Our church has 66 members. Perhaps not a good number for those who are superstitious…but I am thankful for all 66 of them! But, I would be lying if I said that a church of 66 people doesn’t sometimes feel a little bit too small. Coming from north Mississippi (and particularly, the Memphis suburbs) I have grown accustomed to thinking of a ‘small church’ as one with only a couple-hundred people in attendance!
What does that mean? Well, it means that the words ‘small’ and ‘large’ are certainly relative. But it also means that, sometimes, I find myself crying in my oatmeal a little bit…questioning why God doesn’t allow us to be ‘more successful’ in our outreach, etc., etc., etc. And, though I know whining is sinful (Philippians 2.14), I still find myself doing it! The syndrome has hit me again the last couple of weeks as the reality has set in that four members were moving away (a bittersweet thing)…and that a handful of other members seem to be falling away (only a bitter thing). So I’ve been murmuring to the Lord. But He has rebuked me on several fronts. I share in case you are concerned, as I am, that you haven’t been as successful as you’d like in your outreach, or in whatever other endeavors you may be undertaking…
1. My whining is selfishness. Is there a time to be distressed over the smallness of a church; or the slowness of its growth? Of course! The Bible is filled with righteous mourning! But my ‘mourning’ has really been whining. It has come, largely, because the small numbers make me feel unsuccessful—as though that is why we should enter ministry: to feel successful. Selfish ambition, pure and simple. Pray for me in this, that I would do my work “as for the Lord rather than for men” - including myself (Colossians 3.23)!
2. I should, on some levels, be glad of a small flock. Hebrews 13.17 says that elders “keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account.” God is going to ask Keith, Charles, and I how we dealt with each one of our 66 souls. So maybe having less to deal with is, right now, a kind of blessing! The old Scottish pastor John Brown once spoke to a young pastor going to his first church: “I know the vanity of your heart, and that you will feel mortified that your congregation is very small, in comparison with those of your brethren who are around you; but assure yourself on the word of an old man, that when you come to give an account of them to the Lord Christ, at his judgment-seat, you will think you have had enough.”
3. "Better is the little of the righteous, than the abundance of many wicked." That is a direct quote from Psalm 37.16, which I came across, quite unintentionally, in the midst of my whining last week. In other words, it is better to be righteous and have very little to show for it…than to be in cahoots with a pack of unrepentant sinners and have it all! The original context speaks, I believe, about material possessions. But I think it is easily applied to the church. Better is small a church with a handful of righteous people than to have a megachurch full of people who do not know their spiritual right hand from their left. When I think of my friends who are in those kinds of churches, I am so thankful for my little flock of true believers. Their walking with the Lord makes my job (and my life) so much better!
So, if the Lord wills, may we grow far beyond our current 66…but not for mere personal satisfaction; not at the expense of individual soul-care; and not at the expense of righteousness!