It’s been four weeks since we’ve been in our home church. Four. If this is what retirement is like, don’t sign me up. I miss my people. I miss my routine. I miss (sort of) my crusty old building. Except for that third stall in the women’s bathroom on the first floor. Don’t even get me started.
We’ve worshiped in the wilderness, in front of livestream services in Grandma’s living room, and twice in two different churches that on regular Sundays run about 20-30 folks and are glad to have ’em. Technically this is really Bob’s sabbatical/vacation, but since he had to take me along, I personally have learned a lot and have had confirmed much of what I already suspected. Small churches are big. And brave.
In a smaller setting it’s harder to hide. Oftentimes much can be asked of few. On special occasions though, small congregations usually rise up and make things happen. In a BIG way.
One Sunday when we visited Bob’s brother Karl’s church in New Bridge, Oregon it was their 100th anniversary celebration and the place was packed to the gills for morning worship with about 80-90 in attendance in the sanctuary and the potluck meal afterward at the Grange Hall next door maxed out near 120. I personally have never seen So. Much. Food. from so many different homes in one place at one time. Now that was a celebratory Sabbath day! Everyone pitched in, the place was decorated to the hilt, former pastors were present, the history of New Bridge Nazarene was beautifully displayed and four of us (Bob, myself, and Bob’s brother and sister Karl and Nancy) belted out an impromptu 4-part acapella “It Is Well With My Soul” that reverberated across that Grange Hall and out into the street. Karl is loud and we all felt the need to hang in there and hold up our end of things. Small church. Ha! Big if you ask me.
Then just today we were privileged to be warmly welcomed into a small fellowship in this local area by a faithful group of folks who wonderfully held it together while their entire staff and most musicians were away at district pastors’ retreat. It was a deeply meaningful service and the layman who portrayed the Apostle John and preached while costumed as him was brave, bold, and well prepared. The music was right up our alley. Small? Nah. Big.
See, everything depends on your definition of big. Most of my days of service to the Kingdom have been in what church leaders would call mid-size to large churches. And trust me when I say I’ve seen a lot of small behaviors in those churches with hundreds in attendance. Now you’re right when you’re thinking that just by sheer numbers that’s going to happen. Yes. And it’s also true that I’m going to notice more because of a certain vantage point. And isn’t it also true that small behaviors are going to happen in small churches? Of course. No church is immune.
What are some examples of small behaviors? Well, before I proceed, let me be the first to raise my hand when asked whether or not I’ve ever been guilty of any of them. Yep. Now here we go.
#1 Need for Recognition of Service
Helloooooo. This is the elephant in the room. Especially if you’ve poured your heart and soul into something. For a long time maybe. A lonnnng time. But friends, it’s a pit so deep and so wide and so dark and so unending that it will swallow you before you know you even started sliding in. Beautiful people right in front of my eyes have left the church because they didn’t receive enough strokes. It’s a hard one to admit and difficult to recognize, especially in the beginning. If you work hard in the church for the Kingdom’s sake, for goodness sake, keep on keeping on! If you’re doing it for the glory, my oh my, recognize it now and make a U-turn or a right turn or an about face or . . . are you catching what I’m throwing?
#2 Need for Attention
This is a close buddy of the Need for Recognition of Service but is more personal. We all need and crave positive attention. That’s normal and good. It buoys us up and sends us on our merry little way in life with a spring in our step. Am I right? Where it can go off the rails in a larger church setting is when that need for attention from not just the church staff but from other members, friends, staff spouses, or any other possible category of folk within the body becomes overblown. Feelings get in the way of participation in worship services and a mental checkoff list of “who talked to me and who didn’t” takes over. I’m serious. It happens. One time I remember . . . oh never mind. They’re gone now thanks to me. A sure cure for the Need for Attention? Give what you crave. That’s all. No more instructions needed. Amazing results guaranteed.
#3 Need for Comfort
Ay Yi Yi. Bob has never seen the humor in me wanting to put a sign above his office that reads, “War Department.” Actually, that’s not even the case anymore and is far from the truth. I think I just read it once in a magazine and wanted to try it out. Ha. Our church family is kind and supportive even in their occasional discomfort. Those who could stand it no longer are gone. (I backspaced here and took some stuff out so kudos to me.) Has anyone noticed that when someone is dying and will not be with us much longer here on earth that they are placed in “comfort care?” Comfort is not all it’s cracked up to be. Stretching and reaching and yearning to serve and teaching and loving people to Jesus . . . that’s it my friends. If you crave comfort, I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. But if you can tolerate some real people doing their best in a very very very real world in order to point to the Way, then let’s do this Big uncomfortable thing together.
Small churches doing big work. Big churches defeating small behaviors and doing big work.
Oh Church, how I love you. Small or large or everything in between.
Let’s go BIG.
For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
Romans 12:4-5 ESV