I was just in St. Lucia with one of the largest churches in the lesser Antilles—counting the children of members, they number 200, with 165-170 most Sunday mornings. When Brother Solomon began this work some years ago he made the decision to work primarily in areas in and around Castries, the capital. His goal was to have one strong church, rather than 4 or 5 small churches that were barely hanging on and it has turned out well. Besides the brethren with their personal vehicles who pick others up for services, they hire a taxi bus ($375 a month) to bring the rest.
This week I’m in the Dominican Republic, a country of almost 9 million people. The capital, Santo Domingo, is home to over 4 million, so you can imagine what the traffic is like. As brethren move farther away from downtown, to be able to afford housing, it can take them an hour or more to get to services downtown. The obvious result is that big downtown churches are losing members to what were once smaller churches on the outskirts and new churches are being started often. In the area where I’m staying there are at least 20 brethren, who presently attend 3 or 4 different churches. They now have a Bible study on Mon. night and are discussing whether to begin a church in this area. This is the norm here, where transportation is always an issue—not only the money, but even more the time.
Some people would be very upset, because if there’s only one way to do things right, one of these two methods is wrong. But these two different methods both work in their respective cultures, because the circumstances are different. As Christians we need the flexibility to do whatever is scriptural first, and then whatever works best in a particular situation. What works in St. Lucia may not work nearly as well in Santo Domingo, and vice versa.
Is it any different with people? Jesus condemned the Pharisees harshly yet was gentle with the woman taken in adultery. Why? He knew one was a hypocrite and the other was weak. Did the woman not know that adultery was a sin? Didn’t she realize that she could be killed if caught?
Today it’s tempting to let brethren who are weak “have it”. “They should know better than that. I KNOW they’ve heard that before.” Maybe they should know it, maybe their body was present when it was preached, but their mind was out golfing, or fishing, or working. If they didn’t get it in a group setting, why not try to teach them one on one? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told, “they know that” only to talk to “them” and realize, no “they” don’t know that.
When dealing with those who are weak we need to look beyond the symptoms and get at the heart of the matter—their faith is weak. Since faith comes by hearing what they need is study, not necessarily lectures. On the other hand those who are strong, but rebellious need another kind of treatment—they need to be reproved so they will change.
We all have methods and ways we’re comfortable working with others. But those methods may not work with everyone. We have to adapt ourselves to them, not force them to adapt to us—“I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”