4/25/2010 ~ Today the action was at The Abundant Life Church, FWB, FL.
This was one LARGE church. It was slightly off the beaten path in Fort Walton Beach, but the perspicacious founder, 'The Bishop' Thorne had acquired a gigantic tract of ground and erected a cathedral sized edifice with internally removable walls for even extra capacity.
By all accounts it had been a near Mega-Church in it's heyday; but as with so many other worship centers, the congregation had dwindled. And in fact that was the topic of young Pastor Mike Thorne's sermon on this date. Despite all that, the church filled up somewhat compared to the shots below which were taken before the service. I am informed that there were ultimately about 120 people present; but the place could easily have held a thousand!
The style was evangelical; AA-men; and I immediately met a couple of my patients who were parishioners! Everyone was friendly, casually but tidily dressed and the music was contemporary. There were a fair number of African-Americans in attendance and they were generally dressed in suit 'n tie. Pastor identified both myself and another physician present as being the two people in the congregation taking notes! I gave Pastor Mike my political hand-outs at the conclusion of the service and he called me a couple days later to invite me over to address the congregation, which I did after their Wed. BBQ.
I think my efforts were well received, and I am currently assisting at their "Last-Call" outreach ministry gatherings on Tuesdays where they have adopted my "Serenity Plus Prayer" for the attendees. That Ministry is Pastored by Shane Gowans, an outstanding preacher. (I have included a video of his wife ~ final clip below ~ singing at the Last Call Tue. meeting). The church also boasts its very own radio station!
Abundant Life may have fallen on hard times, but I have a sense that better lies ahead for them. May God Bless Pastor Mike, heal his dad The Bishop, currently in poor health; and rebuild the congregation along the lines of Pastor's Sermon.
THE MESSAGE: "Church Attendance" ~ Thoughts of 'a Preacherís Kid.'
Sermon by Pastor Michael Thorne.
"Fifty Six million Americans are currently attending church. This represents 28% of the population. Thatís not a lot. 83-87% say they like Jesus. Thereís a big disconnect between Him & 'Church.' Since 2005 every major denominations has lost about 1% membership per year. Catholics have lost about 5%. The least affected are the Southern Baptists. Pastors are leaving; Churches are closing.
"Since 2005 'Mega-Churches' (Those with over 1000 members) have increased from 760 to 2,200.
"Itís because weíve changed the way we do church. Now itís all about activity and entertainment. But, you know, it shouldnít be about 'Church', itís about Jesus!
"Reflecting back on my life, as a Preacherís Kid I didnít want to have anything to do with ministry. But when Jesus gets a hold of you, things change. (So here I am).
"But look around you; look at the empty church. People all around the town are gassing up to go to the boat, to the beach. And, in a way thatís too bad. But we must remember: itís not about 'Church', itís about Jesus.
"Be careful what you tell God. He doesnít forget. When you fall in love with Jesus you donít care about anything else. Reputation is not important.
"At one time I said I didnít want to go to Africa. But when I came to Jesus at age 22, I did mission work, even went to Africa; and lived in South Africa for a year. Iíve led thousands of people to Jesus. They almost took my life in Romania. True, I almost lost my life, but I didnít care.
"But be careful Ė later in life you become careful and that can interfere with your destiny. I want to repent to you all: I miss those days. Itís not about 'Church', itís about Jesus.
"My mom is a Redneck, drives a tractor, youíall. As a kid I went with her to see ĎShining Rockí. I was 8 years old. We almost got there. But there was a torrential downpour. We couldnít hide. We started to retreat, go back down the trail. Everyone started running. My uncle hit a rock and fell. We never got to Shining Rock. But if I did it today, Iíd get to Shining Rock. Because I wouldnít be deterred. Because of Jesus.
"You know that there are circumstances in your life that keep you from your destination. But today, donít be deterred. Stay with Jesus.
"There is a great need to help hurting people in our community. We need to help and encourage each other. Jesus wants to set you free.
(Here Pastor recalled his old problems, divorce, etc.; how others told him discouragingly: "Maybe youíre not a pastor.")
"And itís true: the church tithes are down. The church is dying. But itís not about ĎChurch.í [Romans 11:29]. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. God does not change His mind about you. And itís not about you either. Itís about God ... God will not put upon you anything more than you can handle ... without a way of escape. And He does not want you to escape - or release you - from His peace. So do not let people talk you out of His work for you, using His gifts.
"Remember the ĎTen Commandmentsí ... with Charlton Heston. God said: ĎRemove your sandalsí. (Charlton thought it was because he was on holy ground. But it was not for that). God wanted him to come in. When you go into the world itís all about Love, not Judgment. The weapons of warfare are not about judgment.
"Did you know there were 30,000 denominations of the Christian church in the world. Therefore 30,000 men thought: ĎThis is what God will be pleased with.í But it does not matter, God does not come just because of how we present ourselves. He does not care what you look like, if you are wearing a suit and tie for example. It looks good. But Jesus doesnít care.
"In Russia I walked into schools. Isnít that right, Mom & Dad?" (Here pastor turned to his parents in the congregation). ... "They let me in. Because when the door opens for you, youíve gotta do what God wants you to do. ... What God wants you to do - without fear.
"So get on with it. Do not get caught up with planning.
"Howís about ĎThe Jesus Thing? íDid we forget about that? People are not going to a church, staying away ... because they are not seeing Jesus in church. So things are difficult for ĎChurch.í But I donít want to go back to the past when ĎChurchí seemed to be thriving. We must start anew in this day.
"I know someone seeking to find the perfect wave. In Jeffries Bay, Hawaii he found the perfect wave - all day. Now heís seeking, searching all over the planet for the past ... trying to find that wave again. But you canít neglect whatís happening today. All those old fabulous ĎReligious Revivalsí are a thing of the past. But the Holy Spirit is still working in us and itís not about you. Itís about Jesus. No matter how good you are, someone will mess you up. But itís not about you. Your money, reputation - donít cling to those things. Cling to Jesus.
"You canít live to 150, no matter health-care and cosmetics. Jesus is the only thing that matters. In the old days I used to love to spend time with The Lord.
"We gotta get back to that place where we donít care about appearances; where we just want to spend time with The Lord. You have freedom if you donít care what people think. The devil does things to bring you down, but we donít need another great revival. We just need the people in Church to get back to Jesus. Be available. Thatís what God is looking for. Tell your Pastor youíre available. Ask: 'Is there something I can do?'
"Shepherds, Pastors are becoming a dying breed. Of 40 in bible college with me, two are in ministry today. They say: Iím done, Iím over. People donít care. They donít want to hear about Jesus! But weíve got to make them care! Weíre going to every bad neighborhood to preach the message ~ everywhere. ... Govt. is not the solution. We are like firemen when everyone is running away from the fire. The firemen are running in. We donít need Superstars. We need people to love and preach Jesus. Weíve got to get back to Jesus. This is not about religion.
Right now youíre standing on holy ground with your shoes off. Love Jesus. He says: ĎBe my sheep.í Thatís what weíre going to do. We donít need ostentatious display, Ďsplashyí church service. No: itís about Jesus!
"ĎBe my sheep!í No new revelation. No new Holy Ghost-dance. My name is not ĎBishopí, itís ĎMike.í" (Here pastor looked over at his dad The Bishop who had founded the church and been itís Shepherd in better times). "Today these are the real problems: Divorce, birth, suffering. Godís calling you to His presence; to help.
"I donít see peace in the eyes of those of my generation with money and fame. Iím just a preacherís kid who loves Jesus. And Iím here to help."
(NOTE: I want to emphasize that, pursuant to the relevant campaign prohibitions, none of the churches, Pastors nor parishioners in their official church capacities ~ referenced or pictured herein ~ officially support my political candidacy).
Thanks for visiting ... my site is under construction, but feel free to roam around. I appreciate your comments. /Bill
Pd. Pol. Adv., paid for and approved by Dr. Bill Escoffery,
Candidate for U.S. Senate from Florida.
Copyright © 2010 by William Escoffery III. All