In my currently preferred sport, running, one of the really nice things is the culture of acceptance. If you go to a running event the absolute elites can be there, and you and I can be there too. A recent running magazine issue was dedicated entirely to what it takes to finish last…but to finish. To be in the running community is to receive grace and acceptance, regardless of ability. In other words, to be a runner is often a gift.
In church there are two analogous situations and I fear we are not as graceful as runners when it comes to them. The first is how far along our path of faith we may be, how often we pray, how many verses we can quote, how “holy” we are. The second one is more about pastors. The church throughout history has mostly been populated by churches of 100 people or less, many argue that 90% of churches today have 100 or less. So why should it be shameful or embarrassing to pastor a small church? Why must small church pastors feel like failures?
When it comes to the first I suspect the issue that our culture has taught us to compare ourselves to others and to always find ourselves coming up short. This makes it easier for companies to sell us promise-filled-junk and for governments to treat us poorly or not listen to our voices because they aren’t as loud as the developers who want to build unnecessary restaurants and stores or those who would dump dirty soil near our lakes. This impacts our faith lives because we are so used to assuming that everyone around us is ahead of us, is more important than us, is more worth listening to than us (this impression being based on nothing, it’s just our default reading of the situations we find ourselves in) that we assume such things of those with whom we share a pew. You might not think this way but I have had people tell me they feel they are too biblically illiterate to attend a bible study, but if bible study is for those with all the answers then what’s the point of it?
The truth is the person sitting next to you is just as messed up as you are, just as fragile, just as worried about their family or finances, or job, or car, or water heater, or parent or, or, or…whatever it is. They are also not sure they know enough scripture, walk close enough to Jesus, pray as frequently or fervently as they should, they too aren’t sure why all our healing prayers aren’t answered or why marriages sometimes fall apart.
My peace I give you
Grace and peace to you
Salvation is of the Lord
It’s in the brokenness we find common ground, at the foot of the cross, in our identity as saved by Christ Jesus, not ourselves. Don’t believe me? Talk to the most put together person in the church, ask them something real and listen to their answer.
Some pastors I know struggle with size issues. Bigger is always better right? I myself have a hard time with this. I as suspicious of the headcount done here yesterday, I know there were more than double the kids reported, and I felt that there were more than reported in the pews. Why should this bother me? What does it really matter? People came, they prayed together, were vulnerable together, listened to Scripture being read and explained, forgiveness proclaimed, etc. etc. so why worry about just exactly how many were present?
Because I am stuck in a mindset that knows little about to gauge success. It’s an old joke that ministers love to mow lawns because we can see progress in the lines in the grass. I live in a world fascinated by numbers, even where they are irrelevant (has anyone figured out what to do with the sleep data my watch picks up yet???). Somehow if I am not careful this seeps into my life as a church leader.
Whenever this happens I remind myself of a passage that is crucial to my life as a leader, 1 Corinthians 15:58, Therefore my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. 5000 people, 500 people, 50 people, your labor is not in vain.
Hold to that. Sunday morning. And maybe more than any other time on Monday morning (or Tuesday or whenever you start your week) because labor you will, but it shall not be in vain.
The last marathoner still finished the race
The Did-Not-Finish at least toed the starting line
We live by Grace and in hope.
Run the race set for you not the one you think God should have set for you (believe me, He knows what He is doing).