Earlier this year, preachers, elders, and other church leaders from The Churches of Christ gathered in North Dakota for the 45th annual Bismarck Church Leaders Workshop to talk about the need for evangelism.
Since then, leaders from the various churches of the American Northwest that sent representatives to Bismarck from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2, have reflected on what it means to evangelize in the Northern Plains.
“I do not believe that people in the north struggle to see the need for evangelism, we just struggle with doing it,” said Scott Laird, minister at Great Falls Church of Christ in Montana.
“I remember what a young Christian man shared with me when I served in Canada; he knew he should be sharing his faith, he just didn't think anyone from the world wanted what he had.”
Laird, who was the director for the 45th annual workshop, detailed the many challenges that come with trying to preach the Gospel in northern states like Montana, the Dakotas, and Nebraska.
“We do see the need and many people are trying to reach out to friends, family, co-workers and friends but it often is a difficult mission field that takes time, energy, and God's power,” explained Laird.
“Also, the North is often not a final destination for many of our families and just when we get them trained to be able to effectively share the good news with others, their jobs send them elsewhere, often to the South.”
The workshop event had the theme of “goads and nails.” This theme was taken from Ecclesiastes 12:11: “The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails – given by one Shepherd.”
Walter Clark, minister of Bismarck Church of Christ, where the workshop is held annually, explained to CP the significance of the theme “goads and nails.”
“The theme this year was goads and nails and the focus was about encouraging us with things that goad us to service and nails we can hold onto in times of trials,” said Clark.
At only 60 regular attendees, Clark nevertheless oversees the largest Church of Christ congregation in North Dakota. He is also one of the few full time preachers for the denomination in the state.
In addition to the sparse population and focus on other regions of North America, Church of Christ leaders also attribute their smaller numbers to the large numbers of Roman Catholic and Lutheran communities that migrated to the region throughout its history.
“We do not view the Catholic Church or the Lutheran Church as the enemy,” said Clark, who nevertheless added that “there are many teachings within these organizations that we disagree with.”
“Given the chance we love to share with people of any group what we see as the truth of God's word. I personally try to learn from these encounters as well.”
Laird agreed, saying that “I wouldn't say that the Lutheran and Catholic communities are a reason that the churches in Montana have not grown.”
As time passes from the 45th annual Bismarck Church Leaders Workshop, it remains to be seen if the lessons taught at the event will be effectively implemented.