By Rod Huron
It is possible to develop a strong program without a large staff and a huge budget. Consider Clarksburg (Indiana) Christian Church. Twenty-six years ago Jerran Jackson and his wife, Carol, recent graduates from Nebraska Christian College, came to Clarksburg after a two-year associate ministry with Florence Christian Church in Omaha.
Theirs is a fruitful and enjoyable ministry. Even during last summer’s record heat Clarksburg’s VBS was for all ages, during the hottest days in July.
Using Standard Publishing’s Construction Zone theme, the VBS participants built a much needed utility shed for the church. “Even the littlest ones helped,” says Jerran. “As a part of their presession activities, they could hammer away. The older youth set a time when they worked on the shed, and adults helped, too. The shed was a unifying project; it was hands-on involvement for everybody, and they loved it.”
On the final Friday, the church sponsored a cookout for parents and students, followed by the closing program of music, recitations, and a PowerPoint presentation of pictures taken during the week.
“It was standing room only,” Jerran says.
VBS attendance averaged 95, with a high of 109 and an offering of nearly $490. “It was everybody giving something rather than a few giving a lot,” Jerran remembers.
“Everybody giving something rather than a few giving a lot.” This sentence may contain the secret of the church’s success.
Soon after arriving at Clarksburg, Jerran and Carol enrolled at Cincinnati Bible Seminary to pursue graduate work. Jerran earned the MA in biblical studies and an MDiv in theology; Carol earned the MRE in Christian education.
“Eleanor Daniel was Carol’s major professor,” Jerran says. The Clarksburg Christian Church shows ample evidence of Daniel’s influence.
“We have lead teachers in each area,” Jerran explains. “They talk to the Christian education team and develop a list of names, and these names are presented to the elders for approval before the team begins recruiting.”
Jerran continues, “Years ago we developed the team idea, so that there is a lead teacher and an assistant in each class. They work as a team. When there are more students, we expand the number so that we have multiple teachers in a department working together.
“This allows workers to help each other, encourage each other, and plan together,” says Jerran. “It reduces burnout. You improve the creativity and the quality of teaching because as you plan together you generate more ideas. If a teacher is absent, or if you need to bring in a substitute, that person is well supported because the program is already planned.”
Clarksburg’s program is the result of careful thought. “We group children on the basis of how they learn,” Jerran says. “For example, 4-year-olds through second-graders all learn visually. Even though some of the second-graders can read well, they are still trying to master this skill. But the children in grades 3 to 6 are reading for comprehension.”
Wide participation, flexibility, dedication, hard work: these are hallmarks of the Clarksburg church.
Nineteen ministry teams, from the audio-visual ministry to the card ministry to the prayer ministry, do the majority of the work within the congregation. In the ministry teams, an informal rotation system provides change, minimizes burnout, and brings a constant flow of new ideas and energy.
This same flexibility is reflected in the church board and among the elders. “Our elders serve for three years, are off one year, and are eligible to return.”
Leading, Serving, Loving
Does the leadership come from the preacher or from the board? “We try to do it as a team,” Jerran says. “Different people have different gifts and skills. We listen to each other, respect each other, and work for consensus. At times I take more responsibility; at times others will do so. We want to make it a team effort. The church, just like everything else, changes from year to year. We try to flow with those changes.”
For the past three years, Clarksburg’s mission ministry led mission trips to the American Indian Evangelizing Association in Toppenish, Washington. These trips allowed more than 20 different church members to be directly involved in the work of the mission. Next year, the mission ministry hopes to lead a trip to Haiti.
Sunday morning sees two identical worship hours. “Matt Johnson, a former associate minister, helped us develop a blended format,” Jerran explains. “This includes both hymns and choruses, and uses more musicians. We chose not to have separate traditional and contemporary worship gatherings, because we wanted all ages and all groups to participate during both worship hours.
“The church is a family of believers, and a growing family is a multigenerational mix of varied kinds of people.”
When asked to describe the church, Jerran responded, “We are a close-knit church. In every church you must have close-knit groups. In some churches there are a lot of these groups; in other churches there are fewer. In our church we have more than one close-knit group, but there are just not as many as there would be in a megachurch.”
Relationships between pastor and people are strong. Just before Easter several years ago, Walter Jones, an elder, contracted pneumonia and died in three days. One Sunday he was there; the next Sunday he was gone.
“I had a part in our Thursday night Communion Service,” Jerran remembers. “Before I could do my part, I had to walk upstairs and cry for awhile. Walter’s death was a real loss to all of us.”
Clarksburg is an unincorporated village in Decatur County, near where Rush, Decatur, and Franklin counties come together. “We are not a county seat church,” Jerran says. “We have people coming from all three counties. Our area is stable, with some growth but nothing spectacular.”
Jerran speaks of the challenges of such a ministry. “There is no Garden of Eden here. The sailing is not always smooth.
“We had two families leave our church recently. They are not angry, they just feel we don’t have what they need. Sometimes we read about another church and we say, ‘Wow; they have it all together.’ We don’t. There are always weaknesses. The life of a church is a constant challenge, but we are working together, trying to meet those challenges.”
Rod Huron is an author and speaker who lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.