Small Church Hall of Fame: The Pilgrims

Old SchoolThey didn’t plan to change the world.

They just wanted to worship God according to the dictates of their own conscience, not in the manner they were ordered to by King James and the Church of England.

They preferred to meet in Small Churches, each with their own systems of authority, not under the politically corrupt Church of England.

The problem with the Church of England wasn’t that it was big, but that they used their size to intimidate and gain political power, instead of blessing people and promoting the Gospel.

So a handful of believers in a Small Church in the town of Scrooby, who were under constant persecution for not following the rules of the church of England, decided to leave.

There’s so much that Small Churches of today can learn from the integrity and perseverance of these brave Separatists.

Here are 6 principles that caused the early American Pilgrims to unintentionally change the world:


1. They Had a Healthy Dissatisfaction With Church as Usual

Power corrupts. And absolute power corrupts absolutely.

In 6th – 17th century England, the Church of England held absolute power. And that power had corrupted the nation and the church. There was no religious freedom. People were fined for not attending Church of England services every week.

A group of Christians called themselves Separatists and met to worship in small congregations in direct violation of that law.


2. They Were Willing to Do Something About it

The people we now know as Pilgrims weren’t the only ones who were dissatisfied with the way things were in England. But they made a difference because they took action.

Like a lot of their bible heroes, they left where they were without knowing where they’d end up. For many world-changers, action comes first. A plan comes later.


3. The Didn’t Settle for Half-Measures

No, they didn’t go to America – not at first. The hopped over the English Channel and eventually settled in Leiden, in the Netherlands, where they set up a new congregation.

Life was good in Leiden. They had religious freedom and were free from persecution. But they were strangers in a strange land. They had a hard time adapting to the language and customs of this new nation.

They were British, and they wanted their children to be raised British. So they decided to leave Leiden after a couple years, and head to the New World. There, they would still be under British rule, speaking English, but would be geographically far enough from the center of power to avoid religious persecution.

So the bulk of the Leiden Congregation – 37 in all – left Holland on a boat called the Speedwell, and sailed for Southampton, England, where they would meet up with another ship called the Mayflower.


4. They Risked Everything for What They Believed

A couple years ago, my wife and I visited Plymouth, Massachusetts where we boarded the Mayflower II. It’s an exact replica of the original Mayflower.

It is stiflingly small. Walking through it made me more aware than ever of the enormous price these people were willing to pay to worship God in their own way.

That 102 people crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a ship that size is inconceivable. This was not just a one-way trip. Chances were less than 50/50 that they would even make it one way.


5. They Pursued their Vision – Then They Wrote it Down

The Mayflower Compact is an extraordinary document.

As implied by its name, it wasn’t drawn up before they left, but after they were on board the ship.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. World-changers tend to do things first and write about it later. A vision matters, but the written form of it tends to have far greater value if it’s written after the vision is well under way.


6. They Persevered

The New World was not the Promised Land. Life was hard. Much harder than in either England or the Netherlands.

As the American Thanksgiving holiday approaches, we’ll all be reminded of the trials of that first year and the help they received from the native people.

But their trials didn’t end with that first Thanksgiving feast. Starvation and disease were rampant for years. The mortality rate was high.

They lived for a lot of years at a notch below survival level. But, like hundreds of thousands of Small Churches before and after them, they held on to their faith, they cared for each other, they stood for what’s right, and eventually…


They Changed the World

As I write in The Grasshopper Myth, the rich and powerful seldom change the world. Why would they? It’s obviously working for them.

The world is changed by the poor, the lowly and the disenfranchised. Not always for the better. But always from the bottom, up.

The world is often changed by the least likely people. And sometimes they’re worshiping together in a Small Church.


So what do you think? Is your Small Church filled with conformists and settlers, or separatists, pilgrims and world-changers?

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(Old School photo from Adam Pieniazek • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

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2 thoughts on “Small Church Hall of Fame: The Pilgrims”

  1. As I read through this post the thought that began to surface is, I think as a nation we are forgetting where the original Thanksgiving was birthed and it is not about shopping! This post spoke to me at a heart level in the area of my posting on social networks. The posting and sending up of my quick little, “I am thankful for” prompts me to ask, Am I really thankful or am I only writing to fit in with what we now designate as a holiday? Now it is time for me to hit the print button, to save this post as a reminder.

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