By Norman E. Fultz
Some folks would look at small churches scattered here and there and say they ought to just fold up, shut the doors of their meeting houses, and go join themselves to a larger group that can offer a good variety of programs that appeal to all different age levels. Mergers would possibly be feasible in some situations, even advisable. In fact I’ve known of a few circumstances where that would probably be a real boon to the cause of truth. The problem is that often the brethren in the areas where the mergers ought to take place “for the good of the cause of Christ” can’t get along with each other. And that is, likely as not, unrelated to whether they are standing in the truth. It is more likely to be a situation in which a clash of personalities has created an atmosphere that results in stagnation of the spirit. In other instances, brethren will not allow themselves to get well enough acquainted with each other to know if they could work together. But there are many small congregations where disbanding and mergers are untenable options for many reasons. But here let me tell you about one such small church.
They are all farmers and ranchers, scattered in a wide radius from the building where they gather weekly in worship, study, and mutual encouragement in godliness. Not much remains of what was once their small town. There are a couple of small church buildings, a community building, formerly one of several buildings belonging to the school system, and a few all-but-fallen-down frame store-type buildings along what must have been the Main Street business district in the town’s heyday. Those former houses of commerce now stand amidst small trees and saplings that have grown up randomly around them, a ghostly remnant of a community’s commercial heartbeat. Approaching from the west one is greeted by a now defunct cotton gin, not an uncommon site in this part of southwest Oklahoma, several miles north of Hollis. Not only are there but a few houses in the immediate area, the houses over the countryside are often several miles apart. One’s next door neighbor may be the rancher several sections of land away.
The brethren’s house of worship is a simple, white frame building consisting of one room. There are no classrooms, though a couple could be formed by a sliding partition at the pulpit end of the building if needed. There are no inside rest rooms, just a path to an outhouse. Surrounded on three sides by cotton fields, the building is back off the highway by a distance of about one half of a city block, there being some other structure in front along the roadway.
In that congregation of perhaps twenty-five folk, there is a wide range of ages spanning the years from preschool to upper 70s or better. A few saints who are older still and in poor health are not able to gather with their brothers and sisters in Christ. Like many churches in rural America whose communities have shriveled as an agrarian society could no longer provide an adequate livelihood, this church has reflected that loss. Church membership has also declined due to death, and that not always of the very old. In the last few years the group experienced the death of two men yet in their prime — in their 40s and 50s, one of them having done much of the teaching of the Word. Not only is the number small, the countryside has been so depleted of populace in the last generation that any prospects for evangelism within a reasonable distance are almost nil.
Should they fold up and quit? They don’t think so. They still gather as per instructions of the Lord, “upon the first day of the week to break bread” (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:18-34). They continue in the apostles’ teaching (Acts 2:42). They still “consider one another so as to stir up love and good works . . . exhorting one another . . .” (Heb. 10:24, 25). While one can be sure they’d be delighted if their number were larger, the few who are there can encourage each other to “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord . . .” knowing that their “labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58).
They can help one another to “seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God” having a mind that is “set on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:1-2). They can still help each other remember that one’s soul is of more value than if he gained the whole world and lost his soul (Matt. 16:26).
I’ve thought several times about this small group at Vinson, Oklahoma since being with them in late October in a meeting. And it has occurred to me that there may well be many among heaven’s population who were part of just such a very small band of believers on earth. They just kept on keeping on in the face of what could be discouraging and disheartening. But they knew they didn’t have to be big to be faithful. They knew that their obligation was to the Lord and to one another as his children to be what they could be under the given circumstances. They were committed to being “faithful until death” having their focus on “the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).
Darkness had enshrouded Oklahoma as the plane lifted off from Will Rogers World Airport, but the memories of the past few days of pleasant association with a small band of God’s people lingered like glowing coals in my mind. What a contrast was their small community contrasted with Oklahoma City which lay below like a sprawling sea of lights, her major thoroughfares easily distinguishable as they stretched out like serpentine paths. An area of very dense light left no uncertainty as to where the heart of the city lay. Then, almost before one could realize it, the countryside lay black and seemingly quiet below, the blackness being broken randomly here and there by a security light marking a farm or ranch, probably not greatly different from those I had visited in the days just past, two hundred miles to the southwest.
The accounts of many small bands of believers in various parts of this great land who just keep on plodding along in the work of the Lord with no thought of quitting, of yielding to the Devil, could be multiplied. May their faithfulness spur us onward as well.
Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart (Gal. 6:9).
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