The Doc File

The online journal of Luke Dockery

Page 3 of 121

Small Church Strengths

Over the weekend, I had the privilege of doing a Youth In Family Ministry Seminar at the Nicholasville Church of Christ, in Nicholasville, Kentucky. The Nicholasville church is a small (Sunday attendance in the 90s) but vibrant community of believers, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with them.

Also, my time with them prompted me to reflect on church size, and how congregations of different sizes have different strengths and challenges. We live in a society that tends to default to the “bigger is better” mentality, but I don’t think this is necessarily true. On the contrary, I think small churches have some real advantages.[1] I don’t pretend to be an expert on small churches by any means, but I wanted to share some of those thoughts with you:

  • Small churches naturally foster relationships. This is maybe the characteristic that people think of first, and I think it is true. It is much easier to get to know people and establish close relationships in smaller groups. This is why a lot of larger congregations begin some sort of small group ministry—they realize that they have lost a feeling of intimacy, and so they intentionally become smaller to make that intimacy possible again. One of the key components of the youth ministry philosophy I believe in is that it is vital that young people form genuine relationships with as many mature Christians from the congregation as possible. This happens with a great deal of care and planning in larger congregations; it happens naturally in smaller ones.[2]
  • Small churches can more easily focus on what they’re good at. I work with a wonderful congregation of about 230, and we have grown quite a bit over the last five years or so. We have a lot of talented people and a lot of big ideas. Sometimes, though, we can get distracted by trying to do too many things at the same time, rather than just focusing on a few things that we do really well.[3] Alternatively, in my experience, because smaller churches know they don’t have the resources and manpower to try everything, they can focus instead on doing fewer things better. I am aware of small congregations that have been remarkably effective at supporting missions, training preachers, reaching out to their surrounding communities, and more.
  • Small churches can be very generous. As churches grow in size, they tend to require additional staff and additional space, and both of these can be very expensive. When a sizeable portion of the church budget is tied up in salaries and building payments, it is hard to be as giving to others as you would like. Because smaller churches tend to have smaller, older facilities that are often paid off to go along with a small paid staff (supported by many volunteers), they frequently have a higher percentage of their communal funds to give away in support of missionaries and those who are in need.

I am sure there are other benefits as well, but these were some that quickly came to mind for me. What did I miss?

Small churches come with their share of challenges as well, so I don’t want to idealize them and make it seem like small churches are perfect or that larger congregations are somehow inferior. But in a cultural moment where it can be easy to overlook small things, I wanted to highlight some real strengths.


[1] How big is a “small church”? It depends on who you ask. For the purposes of this post, I am thinking of churches that are smaller than 100 people or so, but I am not thinking in terms of rigid categories.

[2] As I met with members from the Nicholasville church over the weekend, one of the endearing characteristics that I kept noticing was how everyone kept referring to different young people in the congregation by their first names, and everyone else knew who they were talking about. There was no need for clarification because the adults knew the kids and teens. This would not be the case in larger congregations.

[3] When it comes to this particular problem, I (to channel the apostle Paul) am the chief of sinners.

Book Review: A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

With today being Martin Luther King Jr. day, I thought it would be an appropriate time to post a review of one of the last (and best) books I read last year: A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.edited by Clayborne Carson and Kris Shepard. The book is a product of the King Papers Project, which seeks to share information about King’s life and ideas.

Of course, King is an iconic figure in our society, but like many Americans, I have probably been guilty of assuming that I know him better than I do, when really, I have just heard the “I Have a Dream” speech several times, read lots of quotations from him, and learned about him in school. This book, which provides the transcripts of eleven of his most significant speeches, represents the beginning of an effort on my part to better understand the life and thinking of this profoundly important and complex character.

One of the things that I liked about reading King’s speeches firsthand is that it reminded me that he was, first and foremost, a preacher. His speeches possess the rhythm and cadence of well-crafted sermons, and are saturated with biblical allusions and the prophetic call for justice. King’s speeches feature not only beautiful eloquence but profound theological insight.

Here are some of my favorite quotations; I will include the page numbers from the book, as well as the speech from which the quotations came (and I omitted any quotes from I Have a Dream; I figured they would be familiar already):

“And certainly, certainly, this is the glory of America, with all of its faults. This is the glory of our democracy. If we were incarcerated behind the iron curtains of a Communistic nation we couldn’t do this. If we were dropped in the dungeon of a totalitarian regime we couldn’t do this. But the greatest glory of American democracy is the right to protest for right.” (9, Address to the First Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) Mass Meeting)

“The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community. The aftermath of nonviolence is redemption. The aftermath of nonviolence is reconciliation. The aftermath of violence are emptiness and bitterness. This is the thing I’m concerned about. Let us fight passionately and unrelentingly for the goals of justice and peace. But let’s be sure that our hands are clean in this struggle. Let us never fight with falsehood and violence and hate and malice, but always fight with love, so that, when the day comes that the walls of segregation have completely crumbled in Montgomery, that we will be able to live with people as their brothers and sisters. Oh, my friend, our aim must not be to defeat Mr. Engelhardt, not to defeat Mr. Sellers and Mr. Gayle and Mr. Parks. Our aim must be to defeat the evil that’s in them.” (32-33, The Birth of a New Nation)

“And this is the peace that we are seeking: not an old negative obnoxious peace which is merely the absence of tension, but a positive, lasting peace, which is the presence of brotherhood and justice. And it is never brought about without this temporary period of tension.” (35, The Birth of a New Nation)

“There is something in our Christian faith, at the center of it, which says to us that Good Friday may occupy the throne for a day, but ultimately it must give way to the triumphant beat of the drums of Easter.” (54, Give Us the Ballot)

“For nonviolence not only calls upon its adherents to avoid external physical violence, but it calls upon them to avoid internal violence of spirit. It calls on them to engage in that something called love. And I know it is difficult sometimes. When I say “love” at this point, I’m not talking about an affection emotion. It’s nonsense to urge people, oppressed people, to love their oppressors in an affectionate sense. I’m talking about something much deeper. I’m talking about a sort of understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill for all men.” (67, Freedom Rally in Cobo Hall)

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.” (107, Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech)

“And so I plead with you this afternoon as we go on ahead: remain committed to nonviolence. Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man but to win his friendship and understanding. We must come to see that the end we seek is a society of peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. And that will be a day not of the white man, not of the black man. That will be the day of man as man.” (130, Selma to Montgomery March).

“What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic…it is precisely this collision of immoral power with powerless morality which constitutes the major crisis of our times.” (186-87, Where Do We Go From Here?)

“And the other thing is, I’m concerned about a better world. I’m concerned about justice; I’m concerned about brotherhood. I’m concerned about truth. And when one is concerned about that, he can never advocate violence. For through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can‘t murder murder. Through violence you may murder a liar, but you can’t establish truth. Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can’t murder hate through violence. Darkness cannot put out darkness; only light can do that.

And I say to you, I have also decided to stick with love, for I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind’s problems. And I’m going to talk about it everywhere I go. I know it isn’t popular to talk about it in some circles today. And I’m not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love; I’m talking about a strong, demanding love. For I have seen too much hate. I’ve seen too much hate on the faces of sheriffs in the South. I’ve seen hate on the faces of too many Klansmen and too many White Citizens’ Councilors in the South to want to hate, myself, because every time I see it, I know that it does something to their faces and their personalities, and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear. I have decided to love.” (191-92, Where Do We Go From Here?)

I know I shared a lot of quotations here, but really, it is only a taste: this is a rich collection of great thoughts from one of our nation’s most influential leaders.

For my reviews in 2019, I want to begin the practice of ending each one by giving a recommendation as to whether or not I think the book in question is one that I think others should check out. In the case of A Call to Conscience, I found it to be an emotional and profound read, and my verdict is an easy one: read it.

Reading and Walking in 2018

In April 2013, I started walking laps around the church auditorium while studying or reading. I found this helped me to focus better, and also it was a good way to be a little less sedentary while at work.

Each lap around the auditorium is approximately 74 yards:

I did not think I would be able to repeat my gaudy totals from 2017, but I was hoping to walk 500 miles again in 2018. Without further ado, here are my totals for the year:

Total Laps in 2018: 13,028

Distance per Lap: approximately 74 yards

Total Distance in 2018: 547.8 miles

Total Distance to date: 2532.0 miles

In 2018, I went from Hampton, New Hampshire to Bangor, Maine, then across Vermont to Burlington, and finally out to Lake Placid, New York.

I was correct in thinking that my 2017 total would be hard to repeat, but I was pleased that I was able to accumulate over 500 miles again. Hoping for another 500 in 2019!

Reading in 2018

It’s that time of year again, when people talk about their reading from the previous year and the best books they read. As someone who (a) tries to thoughtfully reflect on things and (b) obsessively keeps lists of things, I always enjoy reading lists from other people and sharing my own.

Here is my own list from 2018:

  1. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J.K. Rowling
  2. Beneath a Scarlet Sky, by Mark Sullivan
  3. Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense, by N.T. Wright
  4. Martin Luther: Selections from his Writings, edited by John Dillenberger*
  5. The Marburg Colloquy, edited by Hermann Sasse
  6. The Knowledge of God the Creator (from Institutes of the Christian Religion), by John Calvin
  7. The Necessity of Reforming the Church, by John Calvin
  8. The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius, translated by Anthony Mottola*
  9. The Racovian Catechism*
  10. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J.K. Rowling
  11. The Reasonableness of Christianity, by John Locke
  12. A Discourse of Miracles, by John Locke
  13. Proposals to Correct Conditions in the Church in Pia Desideria, by Philip Jacob Spener
  14. Decision Points, by George W. Bush
  15. Divorce, by John R.W. Stott
  16. Afro-American Religious History: A Documentary Witness, edited by Milton C. Sernett*
  17. Woman in the Pulpit, by Frances Willard*
  18. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J.K. Rowling
  19. Jesus: A Study of the Life of Christ, by Shane Robinson
  20. The Five Books of Moses & The Former Prophets, by Bibliotheca
  21. The Making of George Washington, by William H. Wilbur
  22. Creating a Lead Small Culture: Make Your Church a Place Where Kids Belong, by Reggie Joiner, Kristen Ivy, and Elle Campbell
  23. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J.K. Rowling
  24. The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible, by Michael S. Heiser
  25. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling
  26. The Story of Christianity, Volume 2: The Reformation to the Present Day, by Justo L. Gonzalez
  27. The Faith of the Presidents, by Anne Schraff
  28. Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible, by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien
  29. The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin’s Russia, by Tim Tzouliadis
  30. The Latter Prophets, by Bibliotheca
  31. Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House About the Future of Faith in America, by Michael Wear
  32. Havana Bay, by Martin Cruz Smith
  33. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
  34. Go Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee
  35. A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology, by J. Richard Middleton
  36. The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace: God’s Antidotes for Division within the Churches of Christ, by Jay Guin
  37. Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman?, by Eleanor Updale
  38. The Perilous Road, by William O. Steele
  39. History and Background of the Institutional Controversy, by Steve Wolfgang
  40. Crispin: the Cross of Lead, by Avi
  41. The Ghost Hollow Mystery, by Page Carter
  42. Letters To The Church, by Francis Chan
  43. The Writings, by Bibliotheca
  44. Significant Others: Understanding Our Non-Christian Neighbors, by Monte Cox
  45. Alexander Campbell, Apostle of Truth, by William Blake
  46. The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place, by Andy Crouch
  47. The Great Divorce, by C.S. Lewis
  48. How To Be A Perfect Christian: Your Comprehensive Guide To Flawless Spiritual Living, by The Babylon Bee
  49. Priceless, by Jeremy Myers
  50. The Apocrypha, by Bibliotheca
  51. The New Testament, by Bibliotheca
  52. A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., edited by Clayborne Carson and Kris Shepard
  53. Discovering Our Roots: The Ancestry of Churches of Christ, by C. Leonard Allen and Richard T. Hughes
  54. Traces of the Kingdom, by Keith Sisman

A few observations before I talk about my favorite books of the year:

  • My reading total increased from 52 books in 2017 to 54 books in 2017. And this included a couple of very large volumes of 650-800 pages. I see other people who read 100 books or more a year, but at this stage of my life, it seems that somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 is my limit.
  • I enjoyed my reading in 2018 more than in 2017.
  • There were two big disappointments in my reading this past year. The first was the Bibliotheca series, which I used to do my daily Bible reading in 2018. There was a lot of fanfare about this translation when it came out, and indeed, it has many admirable qualities: an elegant typeface, beautiful binding, and a page layout that should lend itself to readability. However, the translation itself was wooden and awkward, and I simply did not enjoy it at all. Also, Traces of the Kingdom was a book that I had looked forward to for a few years, but I really struggled with it. Although the author puts you in touch with some extraordinarily rare primary sources that are hundreds of years old, the writing is poor, and much of the logic and argumentation is stretched. It was a disappointment.

My favorite books from 2018.

Regarding my Top 10 books for the year, here are some brief thoughts on those (presented in order of when I read them, not ranked 1-10):

  • Beneath a Scarlet Skyby Mark Sullivan: This is a novel, based on a true story, set in WWII Italy. It is a gripping tale of a teenage boy seeking to navigate the warring factions of Nazis, Mussolini’s Fascists, Allied forces, resistance fighters, partisans, and the Catholic church. It is a gripping tale and compelling read. Fans of All The Light We Cannot See will appreciate this book, which is better.
  • Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Senseby N.T. Wright: N.T. Wright is the preeminent living Christian thinker, and this is his basic presentation of the Christian faith (it has been called the Mere Christianity for modern times). In my opinion, nothing that Wright writes is truly “simple,” so, despite his intentions, I can’t say that this is the easiest read for the average Christian, but it is a great book.
  • The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bibleby Michael S. Heiser: Heiser makes the basic claim that modern believers do not read/hear the Bible in the way that ancient believers did, who believed in a robust array of spiritual beings who operate “unseen” and greatly influence the lives that we experience. This becomes the prevailing paradigm for how he interprets Scripture, and especially if you are not familiar with the biblical motif of the Divine Council, much of what he says will shock you. Ultimately, I think Heiser draws some conclusions that are not warranted, but on the whole, I think he makes a very compelling case. This book has been somewhat of a game-changer for me.
  • The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin’s Russiaby Tim Tzouliadis: During the Great Depression, thousands of down-on-their-luck Americans were lured to Stalinist Russia with the promise of work and prosperity available to all in the Communist Utopia. Within a few short years, they (along with millions of others) would be killed in the Stalinist purges and, adding to the tragedy, they were largely abandoned by the US government. Not to get too political in a brief book review, but in an era when I increasingly witness many people (especially those generally around my age or younger) pay lip service to the idea that socialism and even communism are benign or even preferable politico-economic systems, this was an important read for me. When it came to murdering people, Stalin made Hitler look like an amateur, and I don’t say that lightly.
  • A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatologyby J. Richard Middleton: Middleton argues that the Biblical text teaches that God will redeem and restore His creation and will dwell with His people for eternity on a New Heaven and New Earth. This is not some form of premillennialism, but neither is it the popular notion of the Christian hope being getting to escape from this earth and “go to heaven when we die.” This interpretation will be challenging for some, but I am convinced that this perspective is fundamentally correct, and Middleton’s treatment of it is excellent.
  • Letters To The Churchby Francis Chan: This was a convicting read for me. Chan is a Restorationist’s Restorationist, and this book basically encourages Christians to thoughtfully return to the model of the church as described in the pages of Scripture. Simply put, there are some basic ways of “doing church” that really need to be evaluated and, quite possibly, jettisoned. This book left me uneasy in a good way.
  • Significant Others: Understanding Our Non-Christian Neighbors, by Monte Cox: Dr. Cox was one of my favorite teachers at Harding, and this book is basically a written version of his “Living World Religions” class (one of my favorite classes). It is a helpful overview of various world religions, and would make an excellent resource for a Bible class.
  • The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Placeby Andy Crouch: Technolgy is increasingly present in our lives, and for all of its positive benefits, there are negative side effects as well. Crouch offers some helpful (and at times, extreme) perspective on how families should treat technology and strive to create home environments that cultivate wisdom and courage.
  • The Great Divorceby C.S. Lewis: I’m not sure that I have ever read something by Lewis that I didn’t like, but this is one of my favorites. Lewis’ allegorical take on hell is, in my opinion, both brilliant and helpful.
  • A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., edited by Clayborne Carson and Kris Shepard: I had really not read/heard much from Dr. King before, other than his “I Have a Dream” speech or snippets of quotations from other sources, and that was a mistake, because King’s speeches evidence not only beautiful eloquence, but also profound theological insight. I plan to do additional reading from (and on) Dr. King in the future.

That was my reading for 2018. For comparison’s sake if you are interested, you can see my reading lists from previous years:

As always, I have a bunch of books lined out to read in 2019, and am already in the midst of two good ones right now.

What are some of the best books you read this past year?

*Books that I did not read in their entirety, but read significant portions of.

2018 Blog Review

When I remember to, I like to do year-end reviews here on The Doc File, and so before we move on to the new year, here are some brief reflections on what occurred in this space in 2018.

I only blogged 20 times this year, down from 26 in 2015, 27 in 2016, and 28 in 2017. Only blogging 20 times throughout the course of the year is disappointing to me, and I have plans to do better in 2019. At the same time, I have been doing this long enough to know that of all of my resolutions for the new year, my blogging resolutions seem to be the hardest for me to keep. 🙂

By traffic totals, here are my most-read posts during 2018:

  1. Moral Evil and Natural Evil, February 24, 2015
  2. The Emergence of Ancient Israel in the Land of Canaan, December 10, 2015
  3. The Role And Character Of Elihu In The Book Of Job, December 3, 2010
  4. Creation and New Creation: Connections Between Genesis and Revelation, April 25, 2017
  5. It Is Not The Lord’s Supper That You Eat: The Socio-Historical Context of 1 Corinthians 11.17-34, April 4, 2016

Something that you may notice about each of these posts: I didn’t actually write any of them this year! Perhaps that says something about the quality of what I wrote this year, but I prefer to think of it as some of these older posts having continued relevance and staying power. Also, three of the five posts are actually versions of research papers, so I like that people are reading and engaging with posts that are not fluff (I try not to write much of that anyway!).

As far as posts that I actually wrote in 2018, here are the most popular:

  1. Two Graduations: What My Special Needs Daughter Taught Me About Following Jesus, June 7, 2018
  2. Reading in 2017, January 5, 2018
  3. Scripture As Story, September 4, 2018
  4. Scripture As Story: A Literary Masterpiece, September 17, 2018
  5. Harding University Lectureship Recap, October 5, 2018

The “Two Graduations” post was a reflective piece I wrote about finishing grad school and my daughter Kinsley, and was probably my favorite post from this year. I also enjoyed writing the Scripture As Story series, and two of those posts made the top five. Every year I share about books that I read the previous year, and that post tends to get some traction, and rounding out the top five were my reflections on the Harding University Lectureship, which was more popular than I expected.

I have some plans for what I want to do here at The Doc File in 2019, but I will save those for a separate post. In the meantime, thanks to everyone who reads my scribblings here. This has been an invaluable space for me to process my own thoughts on various topics, and from the gracious feedback I continue to get from readers, it is of some benefit to others as well. This is humbling and encouraging to me. Thanks for reading in 2018, and I look forward to continuing the discussion next year!

« Older posts Newer posts »

© 2019 The Doc File

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑