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.