June 12, 2014 by cbbeard
A few weeks ago I was overcome with emotion as I sat in a pew, about halfway back, on the right side of the auditorium in a small church in Oklahoma, my home church. The service was about halfway complete, and as the piano gently accompanied a time of prayer and reflection, the music became a theme song for the mental wanderings that served as a narrative for the early years of my spiritual journey.
Behind me, the double doors led from the sanctuary to the hallway where tables were set up to hold the feast of potluck dinners. That same hallway led to the various classrooms separated by according-style movable walls. Each classroom represented a different time of my life and learning, ranging from the Bible stories taught with flannelboard to the application of Scripture to the real struggles of my adolescent life.
In front of me was the stage where I had sang many songs for the congregation, both in choirs and in “special music” format. On that stage I had been in Christmas and Easter programs as a child. Behind that stage was the baptistery where I publically professed Christ and was baptized, way back in 1986. And on that stage stood a pulpit; the pulpit where I was given the opportunity to preach my first sermon in 1993.
To my left was the pew I sat in as I saw my dad come back to church, the first of many Sundays to follow in which he reconciled with and grew in the Lord. To my right was one of the pews I sat in as I witnessed my mother faithfully give, even though money was always tight.
There were so many things that took me back…the red carpet, the smell of the foyer, even the drainage ditch beside the building (that flowed into an underground culvert through which the youth group may or may not have traversed in the middle of the night during a lock-in!).
But these items and being in the presence of this building was most moving because it reconnected me to people that where instrumental in my development as a follower of Christ, as a minister, and as a man.
Some of them were there…behind me and to my left was a friend who was in that culvert with me at the lock-in (allegedly), and who was a vital part of my high school years. In front of me to the left was the lovely lady who has played thousands of hymns leading the church in worship. To my right were my aunt and uncle, both who taught me in various capacities and in many ways as a part of the church. And to my right, a little closer, were my mom and dad…my mother, to whom I owe credit for passing on her incredible faith, and my father, to whom I owe taking the baton and developing my faith as I grew in adulthood.
Some of them weren’t there…but they were still remembered. Countless Sunday School teachers, elders, deacons, communion meditators, and servants of the Lord. Three ministers; one who baptized me and two who encouraged me into vocational ministry. And many church family members who loved me, supported me, and even corrected me when I got out of line.
As I sat there, overwhelmed, I looked to those who were sitting nearest to me: my wife and my three kids. I thought about the partnership my family has in mission. I considered how my kids might someday look back on our current church family and become overwhelmed.
And think I thought about this passage:
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
I Corinthians 12:21-26
That day, as I sat there with my family, I realized that I was a product of the body of Christ. As I reflected on this place that was so important to my spiritual formation, I reflected on the people. Not just the preachers I had heard from the pulpit, not just the Sunday School teachers, and not just those who were leaders in the official terms. I thought about the people, young and old, male and female, making up one body that helped me to see Christ and to serve Christ. This small congregation was not perfect by any means, but I would like to think that together, they accomplished their God-given purpose in me.
As a leader, I find great inspiration in the story of that little congregation in northwest Oklahoma, as it shows me that every piece matters. As a father I find great hope in the story of that little congregation, as it shows me that a community of faith can greatly influence a child. As a minister, I find great promise in the story of that little congregation, as it shows me that the body is greater than the sum of its parts. And as a Christ-follower, I find Jesus in the story of that little congregation, for it is indeed, the body of Christ!