Years back I studied and taught theology in Germany for a couple of summers. Living among 24 young divinity students, we lived in Wittenberg where in 1517, Martin Luther had begun the Protestant Reformation. Most historians agree that the printing of the Bible was the greatest event of the past thousand years —the birth of the information age. And a close second in importance historically was Luther’s Protestant Reformation—the dignity of man before his God.
Anyhow, we’d studied church history from Christ’s ascension, labored through Catholic dogma, thrilled at Luther’s call to biblical faith, stood astounded at the universities, political constitutions, art, music, hospitals, and orphanages birthed in the Christian revival from October 31, 1517, to today.
That’s when a student asked me to join them in a ride up the Elbe River to visit a church building where Luther first preached the Reformation. I readily accepted, and off we pedaled on a 35 mile ride. I was 54 then, pedaling hard into a 30 knot headwind, trying to keep up with 23 year olds. When we arrived at the Luther church preaching site, I was stunned to see it so small, only seating about 20 people. Yet from these small beginnings such marvelous things happened. But why should that have surprised me? After all, the hinge of history is on the stable door in Bethlehem. For Jesus was born not in New York or London, but in the manger of an obscure village. As Luther would write, “big doors swing on the smallest of hinges.”
Did you know that 88% of churches in the United States have less than a hundred members? Indeed, the strength of Christendom in our nation is not in the megachurch, but in small groups. Here in evangelical circles Christians love a winner! We flock to the tabernacle that is brimming with people. “This is where it’s happening,” we assure ourselves, expressing disdain for the small church. Often in the small parish we berate ourselves for our feeble strength, for the meager attendance. “If God were doing a great work, he’d begin in the city, in The Church of What’s Happening Now,” we sigh. Not so. Both scripture and history teach otherwise. “Fear not, little flock,” Jesus said, “for it is the Father’s pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32.)
Never be afraid of a small work. Never. For little is much when God is in it.