Fragile – not a word that appears in the Bible, nor one that we tend to think of as a desirable trait, yet I have heard two people use it recently to describe the Church in the countryside. I suppose they mean that rural congregations and groups tend to be small in number, with ministry gifts and responsibilities tending to be in the hands of just one or two individuals. They mean that many of these Christians are elderly. They mean that money is not plentiful and buildings, if they still exist at all, are small and may be in need of modernisation. Perhaps they mean that it would be much more comfortable to belong to a larger town or city church that has ‘resources’.
All these things are, of course, quite correct, and no-one who has experience of such churches could honestly deny it. However, that is not a reason to disband them in favour of more solid ‘going concerns’! To fully appreciate this, firstly consider the natural world, created by God in all its fullness and variety. Many creatures are what we would consider fragile: the butterfly with its paper-thin wings that crumble into dust if you touch them, the spider’s web, the young of many creatures born naked and blind into harsh environments. Yet God knows them all (Job 39: 1-4), and not one of these creatures falls to the ground without Him being aware of it (Matt 10: 29-31).
Then think of our own bodies, ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ (Ps 139: 14). Modern science has still not worked out how much of the body functions. It can be damaged so easily by accident or disease, and man has become an expert at destroying the bodies of other men with weapons of ever-increasing potency. A look into the personality reveals the same fragility; how often do we find a friend that can be relied upon through thick and thin, or even a workman who turns up when he says he will?
If God is aware of man’s fragility, why does He continue to prosecute His plan through Him? Time and time again we read of men who failed God and yet He used them in wonderful ways. Abraham’s story is interlaced with doubt and fear, and yet God’s testimony of him in Romans 4: 18-21 doesn’t mention this at all! Jacob was a deceiver, and yet God blessed him (Gen 32: 29). David committed sins of adultery and pride, but God referred to him as ‘a man after God’s own heart’ (1 Sam 13: 14).
Was it sensible of God to send His only Son in the form of a baby to redeem the sins of a dangerous world? At the end of three years of teaching, healing and working miracles, to have just a small number of loyal followers, the core of whom fell asleep when He needed them most (Matt 26: 40) and then scattered when the moment came to stand for what they believed (Matt 26: 56) – this must have looked very fragile to the outside observer. Even more so when the Son of God allowed Himself to be taken and nailed to a cross.
We know that God needs our availability, not our ability, but we can so easily be fooled by the wisdom of this world (1 Cor 3: 19) into thinking in ungodly ways based on outward appearances. It is, in fact, God’s deep desire that we learn to abide in Him (John 15: 5), do what we see Him doing (John 5: 19), and boast only in the Lord (1 Cor 3: 21). Those who truly set their hearts on this way of life tread a narrow road and have few companions (Matt 8: 14), and become closely acquainted with fragility as God method to make them cast everything onto Him. So if you find yourself in a ‘fragile’ church then rejoice, for God has given you circumstances that will help you on your way.