After 18 years of preaching at Highland Church of Christ, Mike Cope is a veteran when it comes to shepherding a church body. His new job, however, requires exactly the opposite – a focus on people who have left the church behind.
Cope, adjunct instructor of Bible, missions and ministry, has been working with Landon Saunders since mid-July on a project called What Really Matters; the project is part of Saunder’s Heartbeat ministry.
“I have spent most of my life watering, to use Paul’s metaphor of growth, but Landon’s whole ministry has been scattering seed and trusting God to do with it what he will,” he said.
Cope said the generation of people under 30 has bailed out of the church in unprecedented numbers, and the goal of his project is to start small groups to minister to this population. Once the groups are formed, Heartbeat will maintain contact with them and provide online resources, such as videos, to facilitate discussion and growth.
“You cannot live your life alone, and you can’t pretend that there aren’t some things in life that don’t ultimately matter,” Cope said. “They need a circle of friends to talk about issues like joy, about friendship, about God, about prayer, about death, about how you spend your life and so on.”
Saunders created Heartbeat as a radio program in 1972, broadcast on the NBC, CBS, Mutual and Armed Forces networks. Heartbeat’s focus is to “ever more completely assist individuals in their quests to have a well-fought, well-loved, well-lived life,” according to their Web site.
“A lot of people we’ve met get with friends, drink a beer and go out, but with a lot of these friendships, they’ve never crossed over to talk about those deepest things; it’s just awkward the first time,” Cope said.
Cope and Saunders hope to follow Paul’s example by first traveling to major cities, starting groups there and trusting God to water the seeds, Cope said. So far, the two have ministered to small groups in Boston, Florida, California and Manhattan, and soon they will travel to Singapore to meet with contacts willing to launch the program there.
“I’ve been Johnny Cash; I’ve been everywhere, man,” he said with a laugh.
Ministering to small groups outside of the church after preaching for 27 years is feeding the discussion in his freshman Bible class at ACU, Cope said.
“I’m teaching Acts to Revelation, and Paul wrote that as a missionary, so there’s something exciting to me right now to be teaching these documents of faith when I’m sitting down again and again with people who are outside of the church,” he said.
For more information about the program, visit www.heartbeat.org.