory, and suffer damaged vision.

When it comes to the body of Christ, I wonder how many churches find themselves restless, because they have denied the service of their smallest members. I wonder how many have disrupted memories of Christ’s faithfulness, because they have forgotten the important place children hold in their congregation. I wonder how many have damaged the vision of their church, because their littlest members aren’t seen as co-laborers in the gospel.

I know these are heavy questions, but if we take Paul’s words seriously, then we need to consider how we can encourage the entire body to serve in meaningful ways. This doesn’t mean that every member needs to teach, preach, or sing, but it does mean that every member should be given opportunities to serve within their specific gifting. How can you know which service opportunities best match a person’s gifting? Well, it starts by getting to know them. Discovering their passions, interests, and talents and connecting these things to the needs within your church. Do you have a child that is a people person? Let him be a greeter. Do you have a boy who is talkative? Have him give announcements. Do you have a girl that loves to read? Let her read an opening prayer at the start of the service. Do you have children that are crafty? Encourage them to use their craftiness to make gifts for the shut-ins at your church.

The list could go on and on, but here’s the point: thriving churches call every member of the body to serve regularly. This may seem difficult with your church’s current structure, but don’t be discouraged. Slight changes in the layout and times of a church service can make all the difference in creating space for others to serve. I know the word “change” can be scary, but little changes often lead the body (both the human body and the body of Christ) to growth and wellness. When we see the church as a body to serve rather than a service to attend, we will make the changes needed to function in healthy ways for the glory of God.

Thriving churches call every member of the body to serve regularly.

While I may not have found a remedy for my son’s sleeping issues, I think I may have gained an insight into the decline taking place within the church of America. With 6,000-10,000 churches closing a year and 50-60% of youth departing the church after graduation, I think we can all agree that there’s a problem. We could contribute the decline taking place to a variety of issues such as the pandemic, cultural changes, or persecution, but Jesus promised that hell’s weapons wouldn’t prevail against His church. If that is the case, then maybe much of the struggle and decline being experienced isn’t due to anything happening outside the church but within it. This isn’t to say pandemic and persecution aren’t contributing factors, but if the Lord of Lords is the head of the church, then it can’t be defeated… unless the body itself fails to represent its King.

Again, I’m not saying that churches haven’t had it unusually hard in the past few years, and I’m not saying there aren’t any churches who haven’t sought to be faithful during this time. What I am saying is that one of biggest helps to the church might be found within its smallest members. Because serving children and allowing them to serve not only leads to a healthy church today, but it builds strong bones for the body of Christ in the future. What if the way for churches to grow up is to look down, and what if the way forward requires stepping back in humility to see God work through unlikely people in extraordinary ways? If an organ that is a 1/3 of an inch long can make such a drastic difference in our bodies, then maybe a child, 1/3 the size of an adult, can make a difference in the body of Christ.

Like I said, I don’t know why my son keeps waking up early, and I may never discover the reason. One thing I do know for sure is that God has used waking children in the past to accomplish some pretty powerful things. What if God is using children today to wake up His church? It would be a shame to keep sleeping and miss it.

Women May Not Be Pastors – Here’s Why…

Regardless of your personal feelings, denominational traditions, what someone might have told you, or what our chaotic culture has to say, the Bible (God’s Holy Word) is crystal clear: Women may not be pastors. To be clear, they may not hold the title of pastor or exercise the duties of a pastor. They may not wield any sort of pastoral authority, influence, or impact in the church of God…Cue the enraged shrills of Satan and his seedlings! But no matter what you think or feel, the Bible is clear, women may not be pastors…

From the pastoral epistle, 1 Timothy 2:11-15, “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.” Offended? Mad as ever? Friend, you’re enraged against your Maker, not me…Women may not be pastors.

And then in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer [pastor], HE desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the HUSBAND of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. HE must manage HIS own household well, with all dignity keeping HIS children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage HIS own household, how will HE care for God’s church? HE must not be a recent convert, or HE may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, HE must be well thought of by outsiders, so that HE may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.” Notice it is only MALE pronouns that are used in this list of qualifications for a pastor. Don’t like that? Want to try to bypass the clarity of Scripture with your cultural gymnastics? Go ahead, but God’s Word is clear…Women may not be pastors.

With these Scriptures in mind, this is how I describe the situation to my lovely daughters…”Can Daddy give birth to children? The answer is no. Only Mommy can have children. Does that mean Mommy is better or more gifted than Daddy? The answer is no. It just means that in God’s good design, only Mommy can birth children, not Daddy. In the same way, only men can be pastors, not women. Does that mean men are better or more gifted than women? No! It just means in God’s good design, only men can be pastors, not women.”

And lest you think I’m a chauvinistic, male-power-hungry pig, just check out my wife and children. See how joyful and content they are! Notice the women of Prairie Flower Baptist Church. Notice how joyful and content they are! The beautiful evidence of biblical, properly administrated male eldership speaks for itself. But rage, rage, rage all you want…We’re ready for battle.

From the Desk of the Associate: Leave a Legacy

This past week, a senior saint passed into glory. His name was Milo Luers. Now I did not know Milo for very long. I first met him in February of 2019 when my family had come to our church to candidate for the associate pastor position I now hold. I had quoted a verse in the lesson that I had taught and Milo had recognized that I had quoted a passage out of the New King James Translation. He relayed to me that this was his favorite translation and that he appreciated my use of it. Though Milo had his preferences as we all do, I never experienced any negative feedback. In fact I never saw Milo with anything but a smile on his face. I for one can say he was nothing but a joy to be around.

Around January of 2020, Milo became somewhat of a shut-in. That winter the flu was running rampant and it was not a mild strain either. He decided to lay low for a couple months until spring came. Little did any of us know what events were about to transpire in the world at large. On March 15th 2020 we held our last church service before the main shutdowns. Like everyone else, we did not know exactly how the Covid-19 Pandemic was going to play out. Milo became a permanent shut-in at that point. As pastors, we did our best to try to shepherd our flock in those weeks that we were not meeting. Essentially, everyone became a shut-in for a short while. Once we started to come out of the lockdowns, it took a little bit for everyone to figure out the boundaries that each person was comfortable with. This caused some things to slip between the cracks that should not have.

It was probably in the fall of 2020 that I realized that Milo had fallen off my radar. I began to get updates from his family members on how he was doing. I kept telling myself that I needed to go pay him a visit. To my shame, I never seemed to make time to make that happen. The regular routines of ministry and life distracted me from connecting with this senior saint. And so the months stretched on.

In the late summer of 2021, Milo contracted Covid himself. Even in his older years everyone who knew him noted his remarkable vitality. He kept his independence far longer than most people his age. After he contracted Covid, though he recovered from the virus, he never really recovered his old strength. Soon after he moved in with his son Edwin. Now I could write paragraphs about the love, attention, and care that Edwin and his dear wife Rita gave to Milo. Suffice it to say that they were an amazing example of the way children should love and honor their parents even when they are grandparents themselves. I hope that I would be able to have a fraction of the patience to do the same for my parents when the need arrives.

I began to see less and less of Edwin and Rita as one of them always had to stay home with Milo. They would alternate Sundays and could rarely attend service together as they used to. When I would converse with them, I realized that they were exhausted from this extra burden but they never, ever complained. It was at this time that I had neglected my duty as Milo’s pastor for far to long. I went out to meet and talk with Milo who was completely bed ridden at this point. Now I will admit that I felt some awkwardness about what to talk about with this gentleman. I quickly realized though that this senior saint was facing the fight of his life. Not that he was holding on to dear life. He wasn’t. He relayed to me that he was ready to go home to be with his Lord, over and over again. I began visiting Milo every week from then on. I realized that I needed to be with him in his fight to wait patiently for the Lord’s timing. Instead of beginning the conversation with a “how are you feeling?” I would ask him about how the harvest was progressing. He was always ready to discuss his lifelong passion, farming. He told me all about how he had begun farming from a very young age. How God had blessed him and his family. I indeed would remind him of the wonderful things his children, grandchildren, and even great grandchildren were doing for God. How they were faithfully attending and serving in the church.

I would always end my visit with a request. I asked Milo if I could read some Scripture with him. He would always respond with a smile and the reply; “I wish you would!” I would then switch from my normal ESV to the NKJV and read passages like Romans Chapter 8 that say that the suffering of this present time will seem like nothing compared to the glory to come. Or 1 Corinthians 15, that speak of our resurrected body. After reading to Milo, I would then say, “can I pray with you?” He would again reply; “I wish you would!” We would then go to our Father’s throne and request strength for Milo’s remaining battle, we would intercede for our church, we would pray for his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. I would then leave and be reminded about eternity. I’m so thankful to have an example like Milo. He would never claim to be a perfect man. I however have a great deal of respect for the legacy he left behind in his commitment to his church, his family, and in the godly people he influenced throughout his life.

For my last visit with Milo, I decided to bring my guitar with me. Though I did not know it would be my last visit on this side of glory, I always went in with the expectation that it could be. When I interacted with Milo he was particularly weak. I could tell that he did not have long on this earth. I sang “How Great Thou Art,” and “It Is Well With My Soul.” I am told that when Milo was healthy, one of his favorite things to do was to sing the old hymns with his church family. It was hard to hold back to the tears when I sang “When I shall think, that God his Son not sparing, sent him to die, I scarce can take it in, that on that Cross, my burden gladly bearing, He bled and died to take away my sin.” How can you not be vividly reminded of the hope of the Gospel, when you sit next to a believer on their death bed? It is a powerful thing. We are so easily distracted by the busyness of life that we often forget that our only hope in life and death is Christ alone. Though Milo loved the old hymns so well, I thought I would venture to include a newer hymn and sing it to him. It is titled “Christ our hope in life and death.” If you don’t know it, I would strongly encourage you to listen to it. That song reminds us of the most important things of our faith.

After I was done singing to him, Milo responded in a faint voice that I could barely hear. He said, “you lied to us.” Confused I asked him what he meant. He said that when I candidated at the church, I had said that I didn’t have any real musical ability. I had to smile. Of course he would remember that from over two years before. I would still hold to the fact that I am not a good musician but I am thankful that I was able to use music one last time, to encourage this man with the truth of his hope and of his Savior.

Milo went home to be with the Lord this last Sunday. Even as I think about the this I am tearing up with joy to know that his prayers have been answered and his suffering is gone. He is singing again in a voice more beautiful than any on earth. And though he is gone, he left behind some of the biggest blessings in my life, in his descendants who are some of my dearest fellow workers in the ministry. May I leave a legacy as rich as what he left behind. May we all love God and teach our children to love him as well.

My Eighth Year As Pastor

Time flies. Next week, on Wednesday, Nov. 10, I will celebrate my eighth year as the Lead Pastor of Prairie Flower Baptist Church and enter into my ninth year of ministry. When I accepted the pastorate out here on the prairie, I said, “I promise to love you and lead you.” I am more committed than ever to loving and leading this incredible congregation here in southeast Iowa. For better or for worse, I’m here. I’m committed. I’m ready, by God’s grace and strength, for another year of life and ministry.

However, as I type this report out, I have such schizophrenic feelings. So much good is happening in our church family! Our church services are full of people hungry to hear the Word of God, Growth Groups is in full swing, our kids’ ministries are dynamic and exciting, and our building improvements have been nothing short of amazing. Indeed, with a pavilion project and sanctuary renovation project behind us, we are currently in the throes of a new siding project and a new church sign project. Exciting stuff! God is truly better to us than we deserve. On top of these things, several of us on the Leadership Team are engaged in a leadership development program called the Leadership Journey and we’re learning so much from the Word that will sharpen us as leaders in the home, church, and community. Time fails for me to fully explain all our plans for a South Africa Missions Trip in March of 2022, our Pastoral Internship Program for the Summer of 2022, and our ongoing Church Constitution Initiative. See what I mean?! So many good things are happening out here on the prairie!

But at the same time, the world, the flesh, and the Devil continue to make their dark and sinister advances. Yes, sin and selfishness are always percolating, even out here on the prairie, trying desperately to overtake our people with sweet lies of joy, peace, and freedom in living life independently of God and His Word. Indeed, some of our folks are so disconnected from the body that their drowning in the deep, icy, shark-infested waters of sin and selfishness. I fear for them. I pray for them. I’m pleading with them to take our hand, trust the promises of God, and take the narrow path towards true joy, peace, and freedom. At some of them, I’ve literally shouted, “You’re in deep sin. Watch out! ‘Sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.'” Some listen and humbly repent and make the bend towards change. Others scoff and say, “No. I hear you and I know you’re simply doing your job, but I’m not going to listen. I’m not going to change.” In fact, just recently, I wept in the home of a man who kicked me out of his home after he confessed to sexual immorality and a deep desire to continue in it. As I turned to leave, I read from 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteous.” His response? “I know I’m in sin. I know that I’m not following Christ. But I’m not going to change.” Tears streamed from my face as my body began to shake…See what I mean? There are truly some sad things happening out here on the prairie…

But we continue on. We trust our sovereign Christ. We remain committed to Scriptural truth. We fight our feelings with facts. We love on sinners. We offer the forgiveness of Jesus. And we always say, “I love you”, even as some people we say it to are ripping our hearts from our chest cavities. And then, we scarf down some food, work out, hit the sack, and then get back up to fight another day. Indeed, life and ministry is war. It’s a battle. It’s a fight. So, strap your armor of light on and beat back the darkness by representing truth, wisdom, and the beauty of grace amidst ashes. This is what we do as Christians, whether in the big city of Des Moines, IA or out in the rural prairie land of Washington, IA.

So, yeah, yay for another year of life and ministry. Cheers to year eight being done; and may God bless the ninth year in front of me. I usually give a list of lessons learned, but “ain’t nobody got time for that.” I got to get back to work. I got to get back to the fight. And so should you. Tired? We’re all tired. Need a break? We all need a break. Just keep going and let me encourage you…Mount up, shout truth, and try to enjoy the ride…To God be the glory.