This past weekend, I was invited to preach at Synder Avenue Congregational Church in South Philadelphia. Synder Avenue Church is a small old church. There must have been no more than 20-25 people there. And there was nothing pretty about the congregation. Many of them seemed tired. Some of them tired by age and sickness; the weariness of their weakening bodies had caught up to them. Others tired by life. People talked about losing jobs, persevering through difficult marriages, struggling with hard life situations. And yet, they were joyful. Tired and joyful. Broken and beautiful. It was an attractive combination. They didn’t have it altogether, but they had a simple and beautiful faith in God.
Ministry at Snyder Ave Church is far from sexy, and yet it is deeply attractive. The pastor is an old man. He walks with a limp. He is slow to climb stairs. His hand shakes when he lifts up the bread and the cup. And as I watched him, I was deeply inspired, convicted, and encouraged. He has been at Snyder Ave for over 45 years. Forty five years! He told me that he has buried over 400 parishoners during those decades. Week in and week out, he continues to faithfully minister the Gospel to his small flock. He loves them deeply. As communion is being given out, he recites large passages of Scripture from memory. He ministers to 25 people as though there were 500 people in the room. He sings with passion and repeatedly shouted “Amen” throughout my sermon. The Gospel seemed like it was good news to him as though he were hearing it for the first time.
I’ve been around enough young energetic church planters to know what it looks like to get started in ministry well. This weekend gave me a picture of what it would look like to finish well.