Some Thoughts on the Church at Philippi and Small Churches

Acts 16:9-15 represents the first record we have of the Gospel going to a new continent. (It had undoubtedly made it to Europe, and perhaps other continents, before this, but this is the first record we have of it).

The city of Philippi was founded by Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great, in 356 but was a little village until Emperor Augustus selected it as a retirement place for soldiers who had served him at the Battle of Actium in 32 BC. The church at Philippi, though well known and influential, would eventually grow to a modest size of about 75 to a hundred people. The demographic was roughly that of the general population of Philippi with wealthy, poor, slaves, merchants, workers, etc. Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi hints at a church full of joy and generosity. Though modest in size they did big things for God and for the Kingdom.

75% of churches in the United States are 100 people or less in Sunday morning attendance.[1] I am amazed at the number of authors and preachers who have ministered to me through books and teaching who pastored churches not much bigger than this church in Philippi or our own church. Often they are the best preachers because they have time to think deeply through the texts, the issues, the theology, and provide substantial benefit to those to whom they minister.

This church, though small, is among the number of churches that Paul will use later to shame the large, wealthy church at Corinth. The church at Corinth gave hardly anything to the offering for the saints at Jerusalem, despite being wealthy, when compared to the churches of Macedonia who were relatively poor. Less than 3% of Philippi’s population was wealthy, more than 27% were poor, the rest were what we would call working class, they were skilled laborers, merchants, (45%) or farmers and pensioners (25%). 20% were slaves.

Despite these limitations, which perhaps were not limitations at all, they gave way out of proportion and even sent their own to do the work of ministry. Epaphroditus was one of Paul’s helper and he was sent by the church at Philippi to help Paul in his ministry while Paul was in prison, apparently supporting him to do so. They were, however, rich in the grace of Christ which enabled them to do (and to want to do) what they otherwise would not even have desired to do.

One man I follow who specializes in church revitalization says that small churches tend to define themselves by what they are not and what they do not have rather than looking at the strengths and defining themselves by their identity in Christ. But we have the same Christ, the same Spirit, the same Word, and through these we can do mighty things for the kingdom. These things may not seem mighty or spectacular to the world, but then, God choses the foolish and weak things of this world to confound the mighty and seemingly-wise things of the world (1 Cor. 1:27-29). He chooses those things that seem to be nothing to bring to nothing the things that seem to be something.

So if your church is small (maybe you are the pastor of this small church) stop thinking about what you are not and look at all God has made you. See what you are and what you can be with Christ at the center.

 


[1] Gary L. McIntosh, One Size Doesn’t Fit All: Bringing Out the Best in Any Size Church (Grand Rapids: Revell, 1999) 17-18.

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About Michael R. Jones

Pastor and PhD candidate writing on Paul's theology of suffering.
This entry was posted in Church Ministry and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Some Thoughts on the Church at Philippi and Small Churches

  1. Pingback: Some Thoughts on the Church at Philippi and Small Churches | News from the Northside

  2. Pingback: 3 Bible verses many of us are using wrong | jonalism

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