Amongst the citizens of Bedford Falls dwells a man by the name of Potter. He waits for disaster to strike then manipulates everyone and everything to revolve around him and to regard him as some sort of a savior. This is a subplot of the classic film It’s a Wonderful Life, but it is also the reality of many traditional and rural churches. In those churches Mr. Potter may be a man, a woman, or a group of men and women, but very few Bedford Falls do not have at least one Potter deigning to transform Bedford Falls “Church” in to Pottersville “Church”. In the film, the disaster is the Great Depression. In your church the disaster could be a financial, theological, or personnel crisis. The results are the same. Mr. Potter is waiting to pounce.
Enter George Bailey. George is an upright and honest young man. He’s energetic if not somewhat brash and in need of growing in life and wisdom. He does not intend to stay in a town like Bedford Falls his whole life. No. His eyes are on the globe and he is hopeful about his education, prospects, and adventures. Disaster strikes: death, sadness. George stays, but it’s okay, there will be another way out. He is a loyal and caring young man. This is the recurring story of George Bailey and of many pastors set upon the mission of revitalizing small town and rural traditional churches: stuck, barely making ends meet, not earning many dollars, but making many friends.
In many ways, George Bailey and Mr. Potter live parallel lives. They go to the same bank, live in the same town, and each grows rich in his own way. Both are blind to the value of true riches. When disaster strikes, both keep their heads. One is thinking of others, the other is thinking of himself.
At a key point in the film when George has an epiphany he gives Mr. Potter an incredible and scathing speech. He points out that he is “nothing but a warped frustrated old man” who “spins his webs.” He further determines to continue operating his father’s “penny-ante building and loan” just so the people in the town have a “one horse institution where people can go without crawling to Potter.”
With that in mind, let me take a moment to address all the Mr. Potters out there:
Dear Mr. Potter,
Stop being a warped frustrated old man. Stop spinning your webs, figure out what is gnawing you and repent. You are not the Savior, and neither is George. You are not George’s enemy and he is not yours. You both have the same Enemy, and the same Savior.
Finally, due to the mistake of someone else, under the responsibility of George, comes a situation that cannot be ignored and Mr. Potter sees a way to twist the situation to his benefit, do George in, and win. (Again, a recurring plot in many of these traditional rural churches in need of revitalization). However, due to life investments and grace, George Bailey will survive.
What John Brown wrote to a younger protégé minister may well be said to many real life George Baileys who venture out bright-eyed and ready to conquer the world:
“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.”
The truth of the matter is, all situations will not work out the way it does in a Frank Capra film, but what we have is more sure. We have a faithful Shepherd Who rewards His shepherds with a crown (1 Peter 5). So from one George Bailey to another, in the words of Alistair Begg, “Stay steady!” After all, Bedford Falls, and especially Mr. Potter, needs Jesus. It truly is a wonderful life.