Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Small Church Life, Part 1

Several years ago, while I was still serving in the Air Force, my family and I moved to Asheville, NC. As a young couple with three young children, we intentionally set out to find a larger church with lots of activities and programs for children. For some unknown reason, the Lord led us away from the dozens of large Southern Baptist Churches that would have fit our original criteria. Instead, he led us to a small, country church that didn’t even make our original “cut list”. Old, brick, white steeple, cemetery, piano and organ, and at the most, 75 people. According to all of my church growth classes, that church was a failure. Even by Annual Church Profile standards, that church was a failure. During the entire 3 ½ year time we were members there, there were only two baptisms—my youngest daughter and my son. The most people I ever remember seeing in the sanctuary were 125—and that was probably for Easter or Homecoming.

But the ACP doesn’t show everything. God’s work cannot always be neatly quantified or displayed on one of Dr. Ed Stetzer’s graphs. First, from a completely subjective standpoint, the pastor of that church influenced me and shaped my thinking more than anyone has, before or since. He taught me how to ask questions, how to think critically, how to witness effectively and how to really love Jesus. He didn’t do any of that through a program or a formal plan—it just happened through the daily workings of the Holy Spirit within the interactive context of the local church. It was through those interactions that God began to call me into the pastorate.

During the 3 ½ years I was a member of that church, even though it would have been considered an abject statistical failure, the following fruit was borne:
1. God began to call me to the pastorate. I began my first of five degrees while I was there, and today I serve as pastor of a small church in southern West Virginia.
2. One of the young men went on to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, earned a PhD, and to my knowledge is still serving as the Worship Leader in a large church. He also teaches classes on the side.
3. One couple planted a church in New York City.
4. Another young man pastors a church in Florida.
5. Shortly after we left, the church licensed a man who is now serving as their youth pastor.
6. Two couples in the church have developed long-term mission relationships with a group of churches in Nicaragua. They return there periodically for short-term mission trips. I imagine that one of the couples will return much more often now that their daughter is living there (with her new local husband).
7. Prior to their relationship with Nicaragua, one of the couples had a long-term medical mission relationship with some pastors in India.
8. And last, but certainly not least—two of my children were saved and baptized there. Both are fine, godly young people with a passion for the Gospel. Who knows what the Lord has in store for them!

Of course, that is not nearly all of the Kingdom work that grew out of the small 3 ½ year snapshot of that country church. The music was traditional, the d├ęcor was dated and the national recognition was nonexistent. But the story of that small, insignificant country church will continue for generations—regardless of what their next ACP might say.

3 comments:

Les Puryear said...

Jim,

I just found your blog. Thank you for illuminating the glory of God in the small church. As a small church advocate, I join you in your radical enthusiasm for what God is doing in the small church to expand His Kingdom. As more of us continue to write about and highlight the positive nature of the small church, I believe the SBC will see the majority of its churches as assets, not failures.

If it is okay with you, I will be writing about your blog tomorrow (3/11) with appropriate links.

Thanks for all you are doing.

Les

Pastor Jim said...

Thank you--I welcome your comments and support! You have long been recognized as a voice for the small church and I appreciate that. I have been attempting to collect data on percentage of SBC baptisms, CP giving, new works, etc, that are from small churches. Please email me at pastor.jim (at) frontiernet.net if you have any insight. Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

Well said, brother. God's work does not always appear on the ACP. While I am thankful for the impact of some of the "megachurches", God has been working for centuries through small, unhearalded congregations. Thank you for this post.