Category Archives: Ministerial fluff

Pastor Discovers New Church Growth Method

Got Faith Community Church
Pastor Chip Smith has served as  pastor of the “Got Faith” Community Church in Barnesboro, Pennsylvania since 2004. Barnesboro is a small rural village located near Altoona, but since it is situated off the beaten path and has a declining population the church has  difficulty attracting new members.

The church was known for many years as Faith Community Church but Pastor Chip’s predecessor changed the name reckoning that a new, cool sounding name might attract more people.  But many in the area choose instead to drive to Horseshoe Curve Christian Center, a large mega church, on the outskirts of Altoona.

Computerized training babiesThe church growth idea began innocently enough but in retrospect Pastor Chip feels it was a sign from the Lord.  It was on a Sunday morning that  Mandy, a high school student, brought a computerized baby to the Morning Worship service as part of a parenting class weekend assignment. The “baby” was programmed to cry at specified times, intending to remind the student of the rigors of parental responsibilities.

The small congregation warmly welcomed the new baby. They refered to the baby as “it” since it was gender neutral from its external appearance giving passersby no indication of whether it was a he or she.  Mandy generally sat in a pew with her parents and grandparents, but the addition of a new baby made for an even warmer sight.

Mandy and family with babyFollowing the service many photos were snapped of the smiling  four generation family.  An older member quipped that it was refreshing to hear a baby cry (even if it was during the congregational Scripture reading).  He welcomed more of the same as he looked from one side to the other of adults gathered in the sanctuary.

The idea later hit Pastor Chip when he observed the offering and attendance slip prepared by the ushers. It stated the number of people in attendance and just below that number the ushers also added, “Computer Baby”.

“It was like a light that came on” chimed Pastor Chip when interviewed by our ALFN reporter. He had agonized over the slumping church attendance and then began to wonder if he might count the baby as part of the attendance.  After all, it did use the nursery services and it was publicly welcomed during the opening exercise. Then it hit him; why not invite more of the babies to church as a supplement to attendance?

TeacherHe called the local school and spoke to Ms. Frackville, the teacher of the parenting class. She was pleased to allow the babies to be used by the church during the summer vacation. She assumed the church would likewise use them for parenting classes. That summer the church had a sudden spike in attendance of 25, doubling the usual summer attendance. This bolstered Pastor Skip’s self-esteem and he was lauded by his pastor peers for the increase in church growth during the usual summer dog days of  church attendance.

But a looming crisis was on the horizon as the date was approaching for the new school year to begin. The babies needed to be returned.

After a bit of brainstorming Pastor Smith  went online but found that computerized babies were very expensive even if purchased “used”. However in a board meeting Frank Davis recalled a baby doll his sister played with as a child. It had a pull spring that uttered phrases such as, “I love you Mommy”;  “I want a drink of milk”; “Hold me Mommy”.  The board determined that this talking baby had enough human-like qualities  to count as a real baby toward church attendance and the good news was that these doll babies were available in both sexes and less expensive than the computerized models.

The church is now running 275 though admittedly a large number are now in the nursery. Buzz about the church’s growth began to spread in the small community about  Got Faith’s growing attendance so that the adult congregation has expanded as well.

The board did vote down a suggestion by Deacon George Zeal to purchase an entire lot of 1,500 beanie babies he found at clearance price on Ebay. They determined that the beanie babies just weren’t real enough to count toward legitimate attendance.

This prompted a church split with George departing to start his own church in  nearby Beantown which now reports an attendance of 1501. He named the new church,  “The Matthew 19:14  Church”.

Our ALF reporter interviewed several concerning this new innovative church growth method. Charles Harris, a long time professor of Bible, declared, “You’ve got to be kidding me!”

But James Logan of the Emerging Church Network lauded the concept as a creative way to see church growth. He referred to the Great Commission where it states, “Go into all the world” and asked, “What part of ‘all the world’ do you not understand?”

Pastor Chip is now in demand as a church growth specialist and has had the opportunity to speak at several large church growth conferences.

Mr. WonderfulAsked concerning future plans he said they are considering another means of growth; a life-like “Mr. Wonderful” his wife gave him  for Valentine’s Day several years ago. “Mr. Wonderful” is handsome with a big smile (big feet also.) When you press his cloth hand, in his distinguished deep male voice, he utters phrases like, “Honey, take all the time you want.  I don’t mind waiting for you one bit.” Or “You’re perfect JUST the way you are; I wouldn’t change ONE thing.”

Pastor Smith considers how having some Mr. Wonderfuls around might just prompt the men in the church to tend better to their marriages.  And who knows; perhaps taking couples to the next level will include the addition of a few Mrs. Wonderfuls who are known for such thoughtful expressions as, “Here Dear, you take the remote control.  Whatever you choose we’ll watch together.”

At the conclusion of the interview with our ALFN reporter Pastor Chip stated, “These are exciting times at Got Faith. It’s almost like we have a revival.”

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Dog receives ordination

Enoch

MY DOG ENOCH

“How many are your works, O LORD! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures” (Psalms 104:24). “But ask the animals, and they will teach you” (Job 12:7).

My first dog Suzy, whom I had since childhood, died shortly after we got married.*  My wife Brooksyne and I had both had dogs growing up and we wanted another dog. Neighbors in the rural area of southern Missouri we lived in had a litter of mixed breed pups they were trying to find good homes for and were giving away. We figured we were a good home. The puppies were weaned and ready to go. The mother was a Chow and looked like a bear. We don’t know what breed the father was. We picked out a cute male from the litter and being spiritually minded Bible School students named him Enoch. Why shouldn’t our dog walk with God.

Pet friendsAt the same time we got Enoch we got a kitten that we named Coon (because he looked like a Raccoon). Enoch and Coon became fast friends and didn’t seem to know that dogs were supposed to hate cats and vice versa. They chased each other around the grounds and had a wonderful pet childhood together. On the hot summer days we didn’t have a screen door on the little country church we pastored and they had a problem staying outside while we had a church service. But those dear country folks just smiled when they came in.

First petsEnoch loved to ride in the back of our old blue Datsun pickup on the wheelwell with his head hanging out facing the wind. We just couldn’t get him to stay down. One time we were heading down a country highway about 45 miles per hour and heard a loud thump. Looking in the rearview mirror we saw a ball of fur tumbling down the highway. We stopped and thought that this would be the end for Enoch, but as soon as he stopped rolling he got up and ran toward us with a look as if to say, “That was fun, let’s do it again!” However Enoch never fell out of a pickup again, although he did continue to ride up on the wheelwell.

When Enoch was about a year old we moved from Missouri to Pennsylvania to plant a church in St. Marys. We moved in a big U-Haul truck and towed the Datsun behind us. Because we didn’t fancy that long of a trip with Enoch, who was by now a big dog, in the cab with us, we placed him in the cab of the Datsun. Once when we stopped a trucker came and told us of the funniest sight. It seems Enoch was riding in the cab with his paws up on the steering wheel so he appeared to be driving!

When we got to Pennsylvania we rented an apartment on a busy street in town with houses all around us. Enoch was home sick for the good farm life of Missouri. Shortly after we moved Coon ran off and Enoch was forlorn. He spent hour after hour lying in the back of the truck. Once I had done some work on the truck and failed to chock the wheels. The truck slowly started to roll back toward our apartment and just before it crashed into the back porch Enoch jumped out. He never would spend time in that truck again!

About a year after moving to Pennsylvania we bought a mobile home and had it placed on a lot near the beautiful Pennsylvania woods. Enoch was revived! We went on long hikes into the woods. Enoch would always run ahead of us and turn around as if to say “Are you coming or not?” We were near lots of wildlife and periodically had deer and black bear in our yard. A couple of times Enoch got in a tussle with a porcupine and my, did he yelp out when I pulled out the quills!

One of our concerns when we got Enoch was that Chows were known to be very protective of their owners and not very friendly to outsiders. We liked to have a lot of people around and didn’t want Enoch to be a detriment. He never was. He loved everybody and I suspect wouldn’t have been much help as a watchdog! During that phase of our lives we kept many foster children and I reckon to this day most still remember Enoch.

Enoch was always glad to see us. Any time we would be gone for more than a short time he would run out to greet us when we returned. He always acted like he hadn’t seen us for days. That’s a great feeling isn’t it? I don’t recall him ever being in a bad mood or grumpy. However deep in sleep he might be, if I indicated I was going for a walk he would get up and shake himself and be ready to go! There are times we had to discipline him and it sure seemed that he had shame and knew he was in trouble. But regardless of how severe the punishment he always got over it real quick. Dogs just seem incapable of holding a grudge.

Enoch's ordination certficateEnoch’s most remarkable achievement is that he was an ordained minister. Yup, he had his own fancy certificate to prove it. He got it through the mail with some denomination I never heard of out in California. They offered free ordinations. Now for the sake of honesty I must divulge that I did help him a bit with the paperwork. Enoch couldn’t spell very well and that was before they had spell check. He was seven years old at the time and I did convert that to dog years or 49 on the application. In a couple of weeks he got his very own certificate of ordination and even began to get mail addressed to Rev. Enoch Weber. He could have been a doctor through the same outfit but that cost $25.00 and I just couldn’t stand him having more titles than I had.

Enoch was never neutered but didn’t appear to have much interest in the ladies. He was able to roam free but we never had a problem with him running off for romance. That is until late in his life when he was about 9 years old (that’s 63 in dog years). He had a dalliance with a beagle up the road. We found out later that he was a father. Some people we knew got one of the puppies and we were thus able to see Enoch’s offspring for some time after Enoch died.

Enoch had a habit of laying under our car in the shade. This was no problem since he would always immediately get up when we came out of the house to go somewhere. But when he got old he was arthritic and deaf. Once when Brooksyne went somewhere he didn’t move and his legs were injured seriously. We took him to the vet but his condition, along with his age at the time (about 70 dog years), was just too much and the vet send him home to die. We tried to keep him a while longer but he was pathetic. He was unable to walk but would still try to painfully drag his back legs and follow us around. Maggots were beginning to eat at him from the inside out. But I was mired in inaction regarding what I knew needed done.

A couple of compassionate neighbors saw my plight and volunteered to take care of it for me. They placed Enoch on a wheelbarrow and went back into those woods Enoch loved so much. They took a shovel, which I told them was unnecessary, but they insisted. They said if he were their dog that they’d want him buried. A few minutes later I heard the loud report of a deer rifle and knew that my dog Enoch was gone.

I know writing about my dog may seem unspiritual to some but I have been blessed by these creatures created by God and as Job observed they do teach lessons. And I sure hope you’ve had some good pets!

* I’ve also written a story about my first dog Suzy.

Local pastor has multiple doctorates

Church

Shiloh Church in Andersonville, ND

 Andersonville, North Dakota – Rev. James Burmont pastors the Shiloh Church, a small, independent congregation in the plains of southern North Dakota. He began his ministry as a second career when he was 35 , working bivocationally to provide for his wife Gladys and their five children. He works as a “honey dipper”, that is cleaning out septic tanks.  He always had a dream to complete his education, having attended the county community college when he was right out of high school, but never finishing.

In 1998 he got his first email account and was overjoyed as he began to receive email.  He especially noted an email offer to complete his degree and proceeded to do so earning his bachelors degree in 1999. But the email offers for continued education flowed in and he reasoned it was because he was such a good student. He went on to get his Masters degree.

But was especially intrigued by the offers for a doctorate. He felt this was an answer to prayer and that likely in attaining such a high level of academic achievement he would be able to devote himself full-time to his ministry and eventually retire from the honey dipper business. That was in late 2000.

Now in 2007 the Rev. Dr. Burmont has seventeen doctorates. He explained that the email offers continued to come and he reasoned that it was merely an acknowledgement of his hard work and a recognition of his life experience.  He felt the more the better and he actually enjoyed filling out the paperwork and felt the small fee was more than reasonable in light of the prestige of a doctorate.

When asked by our ALFN reporter if he dealt with any pride Burmont acknowledged, “Well, it really is hard to be humble when you just might have more doctorates than anyone else in the world.” (In fact Burmont is making inquiry with the Guinness Book of World Records regarding this very matter.)

When asked concerning future plans Burmont said he was going for 25 doctorates but would “probably” stop at that point.  He expressed concern that such a high degree of education might make it hard for him to relate to his small, rural congregation.

In fact there has already been some confusion with some in the church and community believing him to be a medical doctor. He explains that he still tries to help them using advice he receives through emails. Recently he was approached at the Piggly Wiggly supermarket by Martha Fernwald, who inquired about her hives. Burmont recalled an email he had received several weeks earlier about a “miracle ointment” and was able to pass this helpful information on to a very appreciative Martha.

He also receives questions concerning financial matters, apparently because people assume that because he has all these doctorates he must be knowledgable on all issues. Burmont has been kind to pass on offers he has received from generous wealthy Nigerian businessmen who have died and left a fortune and want to bless others with it. He feels really good about using his advanced education to help these needy people achieve financial success.

Burmont still has not seen his dream of full-time ministry but believes his service is a sacrifice since with his degree of education he could probably go anywhere, including the top seminaries.  He also feels the honey dipper business keeps him humble and in touch with the people.