Flock, Field-hands or Family?
By Debbie Porter
Anyplace was much the same as any other town, anywhere. It had four schools, one recreation hall, a bustling mall, three hairdressers, two parks, a community swimming pool, a not too busy police station, two self-serve gas stations and three churches.
Even though the schools, hairdressers and gas stations would all be quick to say that they were WAY different from their counterparts; the reality was that they were all pretty much the same.
But when it came to the churches, it was quite a different story. Although each congregation was exactly the same as far as their love for Jesus and foundational beliefs were concerned; in every other way they were as different as night from day, chalk from cheese, brown from blue … well, you get the idea.
St. Cuthbert’s (or "Cuffy’s", as it was fondly referred to by locals) was a quaint sandstone building, with a working bell-tower and a history that dated back to the early 1800’s.
The Cuffy congregants were happily set in their ways – and heaven help anyone who ever tried to unsettle them! Things at St. Cuthbert’s were done in precisely the same way that they had always been done, since the dawn of … not time exactly, but at least since the dawn of St. Cuthbert’s.
It was familiar, faithful and friendly, and even if the locals didn’t actually turn out in droves to attend, old Cuffy’s still found a soft spot in most of their hearts. After all, half the community had been married inside those sacred sandstone walls.
Considering the relatively long history of St. Cuthbert’s, there had been surprisingly few Ministers to grace the pulpit. Most of them had died with their clerical collars on, serving their congregation and community to the very end (although none had actually passed on to their eternal reward during the Sunday service – much to the relief of the squeamish church membership).
Every replacement who followed was answering the call to serve God and His people, and came determined to replicate the sterling example set by their predecessor – no matter what the cost.
Brian Green was the current curate and everyone agreed that you would be hard pressed to find a more loving or compassionate man of God. Rev. Green nurtured his flock with tender care, responding to their every need in an instant – often at the expense of his family’s needs and always at the expense of his own.
He was a young man with a heart as big as the ocean – a heart that was being pushed to the limit by the ever increasing workload and stresses of trying to fill every role in the church.
With every passing day the pastor grew thinner and weaker, as his congregation grew more contented and fat. Yet Rev. Green continued on, teeth gritted with determination, as he repeated the mantra of every Rector who had gone before, "Help me to feed Your lambs, Lord. Help me to feed Your sheep …."
Just a short distance down the road stood the very unchurch-like FaithFire Christian Centre. It was situated on the corners of both 3rd and 4th Avenues, taking up an entire block (with plans to extend even further in the not too distant future).
Unlike Cuffy’s, the locals didn’t have a pet name for FaithFire, although they all knew what was meant whenever anyone said, "You know the one … that BIG church on 3rd and 4th."
FaithFire was an enigma to the non-Christian community. It shattered every illusion they had regarding "church" and left them feeling more than a little uncomfortable (although few could ever put their finger on the reason why).
Strangely enough though, the majority of Christians in Anyplace found much to appreciate about the mega-church – even those who worshiped in other congregations.
For one thing, FaithFire went out of its way to be of service to other churches, providing resources to help every congregation, regardless of denomination. It wasn’t unusual to see members of various local churches attending the Saturday night services or one of the many inspirational seminars or conferences held each year.
The Congregation of FaithFire was young in attitude (if not always in age) and, for the most part, thrived on the hustle and bustle of being a part of such a popular church.
Visitors and casual attendees enjoyed the thrill of the vibrant services and always left feeling ready to step into their "awesome destinies" as history makers for the Lord.
However, for those who were actively involved within the life of the church, the demands were high. The message was made very clear that all Christians were meant to be leaders, and with that came much responsibility. To be in any form of leadership at FaithFire, meant ALWAYS attending two out of three weekend services, being involved in a cell group, attending all leadership meetings and conferences, and supporting all combined church activities at all times.
Having gifts, talents and a desire to serve were all very good, but if that wasn’t backed up with the FaithFire level of commitment, then ministry within the life of that church was out of the question.
For most this wasn’t an issue. If the line between church and business was indistinct, with the members of the congregation often treated as unpaid staff, it didn’t cause them any great concern. To them it was simply a mirror image of the fast-paced lives they led in the work place – and after all, this was FaithFire. Being a part of such an "awesome" church was more than worth the price.
But then there were the others – the ones who really struggled to meet every expectation and tried so hard to rise to every new commitment challenge. The faithful men and women who after years of service found themselves feeling worn out, burnt out and thrown out … all the while wondering where their joy had gone and absolutely certain that its disappearance was a failing on their part.
Then as another Monday morning rolled around, the FaithFire pastors and staff would settle back to enjoy their day off; while the rest of the laborers headed out to their other fields to work …
If you asked the Anyplace locals how many churches were in their town, a fairly large number of them would probably say, "Only two – Cuffy’s and that BIG one … you know, the one on 3rd and 4th."
However, there were some who were aware of the little congregation that had been meeting in the high school auditorium each Sunday.
Pastor Jack Ridgeway had been led by God to plant the Anyplace Community Church nearly a decade before. During that time, the little church had swung through various cycles of attendance. At its peak there had been over 180 people involved. Today, however, the average was around the 110 mark – not too small, but a few more members wouldn’t go astray.
No one could say that the Anyplace Community Church (or ACC as it was known) was not a loving, caring, friendly congregation. In fact, those who belonged to it considered it as much a part of their family as their own flesh and blood.
Newcomers were embraced into the heart of the church – not as new names for the crèche roster, but as brothers and sister to be loved and encouraged. The comment most often made by those who were new to ACC was that it felt like coming home.
They weren’t the liveliest church in town and they definitely didn’t follow a traditional format, but their greatest strength came from tapping into the resources that God had given them. They uncovered the gifts and strengths of each member so that opportunities could be given for everyone to grow and develop into everything they were created to be.
As a family of believers, the congregation loved spending lots of time together. The delight that they found in each other’s company sometimes meant that they became a little inward focused – which explains why their community presence wasn’t as obvious as they probably would have
It wasn’t that they didn’t want to reach the lost for Jesus or care about their community. It was just that they felt so comfortable with one another that they didn’t always think to look past their own doorway.
But it was another thing altogether whenever anyone walked through that same doorway! After all, there was nothing they loved more than seeing their family grow …
So there we have three basically good churches with three very different attitudes – flock, field-hands and family. Which one has got it right?
Well, to be honest, none of them exactly. Some churches do manage to get the balance right, understanding that it isn’t really a case of majoring on one to the detriment of the others.
But just imagine how dynamic the Church would be if there was a good mix of each attitude in every single congregation all the time!
Now that would definitely give the "locals" something to talk about!
Debbie Porter is the Editor-in-Chief of FaithWriters’ Magazine and Editor of "We Are the Church". Deb lives in Sydney, Australia, with her husband and two teenagers. She writes for her ministry site, Breath of Fresh Air. http://www.breathfreshair.org
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