This past month the sermon series has been about “Little People” or at least those who are “feelin’ small” due to their situation in life. The first sermon was about faith as small as a mustard seed, and then we moved to the Samaritan leper who came back to thank Jesus, another widow who had no power, yet persisted against the powerful until she received justice, then to the man who beat his chest asking for forgiveness and in his “smallness” (humility) he went away justified with God. Then, we came to Zaccheus, who really was a “wee little man.” And each week, Jesus continues to love them all! This series is finally done, but the concept goes on and on!!
There are many ways that we can “feel small” in our own eyes. It’s easy for each of us to begin to think “Why do I seem to always be overlooked? God doesn’t even see me. Doors aren’t opening the way they should. I never seem to get a break.” Small churches sometimes begin to think that way, too. We look around us at churches that are growing despite what seems to us as faithlessness to GOOD news, those that actually do spiritual harm to some folks, those that teach hate and their actual message is BAD news of condemnation. Why are they growing in numbers? At the same time, all of OUR efforts seem to be wasted, though we are bringing good news of love and grace and peace for all. Shouldn’t we get some of the rewards for that? Shouldn’t our numbers grow? Shouldn’t our budgets get met? Shouldn’t our buildings glow!?
Well, the actual fact is that those “other” churches are rarely growing either. I’m guessing that the mega-church folks across the way are choked by some of the same insecurities, just on a different scale. But, since WE are still numerically smaller than they, we “feel small” because we are comparing ourselves to others. We are not focusing on mission, but on our size, our “success” (however it’s measured), on Sunday worship, not on weekly ministry. Comparing ourselves, can become self-condemning, and grows into a self-fulfilling prophecy of real ministry spiraling downward.
In another era we would say that our only measurement should be “souls saved.” Yes, I said another era. We don’t usually think in terms of saving souls as if it’s a once and for all type thing. But, we might want to measure in terms of lives touched, rather than in bottoms in the pew. The culture in which we live has changed drastically. Our Christian lives are no longer lived inside the church buildings. (Thank God! That’s the way it should have always been!) If we are involved with living out our Christian values, seeking peace and justice, striving for changing the world… well, then, we may be out there in the world instead of in the pew on some Sundays.
Don’t get me wrong! – I STILL want to see you all in the pew!! I AM your pastor, you know. And I still believe that it is in community that we strengthen our faith and renew our commitment. However, I’m not going to sweat the fact that in reality, “regular” church attendance, for some, and especially for the younger generations, is not every single week. I DO, however, want to know that you are living out your faith in other ways. The point is, we need not “feel small” over the fact that there are fewer there many Sundays than there was a decade or more ago, IF we are living our faith, being faithful to good news, seeking justice, and living love as a congregation. Remember the church is not a building, the church is a people. The church gathered is Sunday morning. The living church is out THERE in the world, being Christ to the lost, lonely, hungry, and searching. Ministry is connecting with these, and perhaps bringing them in, but certainly making a difference.
We small churches sometimes want to substitute activity for real ministry. And we think that adding “programs” will make a difference in how we feel about ourselves as a church – the more activity the better! But, “faster and bigger” doesn’t always mean “better and stronger.” (Sometimes it means tired and more demeaned.)
So, I guess the point is, I don’t want to hear any more “small talk” – moaning and groaning about how things once were and wishing to live the hey-day again! What I want to hear from you is the voice of “NOW talk” – what are we planning and implementing that is about today, about real ministry with people who need the church (as the people of God), talk that is about mission and ministry. The numbers may or may not come, but let’s remain faithful to the call. Jesus loves us little people and little churches, and calls us to follow.