Giving Up on the Little Church

by Robert E. Speer
via Think on These Things, April-May-June, 2011, Volume 42, Number 2

Many years ago — Ouch! Has it really been that long? — my family and I responded to a plea from another family to join them in a work they were trying to establish on the southern shores of Lake Superior. When we arrived the number of families, including ours, was two. Several months later, the man in the other family was given a job promotion, so he and his family moved away, leaving us alone. The nearest church in the state was 200 miles away.

We invited another family to join us, and then a third, and not long after that a young couple came to join our ranks. The numbers grew slowly at the time, and the church continues to meet in that community. It is still comparatively small but, small or not, a faithful band of saints is the legacy that began 52 years ago.

Two things stand out in memory: The closeness we felt among those few members, and the difficulty of maintaining survival-level support. The common reply among those who bothered to respond, with variations, was, “You don’t have enough people to justify our financial support.” I struggled with this for five years, occasionally falling back on part-time secular work to feed the family and pay the rent. And then, with regrets, I moved on.

This would be a pitiful story if I were the only preacher to face this indignity. More the pity, however, with others involved, this story has been repeated many times over the years. And the attitude continues. I hasten to say that our brethren, when adequately informed, are the most generous people in the world. Yet, far too often, far too many who are capable of supporting men in difficult places have given up on the “little” church; the numbers, they say, do not justify supporting preachers working among saints so few.

That attitude is still with us, as proved by two recent situations coming to my attention: two different states, two small congregations, and two experienced preachers willing to work with them. It has been suggested that if the numbers were larger — say, 75 or 80 people — and/or the preacher better known, support would be provided.

What is wrong with this picture? Several things, and it is observed that there are preachers who contribute to the baleful situation. To illustrate: A young preacher begins his work with a small church. Then, after getting some experience and some “pulpit polish” he moves up; that is, to a larger congregation, one that is self-supporting. Then, with a bit of ambition and a little more time he is able to obtain a position with a still larger church, one not only self-supporting but one with elders and deacons. This is not an indictment of all young preachers, but if you are able to read this you are able to recognize that it does happen.

Swinging the pendulum the other way, I am aware of a congregation that has grown to the point that it is not only self-supporting and guided by the wisdom and example of godly elders but has also determined to have a young preacher join them and their seasoned preacher. In a time frame to be determined they will be instrumental, after the young preacher has gained experience, knowledge, and confidence, in sending out one of these men to begin a new work. Which one? The older, seasoned preacher will be sent out to begin and work with a church without elders while the younger one will remain under the tutelage and encouragement of elders. This case is rare. What a wonderful thing it would be if it were emulated over and over!

My appeal is that congregations capable of supporting a preacher “in the field” to not judge the worthiness of the work on the basis of headcount. Assuming Jesus knew what He was talking about when He said “a labourer is worthy of his hire” (Luke 10:7, KJV; or, “a laborer is worthy of his wages,” NKJV), I plead for the support of competent men who are willing to work with smaller numbers in view of development and growth of those groups. Please don’t make beggars —and paupers—of those who are willing to go where others will not.

Indeed, preach the word! May God bless you in this effort.

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