Posted tagged ‘mega church’

My Small Town, Small Church Bethlehem

December 15, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     December 15, 2019

                            

I’m not against the mega-church. It has its mission, purpose, and place. A lot of my friends are involved in mega-churches in various locations around the country. I’m just not a big church kind of guy.

Most Sundays I’m sitting in a rock hard pew instead of watching a band rock out on stage. The church I attend is about a 45 minute drive from the half-million people city where we live, in a small town of 500 people. The church is about as unsophisticated and un-seeker sensitive as you can get…and yet there’s something that touches my spirit when I worship there with about 15 other people. 

It’s my small town, small church Bethlehem, off the beaten path and unnoticed, a block from the Methodist church that is equally unnoticed and set back in time.

In our city’s newspaper this morning there was a special section that focused on the demise of the small town. It was like a eulogy for what used to be a main fabric in the Americana tapestry, but is now slipping into being part of a memorable past. There was a yearning in the article for a return to the richness of small town communities and weeping words about its fading away.

The same obituary points could be stated about the small town church. Most of the people who move to Simla, Colorado— the few that would apply to, that is— are either running away from something or arriving to disappear from the hustle and bustle of urban life. 

Most of the visitors who come through the doors of our church aren’t quite sure what they are getting themselves into. There’s no church nursery, children’s church, organist, pianist, or welcome center. The congregation is rarely singing the right notes that the “music machine” is playing and last Sunday we didn’t have a single Christmas carol where the number of verses in the hymnal was exactly the number of verses that the machine sounded out.

And yet I’m drawn to its homespun charm and chatter. The coffee is weaker than even Mrs. Folger’s would make it, and someone’s niece that we’ve been praying for this past year is always referred to in the bulletin as so-and-so’s “neice.” It is a church that functions out of an unwritten but defined structure and readily admits that we’re all cracked pots or crackpots.

It has never been lost on me that the birthplace of Jesus was a small town, a village, and that the first visitors were shepherds from the countryside. It took the Magi, representatives of royalty and the upper crust, much longer to show up.

Perhaps my eastern Kentucky rural roots have had too much influence on my perspective, but I hope small towns and small churches can continue to be part of the spiritual journeys of the folk I rub elbows with on Sunday mornings. 

We’ll worship together on Christmas Eve, a special service that they asked me if they could have. I told them that they didn’t need my permission to have a Christmas Eve service and they replied, “We know, but we need you to speak.”

Okay!

The last Sunday in December a young lady is getting baptized. It prompted two questions that needed to be answered. Who’s going to move the old wooden doors that the baptistry is being used for their storage space; and two, does the heater still work? Actually, the second question was more like “We sure hope the heater works!” Since my tootsies will be submerged in the water, I’m offering up a prayer for warmth as well.

Could it be that, just like in first century Bethlehem, God might bring new life and new hope to the the proclamation of the gospel through the unlikely rebirth of the small town, small church Bethlehem.

Bethlehem, after all, means “house of bread”, and the church in Simla, along with the weak coffee, has cookies just about every Sunday after worship. It’s usually a sweet ending to a morning of being blessed.

Pastor As Visitor

September 3, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                    September 3, 2012

I finished the first week of a two week study leave yesterday. One of the weird things about being on a study leave is that I’m supposed to keep my distance from my congregation. My spiritual shepherds have told me that, and I’ve tried to adhere to it as much as I can, but it’s difficult. (Although I’m sitting in my office at church as I write this since it’s Labor Day and the building is quiet today.)

Yesterday I went to the early service of a large Presbyterian church here in town. One of the things I look to do on the few Sundays I’m not worshiping in my congregation is to worship in other churches, to be able to receive, as well as evaluate, from other pastors and bodies of believers. Since I pastor a small congregation I have to always keep in mind that mega-church life is not who we are, or who we will be. But in the midst of that realization that things in Jerusalem are different than things in Nazareth there are hints of the same story being written.

Ninety-five percent of small church pastors would probably tell you that they would like to pastor a mega-church. I think the percentage of mega-church pastors who would like to pastor a mega-church might be somewhat less than that. As they say, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence…but cows on both sides leave dung!

I slipped into the next to last row…like a typical Baptist…and surveyed the congregation. The early service at this church was a mostly senior crowd- the kind that will stampede Village Inn for breakfast right after church. The choir was magnificent…a hundred strong! They were accompanied by a piano, bass guitar, trumpet, trombone, and percussion. During the service they led the congregation in the singing of four praise choruses and two hymns. On one of the praise choruses they managed to get the congregation to join in clapping in rhythm for almost twenty seconds before hands once again dropped and the choir left it alone.

It was a familiar scene.

The Senior Pastor did the children’s story. Being a senior crowd he had about a dozen kids up front for it out of the eight hundred or so present. Once again, it was a familiar scene. He had one young boy who was always on the verge of breaking out of the corral, ready to take center stage. The pastor, being a pretty perceptive guy, was always one step ahead of him. It taught me something. There are some children’s stories I do where it seems like I’ve got the rope on the steer, but am being dragged behind trying to get control.

One of the associate pastors read the gospel reading for the morning and in referring to Jesus going out into the desert for forty days misread Mark 1:13. He switched two words that gave it a much different meaning. “He (Jesus) was with the wild angels, and animals attended him.”

Since the scripture was being projected on the front walls people snickered a little bit at his mistake.

It was  a familiar scene. It brought back memories of when I was a seminary student on staff at a large Presbyterian church in the Chicago area. One Sunday I was assisting in the worship service and mixed up two things during the prayer time. “And we celebrate with Kathy Smith on the death of her mother!”

If you want to get people’s attention just majorly screw up!

The Senior Pastor had an excellent message talking about John the Baptist. The service was being streamed into a few retirement facilities around the area, plus, for some reason, a place in Minnesota. About two-thirds of the way through the message the cell phone of the eighty year old lady sitting three feet away from me started ringing in her purse. She reacted quickly, picking up her purse, unzipping it, sorting through a multitude of items inside until she found the cell phone. But instead of hitting mute, or turning it off, she proceeded to answer it and have a two minute conversation. After an uncomfortable two minutes- during which time I missed the pastor’s second sermon point- she finally said, “Well, Mabel, I’m in church…”

It was a familiar scene.

What I took away from the experience was a great message (what I heard) from the pastor, a well-crafted order of worship, a congregation that is serving the city in significant ways, and a time to reflect, renew, and receive.

Every church, small and large, has it’s warts and it’s beauty marks. Jesus doesn’t look for perfection in performance, but rather authenticity in our yearning for the presence of God.