My name is Jeff and I'm a pastor of a small, local, Christian fellowship

It's a wonderful thing to love your work; to know that when you do it you are doing something that you were born to do. I am so fortunate to be both. I don't say I am the best at what I do. God knows that are so many others who do it better. But I do feel fairly lucky to be called by such a good God to do work I can only do with his help, to be loved by a beautiful woman, and to have a workshop where I can work my craft. These musings of mine are part of that work.

Friday, August 17, 2012

No small thing

It's small but it's home
As there are no little people in God’s sight, so there are no little places. To be wholly committed to God in the place where God wants him-this is the creature glorified.”
Francis Schaeffer, from “No Little People, No Little Places”

I live and work in a small town. I pastor a small fellowship in a community that boasts several equally small congregations. But in our little place God is doing wonderfully large things.

Every Tuesday morning for many years running a small group of pastors and ministry leaders has gathered at Bob's Grill to have breakfast and pray together. There's usually a lot of laughter and lighthearted banter followed by an earnest time of intercession for our community and the surrounding area. While announcements are allowed it is not a meeting. It's brothers and sisters (one of our membership is a female pastor and frequently wives show up as well) getting together to encourage and pray for one another. When Norm lost his wife of 52 years last year, we were his grief support group. When Kirk had some health issues that required hospitalization, we were his chaplains. With tongue-in-cheek homage to the movie of the same name, “The Breakfast Club” is how I refer to it. We minister in different settings and different theological traditions but that's beside the point. It is a brotherhood and our habit of eating and praying together on a regular basis has led to swapping pulpits from time to time, prayer gatherings together for our community and joint worship gatherings. After Norm lost his wife, with my leadership's okay we shut down our place one Sunday and went to join his simply as a sign that we loved him. This is no small thing.

It's easy to miss this small building
A couple of years ago, in response to the growing Somali refugee population in nearby Barron, a handful of Christian fellowships – three from Chetek among them – were instrumental in launching The Well International. Our mission is to affect our Somali neighbors with the love of Jesus Christ through tutoring, English language lessons and other such services. We rent a small facility in Barron, have hired both a Director and an English teacher and through the director's efforts have attracted a handful of volunteers to serve. Who among the town fathers of Barron back in the 19th Century would have thought that a mosque would number among the religious gathering places in that city of 3,000 all these years later? I'm sure none of them. But 600 members of the Somali diaspora reside in the county seat now but the good news is a group of disciples of Jesus work alongside them in hopes of seeing God do the impossible in our small county: establish a Somali fellowship. That's not a big goal. That's setting your sights on the moon. In the four or five years that there has been intentional Christian witness to this small slice of Africa, many significant relationships have been formed and, especially recently, important dialogues of faith have occurred. Think of them like Mount Carmel-show-downs only with far less drama. Each group is seeking to convert the other but the important thing is that we are having this conversation! This, in terms of benchmarks, is huge.

The House of Prayer on its inaugural day
This past spring, a group of a dozen people from a few of the fellowships in our community began a House of Prayer right downtown. They are open every Thursday night from 6:30-9:30 and during a usual set there are a handful of individuals with a heart to pray for our city who gather together to worship and intercede. Like last night. I didn't get there until over an hour into the set. Rick and Sandy, the ex-officio leaders of HOP, were present along with one of their daughters and little Elijah, the 1 year-old son of a young woman from our fellowship who has been living with them since he was born. My daughter had led the first worship set. My son was leading the next. Another couple from the Alliance fellowship in town were also on hand. For three hours this small group sat in the gathering room and invoked his presence in our community in greater measure. This, too, is no small thing.

A matter of perspective
As you would expect in a small community among small fellowships there are small endeavors going on regularly whether it's the men's and women's groups that gather at United Methodist on Tuesdays (guys meet early morning, ladies meet for lunch) or Kirk's early morning Tuesday prayer group that meets at the HOP. And these are just the ones that I am aware of. Who knows how many others are gathering together in homes, at eateries or in church basements to read the Word and pray together. But the fact that our town is small, our fellowships are small and our groups are small does not add up to “smallness” as in inconsequential or insignificant. As Francis Schaeffer so aptly pointed out in the same essay as his oft-quoted “no little people” piece,

Nowhere more than in America are Christians caught in the twentieth-century syndrome of size. Size will show success. If I am consecrated, there will necessarily be large quantities of people, dollars, etc. This is not so. Not only does God not say that size and spiritual power go together, but he even reverses this (especially in the teaching of Jesus) and tells us to be deliberately careful not to choose a place too big for us. We all tend to emphasize big works and big places, but all such emphasis is of the flesh. To think in such terms is simply to hearken back to the old, unconverted, egoist, self-centered Me. This attitude, taken from the world, is more dangerous to the Christian than fleshly amusement or practice. It is the flesh.

Norm, the Caleb among us in the shadow of his 80th year, makes a point of reminding anyone who cares to listen to him that in all his years of ministry spanning over 40 years he has never been a part of such a fellowship as the one that exists here. “It's not just that we're fellow pastors and so we get together to socialize with one another. You all have my back and I have yours.” He rarely says that without becoming a bit teary-eyed. Apparently to Norm this is no small thing either.

Blurred to protect his identity
We've had a recent addition to the Breakfast Club. I wouldn't necessarily mention it here if I thought my blog had a nation-wide following. But since mostly my readers include my mom and few other mildly interested fans I think I can share this without his secret getting too loose. Mick is the pastor of Faith Baptist Church, the largest game in town in terms of regular attendance (perhaps 200 on a Sunday morning). I lovingly refer to Faith as “the Walled City”. It's roots deep in separatistic Baptist tradition, by such tradition and habit corporately they have a hard time mixing with others – even with fellow Baptist fellowships of the same ilk in surrounding communities. But Mick has begun to join us at the table. He enjoys the fellowship – and we enjoy his. Admittedly he usually sits with his back against the wall for fear that some of the old guard might spy him eating with persons of such questionable theology as we but he has been joining us all the same. Despite the fact that I am a tongue-talker and Carrie is a female pastor, he's willing to be seen with us at the same table his critics be danged. Something new is afoot. And it is no small thing and it makes me thank God all over again for being assigned to such a small post in this small town.