Small churches. I am becoming increasingly convinced that small gatherings of God’s faithful people are among the world’s most beautiful, yet underrated things. Small churches are diamonds buried in sand–hard to find, but worth digging for. How many thousands of people unknowingly walk right by them without ever realizing their worth?
Of course, not all small churches are good churches, nor are all large churches bad (our church is quite large, and we love it dearly). But, I draw attention to faithful, God-honoring small churches, because they don’t receive the recognition they deserve. The fact is most churches, especially among unreached peoples, are small. I’m told the average church in Japan has around 30 members. I’ve seen some that are smaller.
Big stands out and draws our attention. Big things, either in size or perceived impact, get talked about. Whether we realize it or not, we tend to ascribe greater value to things, like churches, based on size. Just the other day, I met a pastor at a community event, and a person later commented to me, “That’s so cool you got to talk to him. His church has over 5,000 people, you know!”
On the flip side, we tend to minimize importance when things, like churches, are small. I’ve heard many pastors and missionaries lament, “My church only has X number of people.” I can understand why that might be discouraging. But, there is something praiseworthy about these small congregations that continue to meet faithfully to worship Jesus Christ, preach the word of God, encourage one another and care for those in need, even when no one else notices. They do not do what they do to draw attention to themselves. Though they appear unremarkable, they will receive commendation from the Lord. He takes careful note when no one else does.
Jesus Christ to the church in Philadelphia: “I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and not denied my name” (Revelation 3:8).
Commenting on the verse above, George Eldon Ladd wrote, “The church in Philadelphia was one so abounding in good works that she was pleasing to the Lord. Although the church had but little power and was small with very limited influence, its character was such that the letter has only commendation from the Lord, not censure” (A Commentary on the Revelation of John).
In contrast to other churches receiving letters in the book of Revelation, the Lord only commends and does not rebuke the church in Philadelphia. Though they did not have power or influence, the Lord is pleased with them. He promises that the influential people of their day will “bow down before before your feet and learn that I have loved you” (verse 9). They didn’t have a place among the noteworthy of their age, yet Jesus promises a greater, more permanent place in his Kingdom, “I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it” (verse 12).
Faithfulness is not necessarily accompanied by numbers and influence in this age. Nonetheless, it is pleasing to the Lord, and it will receive its reward in the age to come. That’s what we’re banking on.
Japan has been called one of the hardest fields in the world by those who study missions closely. Thousands of missionaries and Japanese ministers have labored faithfully for years without seeing much visible fruit. While we pray for a breakthrough, we’re going forward with the knowledge that people have not yet come to faith in large numbers. Maybe God will change that in our lifetime! Some in Japan believe he might. If not, we’re preparing ourselves for years of ministry in small, beautiful churches. Small churches may not exert extensive influence or receive recognition among their neighbors, but we’re happy to devote ourselves to serving with them nonetheless, knowing the One from whom they will receive a reward.
Small children. Below are some photos of Ezra and Violet. We love them and so do many of you. We’re sharing these, because we know many of you want to see them. Disclaimer: these photos are terribly one-sided, depicting mainly happy times. When we have photos of the temper-tantrums and dirty diapers, maybe we’ll share those as well. It’s just much easier to capture a content, smiling child than to grab the camera and start shooting when they’re screaming uncontrollably or flinging yogurt. We love our children, not primarily because they’re cute and smiley, but because they are our children. God gave them to us; we are happy he did.