Marty Sloan is critical of contemporary religion. He believes many churches have become irrelevant to the realities of modern life and that many churches are not connected to their communities.
These are interesting observations from Sloan, the pastor of Harvest Time church in Fort Smith. He, along with the church leaders, oversee the operations of a church with about 3,800 members, around 50 full- and part-time employees and an annual budget of about $3.5 million.
Sloan, 39, worked for nine years in Hamilton, Ohio, as the associate pastor for a church at which his father was the pastor. In 2004, Sloan was hired as part of the retirement transition plan for then Harvest Time pastor Kemp Holden.
During a recent interview at Whole Hog Cafe in Fort Smith, Sloan said part of his focus as the senior pastor is to grow church membership and to better connect the church with community needs. He believes church membership nationwide is declining because too many churches operate as they did many decades ago.
“There is nothing theologically wrong about being culturally relevant,” Sloan said, adding that growing churches are “more progressive” in how they reach out to the masses.
He said the rate of church attendance is not connected to the belief in God, and humorously noted that church attendance is like gym attendance.
“They (church members) show up more often in those early months of the year,” Sloan said with a smile.
Relevance is so important to Sloan that he has coined the term “missable” to measure church performance. He pointedly asks church members if the community would miss Harvest Time.
“Are we missable? If Harvest Time pulls out tomorrow, what will the community miss?” Sloan said in explaining “missable.”
His focus on relevance has a ground zero starting point.
“You have to elevate. You have to elevate your community. If you can’t elevate your community, if you can’t get that right, then why go overseas? Why go across state lines?” Sloan said.
Sloan is not worried about the skeptics outside the church who doubt the role of religion and faith. He’s more focused on the skeptics who attend church.
“I preach that the Bible is the rule book for the Christian life. … But what about the guy who sits there (in church) and believes maybe 20 percent of the Bible but professes to believing it all?” Sloan said.
Sloan is a true believer. He was dismissive of the notion that a modern society shouldn’t legislate morality, saying that laws against murder and stealing were laws of morality.
But laws and morality aren’t enough. For example, the tragedy of the school children who died in the Moore, Okla., tornado, is a sign that “nature itself is under a curse from man’s sin.” That sin was the original Garden of Eden action by Adam and Eve to exercise “free moral choice” and eat the apple, Sloan said.
“The scriptures refer to the Devil controlling the Earth. … Because of the overall fallen world from the choice they (Adam and Eve) made, evil things happen because of free moral choice,” Sloan said.
Continuing, Sloan said” “A better question is, ‘How do good people respond to evil things?’”
Sloan said his favorite New Testament story is how Jesus dealt with the woman caught in an act of adultery “because in that story we expose what’s wrong with religious people and the sinners.”
His favorite Old Testament story is of God instructing Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. In the story, God provided a lamb at the last minute and Isaac was saved from the sacrifice.
“That’s a story of Abraham’s trust. It’s through that faith that we see a turning point with Abraham,” Sloan said.