by Tom Wacaster
When I attended Brown Trail Preacher Training School I had the distinct honor of having the late Wendell Winkler as my second year homiletic teacher. Brother Winkler struck me as being very organized, very systematic, and a virtual “pack rat” when it came to collecting material that could later be used for sermon starters, illustrations, quotes, etc. When our second year class on homiletics began that fall of 1971, brother Winkler gathered the students into the large auditorium at Brown Trail, and proceeded to give us a scenario of what to expect in the class. He also gave us an assignment that I thought rather odd: “When we meet for our next class I want you to bring three shoe boxes to class.” Shoe boxes? What in the world does collecting shoe boxes have to do with preaching? I would soon find out. Two days later nineteen of us preacher students came marching down the isle of that auditorium with our shoe boxes in hand (empty of shoes, of course). At the front of the auditorium brother Winkler had laid out stacks of church bulletins and periodicals; enough copies of each one for all of the students to pick up a copy. Over the course of the next ten months he would provide fresh stacks of church bulletins and periodicals every week. During the class he would instruct us on how to read, clip, and file articles, poems, sermon starters, illustrations and quotes that we would find useful in preparing our sermons. Not every bulletin was useful; but brother Winkler knew how to select from among the best bulletins from congregations all over the state of Texas, and even beyond the Lone Star State. Brother Winkler taught us how to set up various subject dividers in those shoe boxes, and then we would clip, snip, read, and file the two or more dozen bulletins we picked up once a week. Before I graduated I had collected hundreds of bulletin articles, all neatly filed away for later use. That was not all he taught us, but it was that little segment of each Wednesday’s class that eventually led to my own system of filing away church bulletins and periodicals for later use.
I still receive a large number of church bulletins. With the advent of the electronic age many of those paper copies of church bulletins and periodicals have given way to digital copies. I receive no less that a dozen church bulletins each week in digital format, and about the same number in paper format. In addition, I get bulletins passed along to me that are actually addressed to the Handley Church of Christ. Occasionally I pass along to our readers an item of interest, or a well written article that is worthy of sharing with others. I realize that a church bulletin is only an expedient means of passing information and news along to its members. There are no “rules” for what constitutes a “scriptural,” or even a “good” bulletin. But at the same time, a church bulletin is a reflection of where a congregation places its emphasis. One can get a pretty good picture of where a congregation is going by what appears within the pages of its church bulletin.
Over the past 40 years I have collected a sizable number of bulletins; I have also thrown away my fair share bulletins that contain nothing worth keeping. If a bulletin has some interesting quote, illustration, sermon idea or note of personal interest, I take the time to put a number on that bulletin, enter it into my computer database under subject, title and author, and place it in my file cabinet by numerical sequence. The old “shoe box” filing system introduced by brother Winkler has given way to my own personal computer database filing system; but forty years later I am still filing away information that I find useful.
It seems to me that fewer and fewer bulletins are being used as a teaching tool. Most of what appears in some of these bulletins has to do with person-to-person activities. Let me share just a few of the “announcements” that have appeared in some of the bulletins through the years. “Water balloon fight for Jr. and Sr. high will be held at the home of ____ this coming Friday.” “Annual ski trip planned for _____.” A more recent bulletin announced a “Spaghetti Dinner and Auction to help our leadership training for Christ students attend the convention.” The auction was to include “arts and crafts, antiques, and specialty desserts” (some of our brethren are falling prey to the “bake sale” mentality for raising church funds, something which is without Biblical authority, but has come into use among churches of Christ in increasing number). Another bulletin has an ad for an upcoming “youth rally,” featuring a “juggling act” to teach spiritual truths to the audience. I read of “divorce and remarriage seminars,” “health seminars,” “craft shows,” and “concerts.” Admittedly, much of what is advertised in the local bulletin is scriptural, and falls into the realm of expedients (though I would be very suspicious of this dinner and auction to raise funds for church work). I suppose the most puzzling thing about this is the amount of space that is taken up with such “trivial” and unimportant events, and the relatively little amount of space given to teaching, instruction and encouragement. I have always sought to provide something to our readers that will inform, encourage, or instruct. It only makes sense to me that if a congregation is going to spend the amount of money and energy it takes to put together, print and mail a weekly bulletin to folks in distant places, that they would want to have something more to offer their readers than a long list of “church activities,” none of which pertains to some of those who receive their bulletin. A well written article, whether by the local preacher or fresh from the pen of another, makes any bulletin worth taking the time to read. There are some bulletins that it takes me less than 10 seconds to look at. Then there are those bulletins that I look forward to getting each week because I know that more than likely they will have some article that challenges my thinking, or uplifts my spirit in a time of discouragement. Solomon wrote, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver” (Proverbs 25:11). Perhaps the same could be said of the written word. If what appears in the local bulletin of many congregations is any indication of where the emphasis of a congregation lies then perhaps it is later than we think.