It usually begins with a responsive thought that goes something along these lines, "I know someone who needs to read this". Every time I catch myself saying that I almost instinctively pause with held breath, waiting to catch the Spirit's quiet voice turning my thoughts back onto their origin; "You need to hear this!". So it was as I read through Solidly Reformed, Strikingly Small by Lopes, posted on The Gospel Coalition blog. In his excellent post, Lopes asks some hard questions of himself and fellow Pastor's in the Brazilian Reformed context. I'd encourage you to take a break from this post for 5 minutes, follow the supplied link, and reflect on his considerations about 'small-church defense'.
So, here I am—guilty as charged. I've said all the things he mentioned. I've argued these points with passion and conviction. I've turned my nose up at large 'mega-church' models (I still find it hard to say that word without a hint of disdain creeping into my intonation). I've gathered with the few and consoled myself with the notion of faithfulness. And even though I have written mostly in the past tense—I find that I continually need to come to God in humility and repentance on this issue. God is still graciously dealing with me in this battle. I guess what struck me most significantly in Lopes' post was his fourth point.
What scares me most is the proud way some small congregation pastors quote Jesus' teaching that "many are called but few are chosen." "True believers are few," they say. "I'd rather have a small church with solid members than a huge, crowded, superficial, and self-serving congregation." Well, if I had to choose between the two I'd prefer the little one as well. But why must there be a choice between the two? Is it possible to have Reformed churches brimming with people who are there for the right reasons?
I found myself slumping back in the chair wondering the same thing Lopes does—is it possible? Alright, time for a little contextualization. I'm not Brazilian, nor a 'Reformed' Pastor in the traditional sense of the designation. I'm the primary teaching Elder in an Evangelical Open Brethren church in a semi-rural area on the East Coast of Australia. I'm a white, middle-class guy pastoring a white, middle-class church of 150 to 200 people. But none of that matters. It sounds as if Lopes' article could just have easily been written by Gavin, or Barry, or any other Pastor of a small conservative evangelical church in Australia. So to answer Lopes' question, 'Is it possible?', I answer, "It has to be!"
For the sake of God's glory. For the sake of the Gospel. For the sake of the thousands who are walking away from Christ into a lost and desolate future. It has to be! It has to be possible to labour with all the might God will graciously grant us to tear down the walls that have hemmed us in, break new ground, sow the seed, water the crop, and earnestly fall on our knees before the Lord of the harvest; crying out, "Lord, give the growth!". It has to be possible. It must be possible. I couldn't think of a better way to finish than with Lopes' own closing comments.
I have no easy solutions for the ecclesiastical dwarfism of Reformed congregations. However, I do believe we need genuine spiritual brokenness among pastors—to humble ourselves before God, to probe our lives and ministries, to seek the fullness of the Holy Spirit, and to desire God's glory above all else.