When I was a kid, the two churches I was most familiar with in my hometown were the two churches I ever remember attending growing up, starting out at the First United Methodist Church for the first part of my childhood and then later, as I got older, the First Baptist Church.
While neither were "mega-churches" as I understand the term, both would certainly have fallen on the "larger" end of the scale with memberships in the several hundreds and multiple worship services on a Sunday Morning. Both had large choirs, big youth programs, busy men's and women's ministries. They had active prison-outreaches, campground and benevolence ministries, out-of-country missions trips, and so forth. A lot of good stuff happening! Such was the kind of church life I grew up with and, for many years, all I really ever knew.
Later, I felt a call to ministry myself and ended up going to Bible College to learn to become a pastor. It was there I ever seriously paid attention to the existence of any other kind of church when, as a part of our pastoral training, the Bible Department sent us young aspiring ministry majors on "Pulpit Supply appointments, " not to the kind of large churches I was familiar with, but to small country churches, some out in the middle of nowhere, at times in the middle of a corn or soybean field.
The small churches I'm talking about were your iconic little country church where the building is the sanctuary. In some of these churches, there was no Fellowship Hall or Sunday School wing. Some didn't even have a front foyer. It was just a little sanctuary with two little rows of pews - a room you could literally walk from one side to the other in about 10 or 12 steps. Again, the scene was so foreign to me, and it’s definitely not what I envisioned when I envisioned a future in pastoral ministry. To be honest, some those early Pulpit Supply appointments were down right depressing to me.
I can remember preaching at one church, again out the middle of nowhere, where there were 4 people in attendance—that's right, just 4 people! To make things worse, during the course of my preaching, I noticed one of the old men fell asleep on me, and another decided to leave midway through my sermon. So that left me with an audience of two! I confess, that experience was so discouraging to me, and my initial reaction to it was, “Well, I understand the value for young preachers to preach at small churches like this to get their feet wet, but I certainly wouldn’t want to put down ministry roots in a place like this after I’ve received my training. What a waste. What a waste of an educated minister’s efforts."
I’m going to have more to say about that kind of thinking in a moment, but that’s what I thought. As I went on with my Bible training and continued making my Pulpit Supply rounds, I just assumed the end goal was to end up at a more established church, and ideally to be offered a full-time pastorate with a full-time salary.
Ironically, the more I visited these small little churches (and the more I studied my Bible), the more my attitude began to change and I began to see past the chipped paint and creaking floor boards, and I started paying attention to the old faithful saints who, rather than abandoning ship and going where all the excitement was happening at the big church across town, they sought to persevere and to hold down the fort.
Now, I’ve been around long enough to know there are lots of different reasons why churches are small and why those who attend them keep on attending them. I understand it could be because:
- It’s what they grew up with, so it’s just what they’re used to, or
- It’s because they don’t like large crowds, and actually prefer to stay small, or
- It’s because they’d rather avoid some of the “modern” aspects they see in large churches. Perhaps they prefer old country hymns, or traditional style worship, or
- It's because they have some kind of family stake in the church; their parents or their grandparents started the church, and they’re committed to keeping it alive.
There could be several other reasons as well, but as I surprisingly started feeling what was my own burden for these smaller churches, I don’t think my reasons were any of those. Rather, as I’ve reflected on what changed in my thinking, I think I would sum it up with the following:
1. I have a heart for small churches because of the importance of larger, growing churches.
That is to say, I have a heart for small churches because my desire would be that they not forever remain small churches.
That’s not to say I think a small church is any less of a church because of it’s size. Quite honestly, I could point to a few mega-churches out there that I would hesitate to even call a church because of the false teaching or the cult-like behaviors they practice. Size doesn’t legitimize a church. And yet, we know what God’s will is for his churches, and “church growth” is certainly on his list. Even though, when the Bible talks about church growth, we know it’s primary emphasis isn’t numerical, but spiritual. Ephesians 4:11-13 is pretty clear,
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,* until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…”
The primary kind of church growth the Bible talks about is a growth in Christlikeness. A church is growing, whether or not it’s taking on new members, if it is becoming more like Jesus. But, we also know part of becoming more like Jesus is reaching and discipling people, which should naturally result in some numerical growth, hence the example of Acts 2:47:
“The Lord added to their number day by day those being saved.”
What I desire to see (and what I want to help support to whatever degree I can) is the expanded reach of those smaller church communities by encouraging more hands on deck to bolster and assist that core of disciples to be the hands and feet of Christ. Unfortunately, I think the instinct of a lot of good and godly Christians out there is to drive past the small churches in their community in order to put their gifting to use where all the action is already happening, rather than considering the impact their gifting could make where there isn’t yet a lot of action happening, but there could be, if only they and ideally a few others invested their energies where their energies could really be used. I have a heart for small churches because of the obvious help small churches need to do the work that they need to do in order to grow.
2. I have a heart for small churches (particularly those in rural areas) because the Great Commission includes rural areas.
I remember hearing a church planter say one time that the model of the New Testament when it comes to church ministry and missions, and therefore the apparent priority and strategy the faithful Christian should invest their attention in is primarily in urban ministry. After all, where did the Apostle Paul go on his missionary journeys? Well, he largely focused on the cities. He focused on places like Ephesus, and Corinth, and Athens, and even Rome!
To that observation, I say, "I agree." The urban centers were a big focus in Paul’s ministry. But guess what? Rural areas were apart of his work too. One author writes,
“It is a significant overstatement to say that Paul’s passion was the planting of churches in metropolitan centers or in the ‘strategic cities’ of the Roman Empire.” (Eckhard Schnabel, "Paul the Missionary")
If you read the book of Acts as a whole, you find Paul not only preached in the big cities, but you find him faithfully serving in the rural backwoods areas as well. Just track his movements in Cyprus. See where he goes in Galatia. It’s not all port cities and capitols.
Not to mention the example Jesus gives us in of his ministry work. Where does Jesus spend much of his time? Yes, he spends some time in Jerusalem and Capernaum, but for the most part, he’s out in the countryside of Galilee interacting with the common folk.
My point isn’t to pit urban ministry vs. rural ministry, but simply to say the Great Commission includes both.
When the Master tells his servants in the parable of the Great Banquet, Luke 14, “Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in…,” that’s literally talking about those winding roads common in first century times that cut right through a farmer’s crops in order to connect with some more public thoroughfare. Literally, that's talking about those paths out in the middle of the cornfield.
My heart is to see not only those in the inner city, or in some fast-growing suburban area, come to Christ. I do want to see that. But, I also want to see that happening in the boondocks too.
3. I have a heart for small churhces because God is just as present in small churches than he is in big churches.
In Matthew 18:20, Jesus said, "For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them." The truth is, it doesn’t take a talented worship team, 60+ person choir, orchestra ensemble, or professionally trained worship leader to facilitate real Christian worship in a Gospel church. Sure, those things are wonderful additions to worship and I personally love being in churches that have them. But, they aren’t fundamentally required elements in order for worship to happen.
I admit, one of the neatest scenes of worship described in the Old Testament is when Asaph and all the other trained musicians are brought to the temple to worship the Lord in I Chronicles 15 and 16. No doubt, the impression we’re meant to be left with in that scene is just how glorifying and honoring such organized and well performed worship is to the Lord.
But remember what Jesus told the woman at the well in John 4. After she raises the question of which is better, to worship on the Mountain in Samaria or to worship where the Jews worship at the temple in Jerusalem. You would think the correct answer is at the temple, with all its special elements of worship, but instead Jesus says:
“Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father…The hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” (John 4:21, 23)
Point being, worship can happen anywhere. It isn’t tied to one place, especially not to one place that appears particularly equipped for worship. No, “real worship” can happen in Jerusalem, it can happen in Samaria, it can happen in the small synagogues of the country just as much as it can happen in the large facilities of the temple. For that matter, you don’t even need a small synagogue, which technically would require a minimum of 10 adult men to hold a service according to Jewish tradition. Jesus says, where 2 or 3 are gathered, you can worship corporately. The Lord is present there.
4. I have a heart for small churches because small flocks need shepherds too.
Paul wrote to Titus is Titus 1:5,
"This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you."
Think about that, appoint “elders” (i.e. pastors) in every town. Even the small town? Even in those little towns that have a total population of 42? Yes! Appoint elders in "every town."
I already shared the story of how I used to think about small churches when I was first studying to become a pastor. But sometime I've come to discover since is that I was hardly alone in my ministry bias against small churches.
As I’ve interacted with different seminary students and fellow pastors since that time, more often than not, I meet men who tell me they won’t even consider serving at a small church either because, they say, they have to support their family and require a full-time position, which, obviously, only a larger church can provide. I guess the bi-vocational example of Paul as a “tent-maker” isn’t something they’re willing to consider for themselves.
Or they’ll say, having been to seminary, their level of education over-qualifies them for a smaller church and that their gifting would evidently be better suited in a big church.
I’m so grateful for educated pastors who are well equipped to feed the flock, but, listen, when Paul told Titus to appoint elders in every town, his qualifications list applied across the board, not just for big churches. And interestingly, those qualifications don't even mention a Master of Divinity degree or a doctorate, but a character of godliness and a faithfulness to uphold the plain message of Gospel as it’s been given to us.
It's again unfortunate, but I think the attitude of a lot of pastors out there is to treat smaller churches simply as a training ground, or a stepping-stone, to get to a higher rung on the ministry ladder. In fact, I know one pastor whose served at something like 7 different churches over the years, each church a little larger and providing a slightly bigger salary package than the one before. And what’s the result of that? Well, one of the results of that is that the smaller churches (the lower rungs on the ladder so to speak) can hardly hold on to any of their pastor for longer than a year or two before they move on to something bigger and better. I understand sometimes a church can’t hold on to their pastors because they have a habit of running off their pastors (that’s another topic altogether). Often though it's a pastor's ambitions that draw him away.
I love the advice of an older pastor, writing to one of his younger students recently ordained over a small congregation who’s somewhat discouraged about the small size of his church. The wiser, older pastor writes:
“I know the vanity of your heart, and that you will feel mortified that your congregation is very small, in comparison with those of your brethren around you; but assure yourself on the word of an old man, that when you come to give an account of them to the Lord Christ, at His judgment-seat, you will think you have had enough.” (John Brown, cited by Alexander Grossart in The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes).
That is sound advice. Pastors will give an account for the souls under their care (Hebrews 13:17). And while most pastors want to see their congregations grow and have an increasing number of sheep in their fold, the weight of responsibility that rests on their shoulders even with a small flock will prove heavy enough when we answer to Christ on Judgement Day.
I could keep going, but I'll leave it at that. To end with a short word of encouragement:
If you are a lay-person in the church, perhaps searching for a new church home, don't rule out the small churches just because they’re small and because they don't have all the fancy amenities that the big church down the road has. Consider the impact your attendance, your involvement, your gifting could make in a smaller church setting. If a smaller church environment just doesn’t “feel” like church in your experience, look at the New Testament. Look at the small house churches that started out there without big youth groups, or singles ministries, or mother’s day out programs—as beneficial as some of those things can be--the New Testament church didn’t have those things. It was just a family of believers who had all things in common (Acts 2).
Or, if you are an aspiring pastor out there and gearing up to serve in a church, don’t assume that bigger churches are necessarily a more God-glorifying place to be. It’s not the size of a ministry that validates the minister, it’s his faithfulness in ministry. If God puts you in a big church, that’s wonderful, be faithful in that. If God puts you in a small church, that’s also wonderful. Just be faithful. Be content. Serve the Lord.
I sometimes get asked what my thoughts are on the topic of "prepping." When you have a homestead and one of the things you try to do is live self-sufficiently, people often point out how similar some of the lifestyle choices appear to be between those two groups—that is, between “homesteaders” and “preppers.”
If I were to be completely honest about it, I would have to admit, there probably is a lot of crossover between the two camps. For the sake of this post though, I'm not so much concerned about splitting hairs and distinguishing between what is categorically “homesteading” vs. what is categorically “prepping.” Rather, what I want to try to do is tackle what is generally thought of as the “practice of prepping,” regardless of what label it takes. Call it “prepperism,” “survivalism,” “homesteading,” or "crazy Aunt Matilda's hording habits," it doesn’t matter to me. What I want to consider is just how biblical the practice itself is, and to whatever degree it is (or isn’t) biblical, how the Christian needs to give more attention (or less attention, as the case may be) to the whole preparedness line of thinking.
For the sake of definitions, I know when a person talks about prepping, it's important to clarify that there are all manner of different kinds of preppers. Perhaps the most recognized of which are the infamous “Doomsday Preppers.”
ON DOOMSDAY PREPPING
A few years ago, National Geographic put out a popular TV show by the same name that got a lot of attention at the time. In addition to the attention, it probably received a lot of laughs too since most of the people who were profiled on the show appeared to largely fall on the crazy, extremist-end of the scale.
Even among the so-called Doomsday Preppers, again there is plenty of variety. Not only are there the classic “Nuclear Fallout preppers” with their underground bomb shelters, just waiting for the Cold War sirens to go off, but there are also “EMP preppers,” with their faraday cages; “Economic Collapse” preppers, with their stashes of gold and silver; “Global Warming preppers,” with their high-elevation housing, safely built away from the rising sea levels of melting polar ice caps; and “Pandemic and Biological Warfare preppers,” with their masks, hazmat suits and hermetically sealed sterilized environments. There are even all-out “World-War-III, Marshal-Law, Zombie-Apocalypse, Alien-Invasion” level preppers with their full arsenals of AK-47s, ammunition, and aluminum foil hats.
There are all different kinds of Doomsday Preppers. That being so, a stereotypical practice all of them seem to share is the stockpiling of whatever supplies they imagine would be necessary to survive whatever large-scale disaster scenario they predict could presumably happen in their lifetime. I think I’ve seen most prepper’s checklists able to be boiled down to “the three B’s of preparedness”—and those are having a sufficient supply of band-aids, bullets, and beans. Or categorically, that would translate to first-aid needs, self-defense needs, and general sustenance needs
Obviously, in a real “catastrophe/disaster level” situation, those kinds of preparations and provisions would make all the difference. Just watch any survival-themed movie, or read any dystopian fiction novel to see how these things go. The one who is prepared, well equipped, and well-armed is the one who typically makes it to the end credits, or to the last page of the story.
Of course, as a Christian, the point isn’t to model one’s life off of fiction, but to model our lives on the facts of reality and the truths of Scripture. And so, I think the big question that needs to be asked is, what does the Bible have to say about the subject? Does God’s Word address the topic of prepping? I think the short answer is, “As a matter of fact, yes, it does speak toward the topic!”
It may come as a surprise for many to learn that some of history’s biggest preppers are some of the Bible’s biggest names. The list could begin with none other than Noah in Genesis 6, who God told to build an ark in preparation for a global flood that he planned to pour out upon the earth in judgement. And what was he told to put in the ark? A stockpile of everything that was needed to repopulate the earth.
In addition to Noah, there was Joseph in Genesis 41 who, though he didn’t face quite the global-extinction-level kind of event that Noah did, he still had to deal with a regional 7-year famine. God gave him advance warning of the famine so that during a 7-year period of plenty that preceded it, he could prepare and set aside enough to see Egypt and its neighbors through the hard times to come.
After Joseph, Moses comes to mind. On the night of Passover in Exodus 12, God told him and all the Hebrew families to have their bug-out bags ready. He told them to “keep their belts fastened, their sandals on their feet, and their staff in hand.” In essence, he told them to be prepared for the major Exodus out of Egypt that was about to happen.
There are other examples in the Bible we could point to, but before we get too carried away with that, let's consider why the Bible gives us the stories of men like Noah, Joseph, and Moses to begin with. If you think about the purpose for these Scriptures, it isn’t necessarily for us to go out and duplicate everything they did detail by detail.
Just because Noah built an ark doesn't mean God wants us to go out and build an ark too—or build a bunker, or to fill up our own shipping container’s worth of supplies. I don’t think that’s the intended takeaway of Genesis 6 through 9.
The examples of faith we’re given in men like this, according to Hebrews 11, is to compel us to adopt the same kind of faith—a faith that’s built not on blind speculation, but on “assurance in the things hoped for though not seen,” namely in what God has specifically promised to us.
Faith isn’t blindly acting on an imaginative hunch; it’s acting on what God has personally said. In the three cases I mentioned, God—whether directly by a word, or indirectly by a dream—told his servants what was about to happen…and their faith was acting according to that promise.
In terms of modern day prepping, unless a person wants to claim they’ve received direct revelation from God about specific events soon to unfold—and from what we know about passages like Hebrews 1:1-2, it’s probably wise to question such claims—I don’t think the Christian is called to run around like Chicken Little overly confident that the sky is falling every time there’s a drop of rain.
In James 4, the Bible reminds us, “We don’t know what tomorrow will bring.” In the context there, he’s just talking about travel plans, but how much more does that apply to catastrophic or apocalyptic events? If we’re really talking about doomsday, we don’t know when that’s going to happen, or how it’s going to happen. Jesus says, “concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36).
The other thing to say about it is, if we’re really talking about Doomsday Preparations, I think the point of Revelation is there’s going to be no stopping it, and no ultimately surviving it. But this old, sinful world will be burned up and dissolved, and a new heaven and earth will be established after we’ve all stood before the Judge and given account. And on that day, we can better hope we’ve got Jesus in our corner.
The only Doomsday Preparations I’m concerned about is being ready to meet my Maker, and being sure my trust is in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross for the forgiveness of my sins. I suppose in that sense, I am a Doomsday Prepper. My preparation isn’t to hide out in the caves and the rocks like those in Revelation 6, calling out to their mountain bunkers to “hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb…,” but rather my preparation is to be ready to approach that throne with confidence knowing that I am safe from wrath because I’ve been forgiven. Matthew 10:28 says,
“Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
It’s not the possibility of World War III or some Mad Max future we should be worried about as much as the guarantee of a Great White Throne Judgement in Revelation 20.
ON COMMON, EVERYDAY PREPPING
With that said, to be fair to Scripture, though Doomsday Prepping in the “stockpiling, surviving-the end-of-the-world” sense of the term, isn’t something Christians are necessarily called to do, I think there is a kind of common, everyday prepping that Christians are very much called to be about. I don’t have the time in this post to get into all the verses, but the Proverbs alone are full of instructions teaching the wisdom of planning ahead based on realistic and, for the most part, predictable factors.
One of my favorites is Proverbs 6:6-9—
“Go to the ant, O sluggard;
consider her ways, and be wise.
Without having any chief,
officer, or ruler,
she prepares her bread in summer
and gathers her food in harvest.
How long will you lie there, O sluggard?
When will you arise from your sleep?"
The whole point there is that it’s wise to plan ahead, based on what we know about the seasons. We know winter is coming, and if we want a harvest before winter hits, we need to do the hard work of preparing our food in advance.
It’s not crazy talk to say winter is coming while the temperatures are still warm for the simple fact that winter is coming. We know it’s coming. It may be months away, but it’s coming, so get ready. What would be crazy talk would be to say winter isn’t coming and, therefore, like the grasshopper in Aesop’s Fable, waste our time playing our fiddle all day.
The same principal applies not only to winter, but to any seasonal occurrence, whether that’s tornado season, or hurricane season, or wildfire season, or flu season, or a bear market, or a period of recession, or a season of inflation. Just go down the list. If one can reasonably estimate a thing is sure to happen, even if that thing is still one month out, one year out, or even one decade out —it’s wise and biblical to prepare for that thing, and it’s downright foolish not to.
The Bible resorts to name calling on this issue. You are a lazy, selfish “sluggard” if you’re not going to do something about what’s on it’s way and simply expect others to accommodate for your lack of planning when it finally arrives. Another passage that comes to mind is Proverbs 22:3 that says,
“The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.”
Here, it doesn’t even have to be something that’s completely predictable, but it can be some sudden, unexpected danger you happen to notice is creeping on the horizon. You an enemy or predator outside prowling in the woods, it might be a good idea to get the kids inside.
Take that principal and apply it to any modern-day danger. It could be a literal danger to your life. Or it could be a danger to your freedom. Or to your property. Or to your values. Or to your marriage. It could even be a danger to the soul of the very society you live in. If you see a danger of any kind steadily creeping closer, it’s wise to try and do something about that. The prudent see the dangers while the simple go on as if nothing is wrong.
How we ultimately prepare for those different situations will depend on the situation. Preparing for the winter season will look different than preparing for the sudden threat at your front door. But to give you a few biblical principles that hopefully apply across the board, remember this:
- Whatever your preparation looks like, remember it’s not to be selfish.
Jesus rebuked the man in Luke 12 who horded so much of his harvest that he needed to tear down his old barns and build bigger ones, patting himself on the back saying, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”
For the Christian, the point isn’t to boast in being the wise ant and kicking all the lazy grasshoppers to the curb, but to be the wise ant and to be generous with what we have
- Another principal to live by is that whatever your preparation looks like, remember it’s not all meant to be tangible.
Jesus says in Matthew 5,
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…”
I don’t think that means we shouldn’t have any tangible provisions, but rather that our real stockpile isn’t invested in money boxes, gun safes, and food pantries, but it is so evidently more in those investments that have an eternal stake holding. Our treasure and our real nest-egg exists in our relationship with God, the redemption of our souls, our relationship with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, or those we want to see become brothers and sisters in Christ.
- Lastly, a third principal worth applying, is to remember that our preparation isn’t about survival.
In the book of Philippians, when Paul is grappling with the possibility of execution vs. his will to stay alive, he’s sure to recognize that either option in his mind is a win-win scenario since to die would be a gain, but to live would also be an advantage because it would provide him more opportunity to serve the church.
In no way does Paul want to get out of jail and live a comfortable life for the sake of living a comfortable life. He has a purpose to accomplish. And, if he’s not going to fulfill that purpose, or if God is finished with him in that purpose, he’s done. He’s done what he was here to do.
The idea of living life simply to survive is not biblical. We’re here—we were created—we were born—we were made Christians for slightly bigger objective than that. And therefore, whatever preparations we make in life should ultimately be to enable us to go about what we’re here to do. And when God is done with us, he’s done with us.
And then, as I’ve already said, we better be sure we’re prepared for the real Doomsday to come. And, thankfully, those who trust Christ are more than prepared.
So much more could be said on this subject, but I’ll leave it at that. Is prepping biblical? I think the answer is, yes, prepping can be biblical…assuming it’s done biblically. And, the flip-side of that is, prepping can also unbiblical if done in sinful ways or with selfish motives.
So, a bit of a disclaimer right off the bat: I have never read the whole “Anne of Green Gables” anthology of 8 or so books by Canadian author Lucy Montgomery, published in the early 1900s. I did track down and borrow from a friend an old copy of the first book in the series so I could compare that to what I know about the 1985 movie, which I have watched several times.
Like most guys growing up with a mom and a sister who were both partial to the story, and now, being married, having a wife and a daughter who also enjoy this sort of thing, I’ve become somewhat familiar with the adventures of Anne Shirley, and I won’t forget that’s Anne spelled with an “e.”
To my shame (…and I apologize to my wife for it), I'm not that romantic of a guy; I don't get very sentimental when it comes to the whole "coming-of-age" story line, especially not one written for young women about a somewhat awkward, freckle-face, red-headed orphan girl who always has her head in the clouds, dreaming about poetry, flowers, bosom friends, and kindred spirits. That is, of course, until she begins to mature through the catalysts of a loving family, a good education, discipline, falling in love and so forth. It's a classic girl's story.
But I will say, whenever I watch the movie (and having also read the book), there is something about it all that grabs my attention and sparks my thinking. It first shows up somewhat early in the story as little orphan Anne arrives at the train station to be picked up by one “Matthew Cuthbert.”
Matthew is an older gentlemen in his 60’s who, because of some developing heart problems, could use an extra set of hands on the farm. With the support of his sister, Marilla (neither of whom ever married in life or had children), they set out to adopt a boy. To his surprise, the orphanage by mistake sends Anne, who obviously isn't a boy at all.
On the carriage ride home to Matthew & Marilla's farm known as “Green Gables,” they pass through the picturesque countryside of Prince Edward Island with its cherry trees and apple trees in blossom that immediately captures Anne’s imagination.
What jumps out at me about their commute, however, isn't how splendid the scenery is and how delightful it would be to live there, though that is a thought that naturally comes to mind. What jumps out to me in particular is how remarkable of a character the man whose driving Anne back to the farm must have.
I don't know how he's portrayed in other movie versions, but the casting in the 1985 version is so compelling to me. It’s not just compelling, it’s actually convicting to me. It’s convicting because I know, if I were to put myself in his shoes, and if I had heart problems and knew that my health depended on a strong and reliable young man to help me out, only now to have a “daydreamer” on my hands who talks far more than she gets things done—not to mention, because she’s a girl, there’s not going to be much help digging post holes and plowing fields—my reaction to that whole monkey-wrench-in-the-plans would probably be a lot less charitable.
And yet, to see Matthew Cuthbert’s reaction, and the kindness, grace, and humility he displays, all I can say is, I see more Christlikeness in him than I often see in myself. By the way, I know we’re just talking about a fictional character here, but even Jesus spoke in parables and pointed to imagined characters to model righteous examples.
Of course, I’m not that familiar with where the author herself is coming from in terms of her personal beliefs, and what her own Christian convictions are that are written into the story. I will say it seems pretty obvious there are Christian references made throughout the book, and a clear Christian faith shared by most of the characters.
For example, I noticed how the main character of Anne herself is described as a Christian, though its apparent very early on that what she’s missing is a bit of discipleship. In one of the chapters, she admits she's never been in the habit of praying very much, which she says is on account of her being upset with God because he made her with red hair. To this, Marilla reacts in shock,
"Why, Anne, what do you mean? Were you never taught to say your prayers?...Don't you know who God is, Anne?"
Anne replies back,
"God is spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth."
That is a word-for-word quote of the Westminster catechism. Apparently, she’s received some Bible training. She just needs a little help saying her prayers, which Marilla proceeds to disciple her in.
In another chapter, Anne voices her appreciation for good preaching and solid sermons that “have such an influence for good, if their theology is sound” and able to stir a hearers’ heart. On that note, in one of her typical daydreams, she imagines, if she were a man, how much she would like to be a preacher and craft sermons so much more interesting than most preachers preach.
At another point she talks about her understanding of what it means to be “regenerate,” and, upon meeting the new minister’s wife, how encouraged she is that instead of being so melancholy, she has met a Christian who is full of joy, kindness, and sincerity.
I see a lot of Christian undertones in the characters. I especially see it in the Matthew Cuthbert character. Even if it’s not explicitly said, I see a kind of Christlikeness built into his temperament that speaks for itself.
Matthew is described as a shy and meek man, content to live peacefully and quietly at his home of Green Gables. He listens more than he talks. He is so gentle that he’s saddened every time he has to put down a lamb or calf. Whenever he is upset (or “perturbed of mind”), rather than expressing his anxiety with anger or frustration, his way of venting involves sitting in a chair, smoking his pipe, and calmly thinking it through. He shows kindness in his gift giving of candy and puffed-sleeve dresses. He is quick to forgive. He is an advocate for Anne when others are against her.
It is Matthew who decides first, despite the orphanage’s mistake, to adopt Anne. I find that to be such a Gospel-like display. Here is an unwanted girl, who has much to be desired in what she can offer on the farm, at least to the benefit of Matthew. Matthew has the most to lose in choosing Anne, but choose her he does, ultimately to his own demise. By the end of the book, Matthew’s heart problems don’t improve and he does end up dying from, among other things, working himself too hard.
But his sacrifice is worth it. Why? Because in choosing this little girl he ends up being blessed himself not only in the satisfaction that comes in showing grace to someone who can never pay you back, but in the joy that’s experienced in watching that person thrive because of the new life your sacrifice made possible.
Right before he dies, Anne scores high marks on one of her academic tests. Matthew is beaming with pride of Anne while at the same time drooping physically because of his declining health.
In that moment Anne notices Matthew doesn't look so good as he goes about his farm chores:
“You’ve been working too hard today, Matthew,” she said reproachfully. “Why won’t you take things easier?”
“Well now, I can’t seem to,” said Matthew, as he opened the yard gate to let the cows through. “It’s only that I’m getting old, Anne, and keep forgetting it. Well, well, I’ve always worked pretty hard and I’d rather drop in harness.”
“If I had been the boy you sent for,” said Anne wistfully, “I’d be able to help you so much now and spare you in a hundred ways. I could find it in my heart to wish I had been, just for that.”
“Well now, I’d rather have you than a dozen boys, Anne,” said Matthew patting her hand. “Just mind you that—rather than a dozen boys. Well now, I guess it wasn’t a boy that took the Avery scholarship, was it? It was a girl—my girl—my girl that I’m proud of.”
It’s not long after that, Matthew dies, yet he was convinced, he’d rather have Anne than a dozen boys. Never mind the fact that just one boy could have added more years to his life. This is a man did nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility counted Anne more significant than himself.
Does that remind you of anyone? Philippians 2 says, speaking of Christ and the influence Christ has on those who know him:
“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Did you catch that? Christians are called to “have this mind among yourselves.” I find that so encouraging because, more than anything, I want to be that kind of person. I want to be like Matthew Cuthbert. I want to have the mind and heart that he had, which is first modeled for us in Christ.
In a recent litter of piglets, one of our males suffered a skin tear during delivery. Because there wasn't excessive bleeding or damage to the muscle, we applied an antiseptic and left him alone. See the time-lapse of his recovery!