There is a picture up on the bulletin board in my office ... it's a picture from my hometown church in Chattahoochee, FL. It was taken in March of 2015 when I went down to speak at the church's 100th anniversary celebration. Lots of memories at that church ... the best vacation Bible school in town, family night suppers, long prayers from Rev. Holmes, an awesome Magnolia tree outside just right for kids to climb in, hard pews, kids Christmas programs, flannel boards, sitting with my mom, ringing the bell in the steeple, Easter egg hunts with real eggs and the feast immediately following, hearing Mr. Hill whistle, etc ... it's where I came to accept and know Jesus Christ as my Savior.
Back in those days we thought revival was taking place if 40 people showed up. Regular attendance was usually around 25-30 and now I understand it's more like 15. I sometimes come across articles and hear various folks say that churches like this just need to close, that there's no future for them, that they are essentially obsolete. Granted, there were many times when even as a kid I wondered why the church stayed open, why there were only 3 in the youth group, why we couldn't have a full-time pastor, and why I couldn't go somewhere else where my friends attended. We lived only a couple of blocks away from Chattahoochee Presbyterian Church but we had to walk right by the front of another large local church which was always full, where cars parked all the way down to our house, and where many of my friends were. But my mom did a great job of teaching me the value of theological and doctrinal conviction, the supremacy and authority of God's Word, the meaning of commitment, the importance of church family, and the understanding that all this was about Jesus rather than me.
Do little churches like this just need to close their doors and call it quits? It's worth taking note that 2 out of our 3 person youth group ended up in full-time ministry and the other remains a vibrant follower of Christ. Sure, some churches likely need to close for various reasons. But count me a fan of small churches! What are we saying to those 15 folks in Chattahoochee (or similar church elsewhere) if we tell them they just need to shut down? What will happen to folks who are in the situation I was in as a boy? I realize these churches are small, insignificant, obscure, poor, inefficient, weak, and needy, but isn't that the manner in which Jesus originally entered into our world ... in Bethlehem, laid in a manger, wrapped in some cloths, surrounded by low-life shepherds?
I know we all want well-funded, dynamic, exciting, cutting-edge, vibrant churches full of programs for us and our children to keep us busy and feeling good about ourselves and allowing us to experience what we consider to be the abundant life, but the very fact of that first Christmas just seems to shout something else - weakness, obscurity, poverty, need.
Though we all want the beautiful church and the beautiful life, I'm guessing 99.9% of folks reading this aren't necessarily enjoying that kind of life. Most all of you are experiencing pain, brokenness, sorrow, weakness, wounds, loneliness, weariness, heartache, etc. The good news is that Jesus came for you! He understands us, He has experienced all we experience, He's suffered far more than we ever will, He knows the limitations of this life ... He's tasted abuse, rejection, betrayal, mocking, abandonment, false accusations, insult, denial, and shame.
As much as Christmas shouts weakness and obscurity it screams even more loudly Salvation, Redemption, Hope, Joy, Peace, Eternal Life. Whatever your situation is today, whatever stress you're feeling, however you've been treated by others, however little you feel, etc. please know that Jesus Christ came for you and even now calls you to Himself so that you may know and enjoy Him. I wish you a very, Merry Christmas as you find rest in our amazing Savior who was born as a baby in Bethlehem!