A couple of nights ago we were in town at a local restaurant celebrating our oldest son’s 25th birthday.  When we left my wife checked her cell phone and saw a missed call.  It was one of her daycare parents (my wife runs a Christian daycare) so she called back expecting some news about one of the kids.  The message she got was stunning—our friend had seen fire trucks out in the country and went to see what was up and our place was on fire!  It wasn’t our house, we were assured but the lot we own but don’t mow was ablaze.  She did not know if it got our neighbor’s house.

  Needless to say, we jumped in the truck and beat it out to our place as quickly as safety would allow.  As you come around a bend on the main road you can see down the back of our house and our neighbor’s and we could see their place was fine.  As we pulled up we saw that the fire had been contained to about a half acre of the land we let grow up.  This is where we have allowed trees, evergreens, flowers, and anything else to grow wild with a few trails cut through for nature walks.  Now about half of it is just a blackened mess.

  My neighbor called and said they had hired a young person to do some yard work.  He had tried to burn their ditch (even though our county is very dry and has a burning ban) and it had gotten away from him and onto our property.  She had alertly called the fire department in town and they came and put out the blaze.  I assured her it was okay and we were really glad that no harm had come to them.

  Now as I look over the situation I can see that the underbrush is gone, but the trees still stand.  They are scorched but alive.  I couldn’t help but think of how this applies to the small church in America (I guess I always apply things to that subject!).  My land is charred but not destroyed.  Let me give you some applications to think about that may apply to your small congregation.

  1. Many small churches have indeed been through a fire.  Sometimes it may be because of a split with the hard feelings that go with it.  Or maybe it is because a much cared for family moved away.  It could be because one of the most helpful workers has gone on to heaven.  Sometimes the fire comes because of sin in the midst.  Whatever the cause, many congregations have been burned.

  2. Burning leaves visible marks.  That part of my land right now is, well, ugly.  What can you say?  It is black and unattractive.  When the small church experiences a fire in its life, it will leave marks that all can see.  One congregation I pastored had been through a split.  Even though several years had passed the people of the church still had issues and people in the community saw it as a trouble church.  Yes burning leaves marks and hiding your head in the sand won’t change that.  You will have to learn to live with it and deal with it as best you can.

  3. Burning takes time to get over.  Have you ever known someone who was a burn victim?  If so, then you know it is one of the slowest healing wounds a person can have.  Your small church is not going to get over their situation over night.  You can cry, pray, run, or anything else you may feel like doing, but in the end it is a slow process.  If you are pastoring a church that has been burned, commit yourself to the long haul to help them overcome their tragedy.

  4. Burning does not destroy everything.  As the title of this article suggests, things can be charred but not destroyed.  The trees on my land that were scorched still are very much alive.  A few of them look dead, but given time they will green up once again.  Such is the beauty of God’s healing.  And the same can happen in your church.  The body may have been hurt, but the life is still there, if it is truly a church of the living God.  And that life brings hope.  Hope that the church will once again “green up” and be a place of worship to the Lord Jesus Christ.  Hope that souls will once again be saved in that place.  Hope that ministry can be carried on for the Lord.  The old saying “where there is life, there is hope” is true for the church as well.

  I hope that if your congregation is going through a tough time, if you feel like you have been burned, that you will look to God and the comfort that He can give.  Your church is dear to Him, and with His help you will come out on the other side.