When we first arrived in Ontario, Mike Stephens, the Wellandport preacher for over 20 years, and I were discussing my schedule for the summer. This discussion turned to the topic of small, struggling churches. He commented regarding one of the congregations, “Oh, they’re struggling to reach 200, but they are not struggling spiritually.”
In reflecting on the summer and my association with several, but not all, of the Ontario churches, I echo this sentiment. Often in the States, we equate strength with numbers. But careful observation and scriptural consideration reveal this is not necessarily so.
The strength of a church is not measured in numbers, modern buildings, financial ability, the wealth of their members, the notoriety of their preacher, or even the ability to fully support a preacher financially.
The Bible speaks of Christians being “strong in the Lord” when they put on the armor of God, stand against the schemes of Satan, uphold the Truth, hold fast to the faith, live righteous lives, share their faith, persist in prayer, practice perseverance through trials and are spiritually alert (Eph 6:10-20).
These qualities that I observed, again and again, visiting with churches that were small in number, but large in faith, hope, and love. Our teaching and preaching was received with enthusiasm and appreciation. Never once was it suggested that I had a time limit. In fact, I was encouraged more than once to continue preaching or teaching past the time I thought it was advisable to conclude my lesson.
We are impressed with the eagerness of the brethren to study, learn and discuss spiritual matters. In one meeting we had appointments every day with those who had Bible questions and sincerely wanted answers.
The fellowship of the brethren in Ontario is unique. It crosses congregational lines. Not in an unscriptural way. But in a show of support. Care. Concern. And compassion. Brethren visit each other’s meetings. Some drive quite a distance and bring their children to be with other Christians for youth devotions or Bible studies. One sister remarked, “Our churches are all small, so we need to encourage each other.” And indeed they do.
Paul’s admonition to Timothy was to “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” We witnessed God’s grace among these brethren. And a reliance on the Lord to provide what they need and when they need it. We never heard complaints regarding what they didn’t have or the size of their congregations, but ever an appreciation for their salvation. And gratitude for those who ministered in the Word to guide them into a knowledge of the Truth. Like Barnabas when he came to Antioch, we saw the grace of God among them in Ontario.
To the churches and brethren in the States who are financially supporting these men in Ontario, I commend you. You are doing a good work. And you are supporting men who love the Lord, love the brethren, and are doing their very best to strengthen the churches were they labor and lead the lost to the Lord.
Are the brethren perfect? No. Is there room for improvement? Of course. Can they grow stronger spiritually and in numbers? Absolutely! Do they know that? Yes! And obviously, that can be said for not only the churches in the States but throughout the world.
In fact, these observations regarding small churches who are strong spiritually can be seen in many of the more difficult areas in the United States and in other parts of the world.
We leave Canada with a warm feeling for these brethren and a deep appreciation for their spiritual strength. Until we return, we encourage you to “Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. Let all that you do be done with love” (1 Cor 16:13-14).
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman