Just recently, I began a new ministry. I am serving part-time as pastor of two small congregations that have been struggling for the past few years. Last year, I began working with them as a supply preacher–showing up on Sunday to preach. But of course, ministry can’t really be done like that or at least, I can’t do it that way.
Before too long, I was focusing my preaching on the congregation, helping them look at themselves and their real potential in the faith. I did some funerals and made some pastoral visits. As the months passed last year, the small group of 12-16 got re-motivated, began to see that they didn’t have to close and even began to see a future for themselves.
So, we met together and talked together and planned together and prayed together and worked out a plan that would have me working with the congregations 2 days a week. The plan called for Sunday worship, a Bible study and some pastoral visitation. The congregations closed for the winter with the service on Christmas Eve, filled with excitement for the ministry that would begin again on Easter Sunday.
And so we started. And immediately, we hit our low point. I showed up on Sunday morning, early as usual. One member arrived–and since we have been friends for years, we had a chance to talk and catch up as time for worship got closer and closer. Finally, another arrived and the three of us chose some music they could do without our musician. Eventually, another arrived–by himself since his wife was sick. As it approached time to start, a fourth arrived–by himself since his wife’s disabilities sometimes make it impossible for her to get out.
So, there we were–four people and me. Now, I know exactly where all the others were: some were not back from extended stays in places warmer than western Nova Scotia. Some were sick and some were there every other weekend, and this wasn’t the every other weekend. Some were scared of the 2 cms of snow we received during the night.
I had worked hard on the worship service and sermon, seeking to build on the momentum and enthusiasm that had been so evident before we closed down last year. But–four people and me? How can you build on that? Even knowing the reason for only four people and me and knowing that soon the others will be back and the numbers will climb, I couldn’t help but feel a bit down and discouraged.
But I started the service. With just four people, I didn’t bother with the pulpit. I stood in the pews just in front of the four people and we worshipped together. We have been developing our own unique worship style and so there is lots of back and forth, discussion and questions, comments and laughter during our worship and even during the sermon. And with only four people and me, it is much easier to have that kind of informal but meaningful worship.
The service finished, the four people and I talked a bit before we left, all of us sending greetings to the two wives who hadn’t made it to the service. I was the last one out, making sure to slam the door (it doesn’t always close and lock properly unless it is slammed). As I was driving home for a quick lunch and short rest before the service at another pastorate where I also serve part time, I realized that although I was disappointed that there were only four people and me, I wasn’t depressed nor was I discouraged. Part of that was because I knew where all the non-attendees were and why they weren’t there. But a bigger part was the realization that I had actually counted the congregation wrong.
It wasn’t four people and me. It was actually five people and God–and God was the most important. We were there because we believe that God wanted us to begin this ministry and if he wanted us to begin it, there has to be something there. I don’t know where this is going but I do know that five people plus God is much better than four people and me.
May the peace of God be with you.