Saturday, November 12, 2005

Backbones

I've just returned from my long series of travels. I'm done for a couple of months (thank God!). I appreciate the prayers you've said for me and the kind emails you've sent. It means a lot. When the road gets long and this old body gets worn down there is nothing like getting your kind words of encouragement and love. Full disclosure: there was one snarling email, but that guy/gal sends one from time to time, always anonymously. I'd love to meet with them and find out whatever I've done to harm them (I'll assume it's my fault) but until they grow a backbone and sign their emails I'll just have to keep praying for them and asking God not to judge them as harshly as they judge me.

Speaking of backbones -- and I'm going someplace with this -- the last congregation I spoke at was at Barboursville, West Virginia. They are a lovely group with an attendance around 100 on a good day. Their minister is a fellow about my age named Dave Gladwell and I love that guy. He is a symbol to me of the backbone of the faith. You see, although Rochester is the largest church in the north by some measure, we are not the cradle of faith for the majority of the church. Most of the church exists in small gatherings of less than a hundred, sometimes in old and worn down buildings. They don't have the money for PowerPoint or worship ministers. They don't have huge outreach programs to their communities for the simple fact that they don't have the people or money to man them. Their bulletin boards are full of notices of area meetings, women's Bible class announcements, and perhaps a board with red, white and blue bunting dedicated to "our soldiers."

I grew up on the mission field and couldn't wait to get away from small churches. I didn't want to be stuck in one again... but that's not something I'm bragging about. I didn't understand then what I see clearly now: the small churches that make up the vast majority of our congregations are truly the greenhouse of the faith. The faithful men who preach in them don't have a large staff to help them. They check the baptistry heater, make sure the furnace is on or off, write and print the bulletin, visit the sick, check on the widows and shut-ins. They do all this on a tiny salary with few or no benefits. There will be no advancement, no fame for them. They will not be the sought after speakers for the big events in our brotherhood.

And there are no better men in the brotherhood than these faithful men.

I confess that I often feel guilty when I see the fame and accolades that accrue to me because of a modicum of speaking ability and the grace of God. I am not the backbone of the faith. I do my job as faithfully as I know how -- and without apology -- but I am not better, more spiritual, or more stedfast than the men who preach at these tiny churches. I am rewarded far more than them down here, but I believe they will receive the greater reward in heaven.

I hereby promise, in front of you, my friends, that I will remember these men in prayer, encourage them at every opportunity, and look for any chance to honor them in private and in public. In addition, I want to honor the youth ministers who labor hard with a handful of teens, sometimes part time, with little or no pay and miniscule support. God bless them all. They may never lead at Winterfest or Pepperdine, but they are the ground troops, the grunts, the pointy end of the sharp stick of God. May those of us with position and better pay acknowledge their greater sacrifice and faithfulness.

14 Comments:

At 11/13/2005 07:23:00 AM , Blogger Stephen said...

Thank you Patrick for the good discussion of the structure of the brotherhood up north. I remember when I was interning at FHU and got to spend time worshipping with Henderson Church of Christ and heard Judge Highers preach. While I was there most folks thought I was a lifelong resident of Tennessee who had just been hiding out for far too long. When they heard where I was from some treated me as if I was a space alien but the others treated me as a brother.

Compared to the ways things are here around Lake Erie being in Tennessee was a shocker. It also showed no matter how big of a church I might encounter "down south" we are still part of the same brotherhood and same family. The church might meet in a different manner than one may be accustomed to but it is still the church meeting.

Then again, perhaps I just live in an area that is a huge transplant of southern culture?

 
At 11/13/2005 02:21:00 PM , Blogger Jared Cramer said...

Amen Patrick! It reminds me of something I once read in a preaching text (Craddock or Long I think). Here is my paraphrase:

Who is the best preacher in America? I cannot tell you. I cannot tell you because the best preacher in America is the one who lives faithfully with a small congregation of believers, breaking the Word to them each Sunday. He is a better preacher than I'll ever be.

 
At 11/13/2005 05:30:00 PM , Anonymous TinaMarie Guilfoyle said...

As I read this, I not only thought of the preachers who don't receive great recognition, I thought of the church members. There are so many sister's and brother's who work hard, behind the scenes, to make the body what it is to the members and to the world. It made me consider how I forget to thank them and let them know they are valued and their work appreciated now by me but more importantly by their Lord and Savior.
It also caused me to re-evaluate the motivation I have for doing what I do. It reminded me of Colossians 3:23 "Whatever you do work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men." I needed that little reminder today. Thanks.

 
At 11/13/2005 07:50:00 PM , Blogger Cheetah, the cheetah said...

Yes, Patrick, Yes. Sometimes the negativity of people is the focus, but I think it's much healthier to focus on what is right and good and true.

Your comments make me think of the church where I grew up. It's mostly retirees now, but they still try to reach out however they can. The touch of that little congregation has been felt all over this country by those who were once there but have moved away.

I wish they could remember that the days they are weary.

 
At 11/13/2005 09:05:00 PM , Blogger mike the eyeguy said...

Thank you for honoring the kind of church I grew up in and the men who have pastored there, planting the seed of faith in me as a child, and who have remained steadfast in the face of little recognition or reimbursement. Your words to them are like anointing oil and manna.

 
At 11/13/2005 11:33:00 PM , Blogger TheRealPinkyNarf said...

My father was one of those small town ministers. He was making about $7000 a year. We wore hand-me-downs and didn't have much... but we had everything: each other. I never felt like we were poor. Looking back, I don't remember knowing my father very well; for those same reasons you mention. He visited the sick, the elderly, widowed. He took food, clothing, and money to those in need. He was a servant. I guess that's where I learned it. I can't help but serve, it's in my blood. I think all this work and pressure put on small town preachers is why they tend to not last long. Our family was sacrificed, and I don't feel that was God's intent. My father did what he thought was right, but not being a father and a husband hurts the home. No, those small churches cannot afford a worship leader and staff. We did the cleaning of the church, prepared communion, and all the things that make "church" happen.

Yes, please pray for them. But don't stop there. Get involved! Jesus didn't stop preaching when he gathered the apostles. The apostles didn't stop teaching when they established churches.

If Jesus had a tombstone with an engraving on it, it would read "He went about doing good". I want that on my tombstone, too. I strive to be like Christ and yet struggle each day with the sins of the flesh. But that's another blog.

 
At 11/14/2005 08:44:00 AM , Blogger Jeff Slater said...

Being one of those preachers, I appreciate your words, Patrick.

I know Dave Gladwell. I have worked with him at camp the past two summers, and his mother is a member of our congregation here in Ashland where I preach (his father preached here years ago).

Looking forward to seeing you at our Area Preacher's Meeting next month.

 
At 11/14/2005 10:54:00 AM , Blogger David U said...

Brother Patrick, preach on! Until I was a college student, I attended more "small" congregations than "big" ones. Especially the years overseas. The small rural congregation in Mississippi where my Papa went didn't even have a bathroom.....yep, it did have an old outhouse. There are THOUSANDS of Godly men and women who work in ministry in small congregations that we are unaware of, but God knows them!

Keep em coming!
DU

 
At 11/14/2005 10:58:00 AM , Blogger David U said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 11/15/2005 07:44:00 AM , Blogger Steve Duer said...

You know, not only will many of them not be on stage at Winterfest or lectureships, many will not be there because there is no budget (church of personal).

Wouldn't it be great if a scholarship fund was set up for ministers to attend those events who otherwise might not?

 
At 11/15/2005 10:21:00 AM , Blogger Jason Coriell said...

Your father was just such a minister. He spent some good years in my home congregation. We have grown and our now in that precarious position-too big to function small, too small to function big. By God's grace, we'll keep plugging along.

 
At 11/15/2005 10:36:00 AM , Blogger Lovell's Lookout said...

Patrick- Great eyes. So many times we judge whether someone or something it attracting large numbers. Funny how Jesus ended up with just a handful at the end of His ministry. We think that God doing a "great" thing means big numbers... but it really means God building big hearts. It never ceases to amaze me how many small "pockets" of incredible believers are scattered all over this world. The kingdom is expanding in places we will never hear about. I appreciate your ability to see. Great eyes.

 
At 11/15/2005 11:19:00 AM , Blogger Griffmom said...

Thank you Patrick for your recent trip. You were at my home church for a men's retreat at Kingsway
Christian Church and then at my parents home church in Noblesville.

My husband and I purchased all your dvd's from both speaking engagements as well as from last year's visit to Green Valley. I learn so much listening to you!!!!

In Him
Cheri Griffin

 
At 11/15/2005 07:26:00 PM , Blogger Debi said...

Thank you for your acknowledgement of "tiny church" ministers. My father just happens to be one -- and has struggled to find a "tiny" church that needs a minister and is willing to pay a salary he and my mom can survive on. (They just moved across country 2 years ago.) It's been very difficult and quite frankly discouraging. As you indicated, they're basically a "one man show" and do it all. Unfortunately, my dad has had to seek secular work due to the difficulty in his search.

Maybe those of you in "highly visible authority" positions can shed some light on their situation so others will be aware of and more appreciative of the 'sacrifice' these men make in their love and service of our Lord.

 

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