We've just returned from a weekend trip to visit our oldest son in NE Ohio. What a great time!
Friday we spent a beautiful summer evening at Jacobs, er, Progressive Field, watching the Indians beat the Twins, while eating very expensive hot dogs and observing with amusement the gaggle of eighth-grade girls in front of us as they never watched a minute of the game.
Saturday, at Matt's request, I gave him a lesson in pruning shrubs. He has a beautiful 1925 Craftsman-style home, with a mature landscape. He had been making the mistake of most new gardeners, by not pruning diligently enough. It's very hard to learn the importance of really pruning aggressively to maintain older shrubs. He had been avoiding it, or taking too little off, and now things were looking a bit wild. Fortunately, he owned the right tools, and I was able to give him the basic knowledge he needed to bring things back to their natural shape, within the the boundaries of size that he need to stick with. It was hot work, but by the end of the morning things were looking much better, and there was quite a brush pile for him to burn this fall.
This morning, we attended the church where he is the pastor. He has been there 3 1/2yrs. Since I also work Sundays, we have only been able to attend there about six times since he accepted his call there. That has given us a kind of snapshot record of the way this church has been changing.
When Matt first took this pastorate, the church had a superficial appearance of health, although the congregation was worried that they were in a slow decline. The first services we attended were okay, but there was a slightly depressive feel. The Sanctuary was a very large, dark room. People sat rather far apart, scattered widely over a room designed for a much larger group. There were subsets of folks that didn't interact with other subsets of folks. The singing was minimal. That was hard for us, because our home church people are an ardent bunch of hymn-singers!
The last two times we've been out there, though, there is a real change. People are friendlier to each other before and after the service. The worship time is livelier. The prayer is led by multiple people, and congregants are participating much more in that, as well. There are new faces, and many of those are youngster, brought by their friends. One young boy eagerly told me that he would be baptized soon. The prayer requests are not just for the sick, but for wayward children, unemployed members, deliverance from addictions. These requests are so heartfelt and so humbly and unashamedly made, and there is such a sense of faith in prayer!
At one point, Matt asked if anyone had anything to announce. Several did, and then I felt prompted to timidly raise my hand. Matt gave me the chance to speak. I told the congregation that our church has Matt and the Warren church listed to be prayed for every week in our prayer bulletin. I told them that a noon group prays for them on Monday, the staff prays for them on Tuesday, and the choir prays for them on Wednesday. Behind me, a lady said, with great conviction, "So that's why we're still here!" The congregation clapped.
You see, there aren't as many of them as there were three years ago. That's never what a pastor wants to see happen! Our American ideal of success tells us that a church should be growing numerically, if the pastor is successful.
But that is our Standard of Measurement, not the Kingdom of Heaven's. By Kingdom standards, this church has had a mustard seed revolution. After no baptisms for years, there have been many, and several more coming up. A lay man has been licenced to preach. Young people are dragging their parents to church, and the parents are meeting Christ. There have even been a few genuine miracles that have occurred. Adults are eagerly meeting to study the Bible, which, for many, is a first. The area minister has held this little church up as the first one involved in the church renewal process in his area to achieve the status of a truly missional congregation.
They just needed a good pruning, back to green wood. Now, they are ready to grow!