Only 10 people attended Fairview Baptist Church on my first Sunday as their pastor. They considered closing the doors but decided to give it one last shot with a boy preacher. Actually, I wasn’t a boy. I was 25 years-old with a freshly printed master’s degree from seminary, but the 10 attenders were my grandparent’s age. They seemed glad to have my wife and me and we were certainly thankful for the opportunity. Thus began 3 ½ years serving with those dear people and learning lessons vital to life and ministry.
In seminary I learned the theology of water baptism. At Fairview I learned the mechanics of it. The same was true of serving the Lord’s Supper and performing a funeral. On what end of the casket does the preacher stand at the graveside service? The funeral director told me to stand at the head of casket. “But what end was the head?” I asked. He told me that bodies were buried with the feet pointed east and the head to the west so that when the body rises on the Resurrection Day the person will be facing Jerusalem. That was a tradition I hadn’t learned in seminary or Sunday school.
Of all the things I learned at Fairview, the most important lesson was that every church matters and every person counts. That little church didn’t seem like much, even to those who attended. They hadn’t baptized anyone in four years. But with much prayer and a lot of evangelistic door-to-door visitation, we saw God revive that little church. The first man who came to Christ and was baptized was a 47 year-old man named Curtis. He was gloriously saved! Twenty years later he was in a motorcycle accident. He told me that when he was sliding down the road, certain that he would die, he had no fear. He said that the lack of fear and the peace he felt, knowing he was right with God, surprised him in that moment. He made a point of telling me that because he said he knew I would appreciate it. I certainly did.
The salvation of that one man was huge for his family. The impact on his wife and children, and his friends and family beyond, is incalculable. What God did for that one man impacted his family and our church in ways that cannot be measured or fully understood.
Curtis was the first of many who came to know Jesus in the Fairview community. In our second year we took 18 to the Glorieta Baptist Camp in New Mexico for a week of discipleship training. We also identified a community near Fairview that had no Baptist church and God used our little church to help launch a new church. It was the first new church started in the association in over ten years. Many lives were changed. It was a joy to see Burt, a senior adult at Fairview, giving months of his life to help transform an old feed store into a church building. It was the first big thing Burt had ever done “for the Lord,” by his estimation.
Those years at Fairview were highly formative for me. I was able to grow in my preaching and pastoral skills. I learned valued leadership lessons. But the most important thing I learned was that that little church mattered, and those people mattered, every one of them. They deserved my best as much as any of the larger churches I would later serve. Even if only ten were there on Sunday, they each came to pray, and worship, and hear a word from God. Their needs were no different than any attender of a mega-church. And their right to get the best I could give was no less.
Each of the 460 churches affiliated with the Northwest Baptist Convention matters. Some are healthy and growing, others are nearly dead. But as long as there is a wisp of life, there is hope. One church I attended last year dwindled to four people, but then found a man of God to lead them. They were awakened. Last year they baptized 11 people and now have about 40 in attendance. Thank God those four didn’t close the doors. There is no other church in their little community. If they had died there would be no ministry to the few who live there. And though they are few, they matter. Every person matters. Every church counts.