Christmas programs in smaller churches are a microcosm of the entire life and ministry of such churches. The opening chapter in Michael Lindvall’s The Good News from North Haven, a delightful look at “a year in the life of a small town church”, reminds readers that small church Christmas pageants can go uncontrollably wrong in many ways and yet end with all in attendance amazed by the grace of God in sending Christ into the world. I recall a Christmas program in a small church in the cotton and rice fields of northeast Arkansas that Jane and I had tried our best to make perfect. All of the age groups in the church were involved in the presentation of music, drama and Scripture. It almost came off without a hitch. However, as our oldest deacon completed a segment on stage, he suddenly reached into a stack of props to retrieve a hidden guitar. He then said, “And now, I would like to fulfill a special request”, and sang Life is Like a Mountain Railroad for some special person to enjoy. Jane and I sat terrified on the opposite side of the stage. But, since he was a wonderful, godly man who just couldn’t say no to someone (or, who just wanted to sing that song during the Christmas program), no one ever mentioned the incident to Deacon John.

You just can’t make this stuff up. It simply happens in small churches. And those of us who frequent such places know that, although we don’t have the horses to pull off all of the marvelous musicals and dramas that the large churches present every year, we do have all that is necessary to be the people of God on mission for Christ in our communities. Our imperfect musical selections in which some folks just can’t hit the right notes (remember Barney Fyffe), our dramas where the lines are forgotten and we can hear someone from behind the curtain prompting the person on the stage, and the children who just do their own thing when they get in front of an audience remind us that in smaller churches, where millions worship each week, it is not the ability to pull off a spectacular event that matters, but, as the Apostle Peter teaches us, “love that covers a multitude of sin.”

May our Lord give you a joyful and blessed Christmas. As you sing carols, present imperfect programs, distribute fruit, visit nursing homes, construct your own Lottie Moon Offering displays (where you turn on a Christmas tree light for every $25.00 collected), and hang those greens, be reminded that your church family will roll on in similar fashion, if our Lord tarries, throughout the coming year. They will be everyday people who love God and others and are using the gifts that God has given to help each other and witness to a needy world. You won’t be able to stop everyone who want to sing Life Is Like a Mountain Railroad at an inappropriate time, so just enjoy it and remember all of the imperfections that our Lord has forgiven in each of our lives.

Thank you for all that you are doing to encourage small congregations and the pastors who serve them. Your efforts, prayers and gifts are critical to the strategic ministry that we offer. Please join me in prayer for 2018 to be a very significant and fruitful year as we seek an Executive Director and partner with churches, associations and state conventions across our nation to encourage pastors in the great work to which God has called them.

Larry Barnes
Interim Executive Director