In a few hours I will be calling the people in this place to come together for the sole purpose of worshipping our Lord. We will sing and pray to the God who created this beautiful land we have worked and played in all week. We will listen to the Word of the One who ‘dwelt among us’ and died for our sins on a cross. And we will ask that the Spirit stirs us again to be renewed to deal with the disappointments, fears and guilt that build up between Lord’s Days.
While singing a hymn last Sunday I, looking out on a congregation of not quite 40 that day, thought about the large churches in cities that would be playing huge pipe organs, having anthems sung by choirs larger than our whole congregation and hearing sermons by preachers who had more time and skill to devote to studying the Bible and preparing an eloquent sermon. Many churches on any given Sunday would have congregations larger than our whole community.
As I thought of this I turned toward the altar. It is the same Lord we are worshipping. Our congregation might not be large, but the God we worship is, and it is His presence that makes the Church. God is no less present in a house church of two or three gathered in his name than in the biggest mega-church or most beautiful cathedral (Salisbury would win for me!).
I have often thought along these lines. I once heard Eugene Peterson say that the Pastor is responsible for the Gospel in a particular place. This stewardship of the good news in a specific context and location has shaped the way I view ministry. I’m not just a minister of a small congregation somewhere. I’m the pastor of specific people with histories and destinies – vocations and a story to live out. But a minister is also a steward of the mysteries of God in a place. So my ministry intersects the Natchez Trace and Bear Creek, in some way it has a bearing on all of God’s creation: the trees, the river and the deer.
Thinking like this helps me remember that we are ministers of the Lord before we are ministers for the people. If we are concentrating on the number of worshippers in our congregation we are not concentrating on the One we worship. If we look at our ministry area solely through demographic data, we miss something about the PLACE in which we minister. I think Peterson was right and it is a great joy to immerse oneself into unique people and a specific place.