By Pastor Kelly Larson (Bishop Creek Community Church, CA)
Serving a church in a geographically remote small town presents no small amount of challenges.
Perhaps the most obvious challenge is the simple number of people available for any given church event. When my family relocated from a metropolitan church, which was itself larger than the entire city that surrounded it, to a charming town in the Eastern Sierras, you could imagine that a certain “adjustment” would be required. When I looked out over the new congregation from the pulpit on my very first Sunday, I could see that this was an understatement.
Any given Sunday tended to yield between 20 and 50 worshippers. Sometimes, I found myself counting the bodies who weren’t there as opposed to those who were. In a large church, 25 people may not be missed, but in a church of our size, even 5 absent people were oh-so obvious.
I’m sad to say that my mood was often altered by a lower headcount on Sundays. Hey, where was everybody? I’d think. I’m here; why aren’t they? I spent a lot of time working on this sermon! The truth was, it was just a small town. People had places to go and family to see. Some had medical appointments, many of which happened out of town. Some people, still in town, had other things going on.
I am still aware of low numbers, of course, but I had an epiphany several years back. It was this: Feed the sheep that come.
The sheep who didn’t show up wouldn’t receive whatever had been prepared for that morning’s service, but I had to ask myself: Were the ones who showed up deserving of my somewhat sour attitude? Were the people here still going to get the very best of what God had given to me?
Truly, there was only one answer. God had placed me here. The flock had come to be nourished.
God said in Jeremiah, “Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding” (Jeremiah 3:15). God has allowed me to be the one who fed the sheep that day. If our hearts are seeking after the heart of God, our desire will be to nurture those sheep, any sheep, in Christ, walking them just a little closer to the Chief Shepherd than they were when they first came through the door.
There are many reasons why those pews may not be filled. I’d guess that it’s this way all across the globe: Some sheep will make it to the fold on Sunday morning or Wednesday evening or whenever, and others will not. Life is busy; time is being eaten away on our calendars. It’ll be this way until the Lord returns in glory.
It may be a small worship service turnout. It may be a few souls who make their way to a prison Bible study. It may be a little midweek gathering of two or three people. It may be a couple of small lambs in a Sunday school class. It may be simply one willing disciple ready to learn. No matter how many people are there, never underestimate those souls whom Christ has entrusted to your care that day.
If you have been called to shepherd, never forget and never take lightly the divine commission to oversee His flock. I think of the great words of Christ to Peter in John 21: “Do you love me?” “Tend my lambs.” “Do you love me?” “Shepherd my sheep.” “Do you love me?” “Tend my sheep” (John 21:15-17).
Do you love Him? Feed the sheep that come.
[Kelly is an ordained minister with the Evangelical Free Church of America. Kelly and his wife, Suzanne, live in Bishop, California, where he is privileged to serve as the pastor to Bishop Creek Community Church. He blogs regularly at The Shepherd’s Pen.]