Posts Tagged ‘Small Church’

Easter and Pentecost mark two movements in God’s great work of resurrection.  Here is the story of St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church, a small congregation in Oxford, North Carolina that is experiencing resurrection.  The congregation’s junior warden describes the first phone call he received from their now-vicar as the “craziest Holy Spirit moment.”  How apt!  When God’s foolishness is greater than human wisdom, you’ve got to expect crazy Holy Spirit moments. 

This story comes from Faith and Leadership, a great web site from Duke Divinity School.  In the sidebar you can click on another article about a model the Episcopal Church is using for leadership in small churches.  Read St. Cyprian’s story and be inspired for Easter and Pentecost!

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Our numbers are not looking good.  My denomination, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), lost 510,536 members between 1998 and 2009. Eighty-eight congregations closed in 2009 alone.  My own congregation is mourning the deaths of many dear saints.  We are also watching with sorrowful joy as most of our children move away in order to answer their calling.  I am sure Gideon was utterly dismayed when his army of 32,000 was reduced to 300 in the face of a massive contingent of Midianites, and then utterly amazed at what God did next.  I wonder whether God is using similar tactics with us.  Could God be doing a “Gideon’s Army” kind of thing here and now?

Gideon’s Army

Judges 6-8

Gideon could not believe his ears! Just when he was getting his confidence up, just as he was really beginning to believe this job was do-able, here comes God saying, “Gideon, this army’s too big! We’ve got to cull this herd!”

Who ever heard of anything so foolish? If anything, the Israelite army of 32,000 needed to get bigger. Why? Because the Midianite army boasted 135,000 soldiers, and they were mounted on camels. Their strength was massive!

Just when Gideon was beginning to trust God. God had given sign after sign to show Gideon that God really was with him, and that God really would use him and the Israelite army to stop the Midianite menace. Remember Gideon’s fleece? It is the most famous of the signs God gave him.

Gideon said, “Lord, I need some reassurance that you really are going to deliver Israel by my hand. I need to be sure I’m not just dreaming this up. Tonight I am going to lay a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. Tomorrow morning if the dew is only on the fleece and the ground all around is dry, I’ll know I’ve heard you right.” God acquiesced. It was so.

Gideon’s reply? “Don’t get mad at me, Lord, but I need another sign. Let’s use the fleece again, only this time, let the fleece be dry, and the ground all around be wet.” Once again, God acquiesced. It was so.

Gideon was convinced—mostly. He tested God and was reassured. Somehow the 32,000 Israelite soldiers would be enough to go against the enemy. But hold on: not time to start the war yet. Here comes God with a huge test for Gideon! (more…)

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Painting by James Tissot

In God’s eyes there is no “just a” as in “we’re just a small church.”  When I hear people in small congregations use those two words “just a,” I suspect that a spirit of weakness has hold of them.  Like the bent over woman in the synagogue in Luke 13, small churches often have a hard time looking the world in the face.  Christ the healer is at work doing something about that.  Here’s a sermon I preached on Luke 13:10-21 some years ago.  Notice that the parables of the mustard seed and the yeast immediately follow the healing story. 

“Stand Up Straight!”

This story of Jesus is one of my all time favorites.  And now it is especially poignant because my father is in the same fix as the woman in the story.  He is bent over, and he feels too weak to stand up straight.

The Greek text says that a spirit of weakness had crippled this woman.  For eighteen years it had held her down, so that she couldn’t stand up straight.  Nowadays she would probably receive a diagnosis of scoliosis or osteoporosis. Think of what that means.  Pain.  Spontaneous fractures in her vertebrae.  Think of what being bent all the time did to this woman’s lungs and her other internal organs.  Think of what this woman had to do to her neck to be able to see.  She would have to bend it backwards, like this, or else turn sideways and look at the world from the side.  It took so much effort to look up and see that she spent most of the time looking at the ground.

Even worse, perhaps, than the physical suffering was the emotional suffering.  In Jesus’ day people believed that disability was caused by a demon, and that it was a punishment from God.  Just as they do now, people stared.  They avoided her.  They wondered what in the world this woman had done to deserve such an affliction.  It was a source of shame. (more…)

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