Years ago there was a famous book entitled “Your God Is Too Small” in which the author (J.B. Phillips) proposed that most of us develop notions and understandings of God that are very limiting. I am sure he was right, and I know that sometimes my own concepts of God are limited to my human experiences and understandings. I am always in need of having my concepts of God expanded and challenged.
Recently I heard one of my District Superintendents, David Byrum, say a similar thing. In talking about his transition from being pastor of a congregation to being Superintendent over 100+ churches in his district, he said, “I have learned that my church was too small.” He went on to explain that his concept of “church” had been limited to a single congregation – he was too focused upon the one church he was serving, and he did not often think about Church (I have added the capital C) as being larger than just any one congregation.
Great observation! All of us tend to think of “church” only in terms of the particular congregation in which we worship and find nurture. In reality, Church is bigger and more all-encompassing than that. For us United Methodists, “Church” always means the whole connection of congregations and also the world-wide ecumenical link we share with all Christians. Yet we can become absorbed with the issues, joys, and people of our own congregation (large or small) and forget to consider the whole Church.
David’s comment is a helpful reminder in these days when our United Methodist Church is focusing upon “Vital Congregations” as one of our emphasis in accomplishing our mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” To focus upon increasing the number of vital congregations is a good thing, but it could lead us to focus upon “church” in ways that are too small. We might be led to think, “If my church is vital, then that is all that matters.” We might become too localized, too parochial, and too limited in our ministry focus.
Actually, the term is “Vital Congregations” (plural), and we are hoping to have more and more congregations which are vital and alive. The issue is plural – we are not satisfied if any one congregation is vital. We are a connectional church in which we want all of our congregations to be vital. In fact, I can state it more bluntly: If my own ministry only results in my congregation being vital while other congregations in my cluster, district, or conference are failing – then my own ministry is not finished. Each one of us has a responsibility to improve the vitality of ALL OF OUR CONGREGATIONS. We certainly don’t need the attitude which says, “It’s all about my own church,” and we especially don’t need the attitude which celebrates when other churches are failing. We are all in this together.
For the whole notion of “Vital Congregations” (plural) to be effective, we need to allow our concept of “Church” to grow and expand.
So, don’t let your God become too small, and don’t let your Church become too small.