Did you notice the tiny church at the beginning of the Dodge Ram Super Bowl commercial about farmers? The building is a chapel, really, and it has a picket fence around it. The church is what you see as Paul Harvey begins to intone, “And on the eighth day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, ‘I need a caretaker.’ So God made a farmer.”
I wonder whether a small congregation still gathers there, and who the rural community is that this congregation supports and cares for. Later in the commercial there’s another image of a farmer at prayer inside the plain, wood-paneled sanctuary of a small church. And towards the end we see a farm family praying together before a meal
I wonder how many viewers noticed these images, and whether they stirred memories of a once loved little church in the wildwood. Perhaps they thought momentarily of a church that they have left behind. I wonder how many noticed and thought, as I did, of a small congregation that they love very much now.
It struck me that many of the qualities that Paul Harvey celebrates in farmers are also much in evidence in strong small churches: dedication, faithfulness, humility, tenderness, tenacity, perseverance even through pain, commitment to the community, and the ability to be creative and make do with what you have. You can read the whole text of his speech, including several sentences that the commercial leaves out, here.
Harvey’s refrain, “So God made a farmer” is going around in my head as, “So God made a small church.” I don’t in any way want to denigrate large churches. God made them, too, and God is accomplishing much through them. But I am focusing on the wonders God can do in small communities of people who trust him. I am imagining an array of images of life in small faith communities, with a voice speaking words like these over them:
And God said, “I need a community of people who are so committed to one another that it is a sacred covenant. They know each other deeply and love each other anyway. Old and young and in-between interact regularly and naturally across generations. Out of love, they sing songs and eat foods and do activities that an older or younger generation likes, even if it’s not their own favorite.” So God made a small church.
And God said, “I’m looking for people who will get up in the middle of the night, get dressed and go to the aid of a member who lives alone and who is suddenly ill, people who will be family to each other, kin by love even if they’re not kin by blood. I need people committed to prayer, people who will faithfully pray for decade after decade for the same people and the same problems, and who will pray and send cards to others that they don’t even know who are hurting. I’m looking for people who can quickly and nimbly form teams to respond concretely to needs. People who agree to disagree, and who stick together even though they hold very different viewpoints on difficult issues, who vote blue and red on Tuesday and worship together on Sunday.” So God made a small church.
And God said, “I need people who are ready at all times to care for whatever children show up at church, ready with Bible stories, ready to take wee ones to the nursery. People who will put children’s Bibles, soft toys and art supplies in the pews, and who are ready to become spiritual grandmas and grandpas, aunts, uncles and cousins to other people’s children. People who will go sports events and school events to support other children they’re trying to befriend and reach. And when all these children grow up, wherever they go they will know their cloud of witnesses is surrounding them with love and prayer.” So God made a small church.
And God said, “I need people who will welcome and appreciate a soloist’s song, even if it’s not perfect, and invite children and youth to serve alongside adults and welcome their input. I want to create a community where people who don’t fit in elsewhere in the world can fit in, where a young person with developmental disabilities can regularly serve as an usher, hand out bulletins and take up the collection.” So God made a small church.
And God said, “I need people who know that neither personal life nor congregational life consists in the abundance of possessions—and they live that way, with simplicity. I’m looking for people who don’t need large, expensive facilities and costly materials to nurture faith, who mentor one another in faith through caring relationships, creative people who can do Christian education on a shoestring. I’m going to call together a community that will put their trust in me instead of in their numbers and bank accounts and personal strengths.” So God made a small church.
You get the idea.
Friends, such small churches already exist, and always have since Jesus first called a few folks together. And as we seek to reach others with the gospel, more small churches like this will be born, and they can thrive.
And guess what. Small churches like these can even exist inside large churches!
Click here to read “Yes, God certainly did make farmers,” another post I wrote in response to this commercial.