My life has been turned upside-down lately, but I am beginning to catch glimpses of the wondrous story it is becoming. I am also being forced (abruptly, but necessarily) to reckon with my own doctrinal stances, specifically regarding the Church. Since engagement, my now-husband and I were confronted all at once with “richer and poorer, sickness and health.” Still, we survived and are preparing for our first married adventure: moving to Iowa to serve a church which my literary mind has nicknamed the “Little Church on the Prairie.” This local church is small and young, but, like the youth of 1 Timothy 4:12, should not be discounted, for it is a body of passionate learners, generous givers, and thankful worshippers. I perceived this right away, though it took me a while to concede that this is the right move for us. While I have generally worked in smaller churches and loved their kindness and community, a prideful part of me felt that, if we had to move, why not seek a large, established church?
Providentially, I read the following passage on the nature of the Church during our flight home from visiting Iowa:
“We should note that the individual congregation, or group of believers in a specific place, is never regarded as only a part or component of the whole church. The church is not a sum or composite of the individual local groups. Instead, the whole is found in each place. Karl Schmidt says, ‘We have pointed out that the sum of the individual congregations does not produce the total community or the church. Each community, however small, represents the total community, the church.'”Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Third Edition)
Reading this, I was convicted: How could I think in terms of large and small, as though this measure of worldly success could also calculate the value of a church? Instead, just as the individual believer is to be “filled with all the fullness of God,” it seems that each church is to embody the Church.
Reframed in this way, instead of longing for a large church, I have come to desire a growing church—that is, a church that is increasing not merely in numbers but in the way of Christ:
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”Ephesians 4:14-19, ESV
Such a growing church is a wonderful thing, regardless of numbers. Indeed, I believe the numbers will eventually follow after the spiritual growth of existing members. Congregants of this “Little Church on the Prairie” often quote Iowa’s famous movie, Field of Dreams: “Build it and they will come.” Corny, perhaps (Iowa specializes in corn, after all) but it is also true, for Christ builds his church in ways that surpass our knowledge and expectations. Accordingly, we must recognize small bodies of believers as full and faithful incarnations of the Church. Moreover, their vertical growth may be blessed by horizontal expansion, for that is the shape and way of the cross.
And so, in just a couple of weeks, we will journey to Cedar Rapids, Iowa to take up residence in our own “Little House in the Not-So-Big Woods” and begin work and worship in service of the growing Church.