“…when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.” Jesus, Luke 17:10
We may have the biggest little church in Hillsdale county.
We passed 500 this last Sunday, an amazing day with baptisms and baby dedications and our annual Thanksgiving fellowship, a traditional meal we fed to about 400—including dozens of college students from nearby schools. We recently added a third service, and our last service was at full capacity.
In our heart, though, we are still a small, country church.
I don’t say this just because we are not a mega-church, with several thousand attendees. Given our location, we will never be a mega-church. I say it because we are still a community, in the best sense of the word.
I’m one of four pastor/elders and I have my biases. But I remember 25 years ago when we had 50 people, not 500. Over the years we have managed to stay out of debt. And we have also managed to stay out of trouble, as men and women gathered around common purposes: to proclaim the Gospel and care for each other.
Countryside Bible Church is a community where people put up their own food, help each other cut firewood, look after each others’ children. It is a place where people care about their neighbors, not just the ones who go to church with them.
People pitch in, they step up, they pray. They were recycling before it was cool and eating fresh vegetables before it was a fad. This weekend they will go deer hunting.
It has the refreshing feel of small town America.
And frankly, its impact on our county may be more effective and efficient than any government program. There is an organic, compassionate response to personal and community pain. It goes far beyond the free vegetable stand when you walk out the door on a late summer day.
Countryside is a church with Volvos and pickup trucks in the parking lot. People with addictions and disabilities are part of the mix. Lots of young people. Lots of old people. We have new Christians and people who have been in church for decades. One of our deacons is 90.
We’re not clear why they all keep coming. It’s not even clear where they are coming from. We are out in the middle of nowhere, several miles from the closest town. Yet strangers walk in the door every week.
We welcome them. We sing old hymns and new songs. We preach unapologetically orthodox messages rooted in biblical exegesis. If people are in trouble, we try to help them out. If they want to help, we give them a job.
And they keep coming back.
Certainly there is some hyperbole here. We are imperfect, unworthy servants. People fall through the cracks. Some needs go unrecognized. There is no perfect church, only churches more dependent or less dependent on God’s grace. But where He is welcomed He is working. And He is welcomed here.
A recent essay in Christianity Today mourns the loss of vitality in rural American churches. Rural churches suffer from paltry preaching and young, inexperienced pastors with no love for rural people and no plans to stay there, it says.
In Why We Need Small Churches, Jake Meador writes, “the memory of small-town life is an antidote to the frantic pace that defines the city and deadens the soul. But with small towns withering away, what will protect us from the hectic, hypermobile life of the city? “
Evangelicals, he says, “are a people of megachurches, national conferences, city-centric thinking (which often comes with derision for small-town life), and ever-expanding religious empires, be they church-planting networks or the Twitter feeds of celebrity pastors.”
Not out here in Jonesville, we’re not. We can barely get our senior pastor, who has been here 32 years, to check his Facebook account. He is a “sticker,” in Wendell Berry’s term. “Stickers,” Berry says, “settle, and love the life they have made and the place they have made it in.”
We’ve got a church full of stickers. And that’s why we are still, at heart, a small, country church. Or a country church, at least.
Are those who come drawn to the small-scale intimacy this suggests? Partly, perhaps. But there is certainly more to it than that. Is it lots of specialized programming for every need? Not really. No recovery groups here.
Ultimately they are drawn by the truth of the Gospel, clearly proclaimed and actively lived. It is hope they need. And there is no real hope outside the person and work of Jesus Christ.
We are humbled by this opportunity to share in His life, unworthy servants ministering to those God loves and sends our way.