On Sunday May 23rd, I preached to a congregation of just seven people. I was at a little independent church that has now been in decline for many years. As this was Pentecost, the 7th Sunday after Easter, I felt it right to speak from Acts 2 about the coming of the Holy Spirit, but to what end? They would all have known the story for many years, and I’m not sure that my careful explanations of Peter’s OT quotations added much. And as I left, I wondered if the morning had been just a pointless exercise. Should I have agreed to go to such a tiny group? What was the purpose of their existence? How much longer could they struggle on? Why didn’t they just quietly close the doors and go and worship somewhere else?
I got part of an answer the following day, when my wife and I were viewing the DVD of “C H Spurgeon, The People’s Preacher” (a drama-documentary by CTA, well worth seeing). An early scene shows the conversion of the young Charles in a tiny country chapel. As the camera follows him into the building, there, already seated, are – yes, really – about seven people. Now I’ve no idea if we know the actual size of the congregation on that momentous day but, for me personally, the coincidence was striking. Not that I should have had no qualms about Sunday (because, who knows, a young future Spurgeon might have walked in at any time!) but, yes, I should have gone but should have done something different. But what? What do we lay preachers do when invited to groups such as this? Are we simply providers of “hospice care” until the unfortunate organism passes away? What are our responsibilities in such a situation? How do we encourage them? Do we harangue them? Or do we decline their invitation in the first place?
I’m sure that my feelings must be shared by others in the SBLPA. After all, it is among such small congregations that many of us cut our preaching teeth. What are our pastoral responsibilities towards these little groups? And what are our responsibilities towards the whole Church of Christ if these little groups are occupying and consuming resources that others are crying out for? Can our Association collectively do some useful thinking here?
I’m down to visit the same group again in August. Before then, they will have held their AGM and will have taken a decision on whether to continue or not. I will be praying for them on that day and also for what new thing I should say if I do indeed visit them again. For some new thing I feel sure there must be.