We are told by leadership experts that in order to grow, we have to be able to dream. We have to have a clear vision of the kind of church that we would like to have one or two or five or ten years down the road. We have to visualize the church as it could be and then begin working to see that vision become reality. If we can’t visualize our church of the future, it will never become what we would like it to be.
There is a place for that kind of vision. The picture of a great future church can give us incentive but it is not the most important picture that we can have. Much more important is a clear picture of what we are right now. It is possible to focus on the future so much that we lose sight of the present and it is in the present that we have been called to serve.
God has called you to serve the people who are part of your church right now. If you are a leader, God has entrusted that group of people who are part of your church right now into your care and it is that group to whom he wants you to minister. He might give you more people at some point down the road but you have been called to serve those people who attend your church right now.
My “Right Now” Church
Last November I, along with my wife, accepted the position as part-time interim pastor of a small Baptist Church in New Dundee, Ontario. For those of you who might never have heard of New Dundee, it is a small town about a fifteen minute drive from Kitchener. If everyone were to attend on the same Sunday, there would be about 35 people in the pews but if you have any experience with a church, you know that all the people never attend on the same Sunday.
The church has limited musical ability with no one who plays guitar or drums and only a few members who can act as song leaders. We aren’t likely to have a full sized worship band any time soon.
We only have three children in Sunday school and they are somewhat irregular in their attendance. We might dream of a church filled with children but at the moment it is only a dream.
A significant portion of our membership are seniors with some of the limitations that advancing years bring to our bodies. I am learning to speak up for those with hearing problems and not move too fast for those with mobility issues. I need to make sure that whatever goes up on a screen is large enough for those with limited vision.
That is the challenging side of the church that God has entrusted into my care and to be honest they do present some interesting challenges.
The other side of the picture
The last section didn’t paint a very positive picture of New Dundee Baptist Church but I want everyone to know that I wouldn’t trade my church family there for the largest church in Canada. My church family is composed of an amazing group of people who in their own way are making an impact for the kingdom.
A few months ago the church heard about a mother/daughter in Toronto who had been evicted from their apartment and were sleeping in a car. The church immediately responded with a financial gift that hopefully helped meet a very real need for a total stranger.
One of the women in the church took part in a mission trip to Sierra Leone helping women there set up a blanket-making cottage industry. The woman who went is well into the senior stage of her life.
In a few weeks a young man in his twenties will be leaving on a mission trip to Rwanda. He will be serving in a part of the world that has seen so much sorrow and tragedy in the past.
One of the members of our church is an American waiting for permission to live in Canada with her Canadian husband. While returning from a visit with her husband she was in a serious accident and for a period of time was unable to drive. Two women drove twelve hours one way in order to bring her up to Canada in order to see her husband. They then turned around a week later and drove her back to Pennsylvania.
I received a letter recently from someone in the area with a donation to show their appreciation for someone in the church who had seen a need in the community and met it. The members involved didn’t want any credit for what they had done but they had made an impact on someone’s life.
It’s all about impact not numbers
I have been asked by a couple of different people if I had come to New Dundee in order to close the church. I was asked that by people who could only see numbers and missed the fact that a small church can make an impact.
My answer was that closing the church was the furthest thing from my mind. The group of people that God has entrusted to me isn’t very large. I have no idea whether in the future God will increase that number or whether he might even reduce it. I just know that right now this is the group that I have and I am so fortunate to be able to serve them.
I like being part of a church in which both young and old have an interest and a desire to be involved in missions.
I like being part of a church in which people jump in their cars and drive for hours so that a husband and wife can spend some time together.
I like being part of a church in which people instinctively respond to the needs of total strangers.
I like being part of a church in which people see needs in the community and quietly reach out to meet those needs.
New Dundee Baptist Church is small but numbers aren’t what it is all about. It is loving people and making an impact through those people whom God has entrusted to you right now.
I appreciate your perspective Ron; being present in the now is critical. What would it be like to engage the aging congregation in a visioning exercise? My assumption is that their deepest desire would be to see the church continue and flourish beyond their times. Isn’t a wonderful thing to be invited into such a dialogue!
Thanks Ron — I agree that it is important to be attentive to, and engaged in, the present — doing everything we can to “fan into flame” the spark that is right in front of us. Without doing that — the vision of having a fire is nothing but wishful thinking.
I love the live and current examples you have shared from your church family. Thanks for “walking the talk”!!
Always good to hear from you and thanks for the kind words.
I appreciate your sharing this, Ron. Thank you for your encouraging words – whatever the size, whatever the future, in the meantime the church is called to be the church now.