Several months ago, I ran across an article about small churches and have been saving it for the right time. The title, “Six Things I Hate about You,” is the author’s tongue-in-cheek way of warning others about the unique circumstances in a small church. Having pastored only small churches, I can relate to nearly every word the author wrote (and imagine most of you will as well). I encourage you to read the article first (click here) and then return to this post for a few follow-up thoughts about our small church…
As we prepare for our meeting this weekend, please reflect on what Covenant Presbyterian Church, PCA means to you (both positive and negative!). What do you love, hate, want to keep or to change, want to remember or to forget? Are you proud to be a member of CPC? What are CPC’s greatest strengths and weaknesses? If you had to give a “congregational testimony” to a packed auditorium on our behalf, what would you say? Does CPC truly offer something valuable to our community; if so, what exactly do we, or can we, offer? These questions (and many others!) should run through your mind on at least a semi-regular basis. CPC is just as much your church as it is mine or any other member’s or officer’s. All of us truly share the pluses and minuses of attending our church.
But let us not forget that CPC is, above all else, a church belonging to the Lord Jesus Christ. Whether large and booming or small and shrinking, vibrantly flourishing or faithfully plodding, financially strong or fiscally strapped, each particular church has a role in the larger Body of Christ, just as each member has a role in his or her local church. Rather than seeking to become / grow into something we are not, let us be forthright and honest about who and where we are today. Just as an individual must (re)learn his or her identity in Christ continually, we as a living body of believers must (re)learn our identity in Christ continually. Just as an individual must consider how his or her gifts and talents can best be used in service to Christ, so too must we consider how our collective gifts and talents can best be used.
Brothers and sisters, do not grow discouraged or weary because you are in a small church. In the eyes of our Savior, every part of his Body plays a unique, indispensable role in the building of God’s kingdom. Do you believe this?
I cannot help but to recall Paul’s letter to the Galatian Church, another small church working through its self-perception. The Galatian Church had limited influence in the broader culture; collectively lacked healthy confidence in the Lord; appeared irrelevant, unappealing, and/or “less Christian” to others (e.g. the Judaizers); and was tempted to compromise the gospel in hopes of gaining something “better.” Do not CPC and many other churches today find themselves in similar circumstances? No, we are not pressured to re-adopt portions of Judaism as were the Galatians, but are we not pressured to choose the gospel plus something else – acceptance, tolerance, winsomeness, inclusivitity, social justice, diversity…??? When reading Galatians earlier, I was struck by Paul’s rebuke in Ch. 1…
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. ~ Gal. 1:6-10
This passage reminded me yet again that God evaluates churches not on their increasing popularity or relevance, but on their enduring humility and faithfulness.
A few other random thoughts I hope will encourage our small church…
- The Lord’s gospel is infinitely reliable and transparent; our sin makes it unnecessarily confusing and muddled.
- The Lord chooses to grow his Church through his people’s labors, but he does not need our labors to grow his Church.
- The Lord chooses to grow his Church in his timing; we cannot change his plans.
- The Lord himself is the appeal of the gospel; we cannot make him more appealing than he already is.
- The Lord does not utilize popular uprisings when growing his Church; he preserves and disperses faithful remnants.
- The Lord regenerates hearts by his Holy Spirit; we cannot change them by persuasion.
- Even now the Lord gives unimaginable blessings to his people; but in this present life, he does not promise they will always look like blessings.
In closing, I leave you with Paul’s concluding instructions to the Galatians (and to us) for faithfully living out the gospel in a church, no matter its size, era, or location…
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.
Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. ~ Gal. 6:1-10