Summary: Goliath-sized giants sometimes challenge small congregations, but God can work through us even though we are small.
he Old Testament records the confrontation between David and Goliath. The giant, over nine feet tall, stood as a formidable enemy. But, in the end, with God’s strength, David prevailed.
You may be up against giants in your own personal life such as addictions, economic realities, or doubts about your own worth. But, with God’s strength, you can prevail.
It is not just the giants in our personal lives that challenge us, however. Giants can show up in churches as well, especially in small churches.
On the last Sunday of our vacation, we attended worship at an inner-city church in Kansas City. It has a history similar to many churches we know. It was once large and is now small. Attendance runs in the forties. I met a young woman from Taiwan there who had started attending recently. She asked me, “Are all Church of the Brethren churches small like this?” The answer, of course, is no. Many are small, but some have 200, 300, 600, or even 1000 members. But it really doesn’t matter, does it?
Sometimes we are tempted to look around and say, “We are a small church. We can’t do much.” Or “If only we were that big or had this resource,” as though we are not worth much in God’s kingdom if we are not big. The “bigger is better” idea is an American thing, not a God thing. Unfortunately, today we see people running to churches with big-name leaders and lots of programs to choose from, like they would shop at the mall.
Moderator of the 2006 Annual Conference, Ron Beachley, wrote in the July/August Messenger that one of the concerns he heard as he traveled to churches during the past year was that church membership and Sunday school attendance are decreasing. And some people talked about the lack of financial support in churches. When that happens, small churches feel especially vulnerable. But that doesn’t mean God has forsaken small churches.
Sue and I were challenged by a book we read on vacation about equipping your church to reach a changing world. The authors say, “God is always turning up in the most forsaken of places. Throughout Scripture, God’s future comes from the bottom up in the most unlikely people and places. Imagine the people and places with the least potential, and there is where God’s strange future is likely to be found.” (Alan J. Roxburgh & Fred Romanuk, The Missional Leader: equipping your church to reach a changing world. 2006) They list a patriarch like Abram, a woman like Ruth, a teenage girl named Mary, and Jesus on the cross. These are unlikely people in unlikely places, yet God uses them. Does that ring a bell with you?
It is always a wonderful experience to worship with 3000 or more people at Annual Conference. It feels good to be among that many saints on earth. But the fact is the Church of the Brethren is a small denomination when you compare it with larger denominations like Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians. Yet, despite its small size, the Church of the Brethren has demonstrated significant influence among other groups. At Annual Conference, we learned, for example, that when the World Council of Churches was writing a statement about violence and peace, they incorporated much of the wording submitted by our denomination. Ours may be a small, unlikely denomination, yet God is using it to bring a message of peace to the world.
And, compared to many churches, this congregation is small. When you came here for the first time, you may have looked around and thought, “There’s not much going on here. There aren’t many people and there aren’t many like me. The people are not anything special; they are just common, ordinary folks.” But remember, those are the people God works through.
Back almost two thousand years ago, the Apostle Paul wrote a letter to a small church in a big city. It was a young congregation and, unfortunately, its members were facing difficult problems. Some things they couldn’t agree on. Some thought they were better than the rest. Some were engaging in immoral behavior. Yet, when Paul wrote to them, he didn’t belittle them or give up on them. He reminded them in I Corinthians 1:26-31 that God doesn’t depend on human status or wisdom or skill to get things done.
Paul knew that the message of the cross would look like foolishness to people who hear about it. For Jesus to give up his life on a cross doesn’t look like a powerful way to accomplish anything. But he also knew that God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise and God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised. (1:27,28). God has chosen people from places that look useless and helpless in order to form the future of the Kingdom.