What I learned growing up in a small church

The little church that I attended as a child never grew much. We tried to grow. We had Sunday school drives, revival services, brought in a “Christian” clown and once a year had an “Old Fashion” Sunday where people would dress up like the pioneer days. Nothing worked much. I guess the unchurched folks in Michigan didn’t want to be entertained by a Bible quoting clown or dress like Laura Ingalls to worship God. Who knew? Today the church building is a doctor’s office.

Maybe some would look back at the church that is now a doctor’s office and say: “What a failure.” I don’t view it that way. I have many fond memories and was taught some important life lessons at the Elmwood Church of the Nazarene.

Mr. Kipp always had candy for the kids. The lesson: Boys and girls matter to Jesus.

Brother Bond (I’m not exactly sure why some folks were “Mr.” or “Mrs.” and some were “Brother,” “Sister” or “Aunt”) helped me with school wood working projects. Lesson Learned: Helping pre-teens not cut off a finger with a power tool is part of being in the family of God.

I mowed Mrs. Buckley’s lawn. She always called me Freddy (my brother). Lesson learned: Mrs. Buckley had a bad memory but that was okay.

Nell Norton was the church piano player. She played most songs a little slow except for Wonderful Grace of Jesus. She raced through that one. I liked singing Wonderful Grace of Jesus. I think Nell did too. Lesson learned: God can use even a half-a-beat too slow talent, if you let Him.

Mary Vail (my Jr. High Sunday School teacher) took us to fancy restaurants and baseball games. I don’t remember any specific lesson she taught but I know she cared for us. Lesson learned: Junior Highers matter to God.

I remember Mrs. Van Dyne’s meatloaf (Lesson learned: Nazarenes are good cooks) and Norm Fisher’s haircuts (Lesson learned: Maybe the original first century “Nazarene” had long hair, but the 1960’s and 70’s variety of Nazarenes
definitely did not). There was Brother Sexton singing with his guitar (before guitar playing in church was considered “contemporary”); and Aunt Myrtle getting pinched by the rickety old theatre seats and letting out a holler. We thought she got “blessed.” Blessings and pinches sounded similar from Aunt Myrtle, I suppose.

All this to say, my home church was small; never grew; and probably could have done a whole lot better in reaching people with the Gospel. Still I learned plenty of good lessons: followers of Jesus love boys, girls and teenagers; church is a caring family not just on Sunday; and old and young people can share in life together. I honestly don’t know if I’d be pastoring today if it weren’t for some of those people and some of those lessons.

In many ways, I hope Central Church can be that kind of intergenerational church minus the “Old Fashion” Sunday and the rickety pinching seats.

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