Another church in our little community closed its doors recently. Worshiped on a Sunday pretty much as usual and then, at least temporarily, shut down.
That church opened its doors, I’m told, in 1933 in the midst of the Great Depression. She weathered tough times; it was prosperous times that were the larger challenge.
That’s not a big surprise, if you read a little church history. The church (the church universal and all her many congregations, not specifically the little church I’ve mentioned) has always been stronger in hard times and much less so in easier times. For Christians in America, the problem has rarely been death in persecution; the larger danger has always been that we’d die in our apathetic sleep.
But the closing of that little church makes me sad. They’ve been a church where “everybody knows your name,” not a mega-glitz church where almost no one does. I’m deeply thankful for my jillions of siblings in God’s large family whose names I can’t know but who wear His. But I’m particularly thankful for folks like these who names and faces I’ve known for years.
You see, we’re not a mega-church mega-town where any of our churches can afford to blindly ignore the others because we’re so busy or big. We have plenty of faults, but I doubt any of our churches are under any illusion that with some super programs and a great business plan we’ll grow to be the “Christian” equivalent of Disney’s Magic Kingdom or make the cover of Religion 500.
Being little carries with it a large reminder: We’re not only part of the larger Body of Christ, we’re part of Christ’s Body right here. When Christ’s people here hurt, even if they don’t hail from my group or worship down the pew from me, I hurt.
During plague times, pastor and poet John Donne wrote, “Don’t send to ask for whom the bell tolls [tolling out news of another death]; it tolls for thee.” What he wrote of individuals is true here. When a good church closes its doors, it diminishes the rest of us.
Tough times. In this world, real persecution against Christians is increasing alarmingly even as in our society prosperity and complacency weaken the church in ways persecution cannot. And, at the very time churches here are losing their older, more faithful members, our society is becoming increasingly “faith-less.”
Attendance is just one symptom, but a symptom it is, crossing all lines. “I’ll be there anytime the doors are open. Providing the dog doesn’t seem to be developing a sniffle. Or if my third cousin’s aunt doesn’t come to visit. Or if the barometric pressure in Bolivia is conducive to my coming. Anyway, I’ll probably almost for sure see you sometime maybe.”
As always, when despair is tempting, it’s time to look up. Time to remember Jesus’ promise that even “the Gates of Hell will not prevail against my church.” Christ’s Body will not only be okay, victory is assured.
In the meantime, it might not hurt to remember how incredibly encouraging such a seemingly small thing as a practical choice to show up and bow in worship can be to the members of Christ’s Body whose faces we know. While the doors are still open.
You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!
Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.