“You will know them (disciples) by their fruit.” Matthew 7:16
What does it mean to be a “Vital Congregation?” Does a vital congregation imply lots of people or programs? Can smaller churches be vital too?
Captain Mike Miller works full time for the Sheriff’s Department of Bedford County. Part time, he is known as Rev. Miller, pastor of Calvary UMC near Rustburg, Virginia.
Recently Rev. Miller was asked to describe his church and what they are doing to be a more “Vital Congregation.” What follows is the story of one pastor of one small congregation that knows how to be “Vital” by making a difference within the church and throughout the community.
Calvary United Methodist Church is located in a community that is both aging and rural and filled with farmers as well as other workers. Our community has suffered due to the economic downturn. There are needs for basic supplies such as food. Sometimes elderly neighbors need basic housing supplies such as air conditioning. There is a growing homeless and substance abuse population. Job loss and higher gas prices are impacting everyone. Basic staples such as food, medication, and utility expenses are becoming more expensive and out of the reach of many, especially the elderly and poor.
Our congregation is attentive to individual acts of piety and acts of mercy. Acts of piety for us involve regularly attending worship, studying the scriptures, prayer, participating in the taking of sacraments, and sharing our faith with others. Acts of mercy are visiting the sick, feeding the hungry and collecting basic necessities for community needs.
We further our ministry by reaching out to other segments of our population. We try to find ways to love anyone who seeks our assistance. We hold regular services to offer the gospel. We work to nurture children and adults. For children and youth, we offer Sunday School, children’s church, Vacation Bible School, Back to School Programs, movie nights, donation of school supplies and field trips. For adults we offer Sunday School and worship, bible studies, choir, nursing home visitation, participation in community projects such as Relay for Life, and special services and presentations.
We provide lots of food, including baskets at holidays, gateway meals, and food pantry supplies. We also provide monetary assistance for needy families. Our vacation bible school and the giving of school supplies serve to reach out to children and younger families.
Our church exists to bring God’s word to people and share Christ’s love in and around our community. Our mission is to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ by practicing our faith each day and be promoting love and fellowship among our members and community and the world, helping the sick, the underprivileged, the unsaved and the unchurched. Our ministry has an emphasis on music, youth, Christian principles and the teaching of John Wesley.”
If Calvary UMC no longer existed, our community would suffer by not receiving food, financial assistance and spiritual growth opportunities. This is not provided by other sources. We promise to continue to grow in faith and then share that faith with others by feeding the hungry, helping the needy and providing spiritual growth opportunities to our church and the community.
We are a blessed congregation and we want to share those blessings with others, therefore, we are passionate about reaching anyone who does not know God. We are passionate about reaching out to our children and nurturing their spiritual, physical, and emotional growth. We are passionate about feeding the hungry within our community.
What does it mean to be a vital congregation? It’s not about size or programming, Jesus said: “You will know them by their fruit.” (Mat. 7:16)
Captain and Rev. Mike Miller and Calvary UMC understand what it means to produce fruit for Jesus.
Actually, I could have chosen dozens of other examples of churches both large and small who are serving Christ as “vital congregations.” Being vital is not about size or programming. Vital Congregations display a willingness to be used by Jesus Christ to make a difference within the church family and throughout the community.
Recently, I read a prayer written by former President Jimmy Carter about the challenges as well as opportunities we face in bearing fruit for Christ.
“O God, help me look at my life without fear or trepidation but with confidence that you will take the pieces of my life and integrate them into a single, healthy whole. Make me a blessing not only to my friends and loved ones but also to others who might need my help. Through me, may they know of your saving grace. I ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen – Jimmy Carter