Just so I’m not misunderstood, I’d like to start by making two things clear:
1. I’ve visited many Calvary Chapels, both large and small. One of the things I enjoy when I travel is visiting other churches and worshipping with my brothers and sisters. I make it a point to see if there are any Calvary Chapels in the area that I’m visiting so that I can attend worship on Sunday and (if possible) a midweek Bible study. I confess that I usually don’t mention that I’m a Calvary pastor – at least until after the service.
2. I don’t think that small fellowships are intrinsically “better” or “worse” than large fellowships, or visa-versa. The fact that I’m an assistant pastor at a “small” fellowship doesn’t make me particularly biased toward small fellowships. In fact, when I travel I admit that I enjoy visiting “large” Calvary Chapels because (in addition to solid Bible teaching and great worship) they usually have coffee shops and bookstores!
My family is visiting Maine for the first time. Since our first day in Bar Harbor was Sunday, I’d made plans for us to attend church. My initial thought was to visit Calvary Chapel of Bangor where Ken Graves is the senior pastor. Although I’ve never visited the fellowship, I’m pretty sure that CC Bangor qualifies as a “big” Calvary – at least compared to CC Russell, PA! On the drive in we passed a small building with a sign reading “Calvary Chapel Downeast”. Intrigued, I did a quick Google search. While CC Bangor would require a drive of over an hour, CC Downeast in Trenton, ME was just 20 minutes from where we were staying. After spending 15 hours in a car on Saturday that made the decision a no-brainer for my family – CC Downeast would be our Sunday morning destination.
In the interest of total disclosure I have to admit that I was a little disappointed. After all, I was pretty sure that CC Downeast wouldn’t have either a coffee shop or a bookstore, and I’d never heard of the pastor. If it sounds hypocritical that I (who have often railed against our creation of “celebrity pastors”) would want to see a “big name” pastor rather than an “unknown”, then you are absolutely right! I’m ashamed to admit that I wanted to go to a “big” Calvary, hear a pastor I knew from the radio, and sit in a bookstore and drink flavored coffee. Talk about fleshly motives! God forgive me!
We arrived at CC Downeast and were welcomed very warmly. They didn’t have a bookstore, but they did have some very solid books on sale in the foyer (and the coffee was free)! The fellowship was as small as I expected and I was a little disappointed to see that the senior pastor was away and the youth/assistant pastor would be preaching. Frankly, he seemed pretty nervous about being up front.
The next 90 minutes were a blessing! The worship was authentic and heartfelt. People sang and raised their hands in worship, pouring out their love to our Heavenly Father. The prayers weren’t polished – they were sincere and straight from the heart. Pastor Ross preached a message that was the equal of anything I’ve heard at a Pastor’s conference. He covered the chaotic state of the world, the futility of trying to change things by political means, the necessity of our standing strong in the grace of Christ, the urgency of reaching a lost and dying world with the Gospel, the reality of Jesus’s soon return, and the joyous fact that no matter how bad things in the world may get, we have nothing to fear!
When the Jewish exiles from Babylon returned to see the temple that Zerubbabel had built, they wept because it lacked the size and grandeur of Solomon’s temple. They forgot that God doesn’t measure things the same way that we do. We measure by size and appearance while He looks on the inward parts, not the externals. We should be careful not to despise the “day of small things,” – or small fellowships. That’s the lesson God taught me this week.
It may take a few weeks, but when it’s online I encourage everyone to check out Pastor Ross’s message at Calvary Chapel Downeast. (http://www.ccdowneast.org/