As I begin this blog entry I am sitting in a hospital cafeteria in Northern Ontario as my wife and her three sisters care for their father who has been quite ill for the past two weeks. We don’t know what the result of this illness will be but we know that whatever it is, he is ready to face eternity with the confidence that only Jesus Christ can give. Actually at eighty-five years of age he is more than a little anxious just to bring his life here on earth to an end and to begin a whole new adventure in heaven but also content to let that happen in God’s perfect timing.
For the family it is a time of very mixed feelings. On the one hand he has been an amazing father, grandfather and great grandfather to five children, twenty-five grandchildren and about thirty great grandchildren. All of us have had our lives touched by his quiet strength and we will miss him when he is gone.
On the other hand he has had a very difficult time physically over the past few years and there will be a relief when all of that is gone from his life forever. As the Apostle Paul wrote we will mourn but certainly not as those who have no hope.
The impact of a single life
What does all this have to do with small churches?
Let me tell you a few things about my father-in-law and then I will answer that question.
First he attended small churches all his life. He was a small-town person who I don’t think would be comfortable in an urban setting. He loves small town life. He can no longer participate in outdoor activities like hunting and fishing but he was never happier than when he was in the bush or on the lake. In the small town settings in which he has lived his life, there weren’t very many large churches. For him when a church got above fifty in number it was starting to get too big.
Second he loves people. He is quiet so it took us a long time to appreciate how much of an extrovert he is. Everything he did was always measured in terms of the people he met. He, as much as anyone I know, demonstrated what relationship in small churches should be. Beyond just talk on a Sunday morning, he invested time and energy into the lives of those who were part of his church family and he did it often without anyone knowing what he had done.
Third he impacted people. As I mentioned at the beginning of this entry his four daughters are all in his room right now trying to do anything that might make his life a little more comfortable. His son is flying down from Edmonton today to join them. He raised five children all of whom have a deep love for Jesus. Whatever their memories might be of childhood there were two things that I don’t think any of them ever doubted. Their father had a deep love for each of them and an equally deep love for God. Their lives were shaped by that love.
Dad served as a police officer for thirty-three years and over the course of that time impacted many of the people with whom he worked. Some of his fellow officers became Christians because of his testimony. Others, while they didn’t ever make a commitment themselves, respected the integrity that he displayed each and every day on the job. They knew that there was a consistency in his faith that was there no matter what problems might come.
As I was thinking about Dad my thoughts went to Paul’s greeting to the church in Colosse.
“We always thank God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints – the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you.” (Col. 1:3-5)
Dad has a deep faith in Jesus Christ that has shaped everything that he has done in life. He has a love for other Christians that has been demonstrated in a thousand little ways over the years. He has a hope that whether he comes through this time of illness or God takes him home, he has the promise of eternal life in the presence of his Lord.
A quiet Christian in a small church
Coming back to my original question, what does all of this have to do with small churches.
People like Dad are the backbone of small churches. Most small church are made up of people like my father-in-law, quiet people who will never be known as charismatic leaders who changed the world. They are simply quiet Christians who in their own unspectacular journey through life impact the lives of people around them and in doing so leave a heritage of faith far greater than they ever thought possible.
In his book Integrity Dr. Henry Cloud writes about the wake that we leave as we move through life. By the wake he is talking about the trail in the water behind a boat. Just as it is impossible for a boat to move quickly over the water without leaving a wake behind it, so it is impossible for us to move through life with making an impact. The question is what sort of wake are we leaving. He says the following:
“Are a lot of people out there water-skiing on the wake, smiling, having a great time for our having “moved through their lives”? Or are they out there bobbing for air, bleeding and left wounded as shark bait? In other words, would they say that their experience with us has left them better off for our having “moved through their lives,” or would they say that it has left them worse off? Did they consider it a blessing that they were associated with you, or a curse? What is the nature of the wake? Are they smiling or reeling? (Cloud, Integrity, 18)
My life has been deeply impacted by the wake that my father-in-law has left up to this point in his life. One of the many blessings that came out of marrying my wife was the fact that I became part of her family and over the years had my life impacted by her dad and the other members of a very special family. He made the same impact on the lives of a score of other people.
He is a quiet Christian who has lived out his faith in a quiet way and in doing so has left a wake of which he and all of us can be proud.
As a small-church leader be thankful for those like Dad in your church because in their own quiet way they are impacting lives. God doesn’t judge your church by the number of people who attend but by the wake that you leave in the lives of those people – few or many – whom he has entrusted into your care.