The Importance of Small

Have you ever noticed how here in the United States we’re fascinated by everything big? Stores don’t just offer sales anymore; they’re COLOSSAL sales—GIGANTIC deals with HUGE savings. Sodas are sold in BIG GULP cups. Beanbag chairs are now called BIG JOE CHAIRS. We shop at BIG LOTS. (But then, who would want to go to a Little Lots store?) Boys dream of playing in the BIG LEAGUES.

Even in the church we get carried away with the concept of BIG. Ministries are prized for the breadth of their impact. Pastors seem to be ranked by the size of their congregations. Outreaches are rated by the numbers of people who come to Christ. Church vitality is measured by the number of baptisms and new converts. But is big always better—is this what God values?

Recently I was reading in the gospels, pondering Jesus’ ministry focus. In Luke 8, I was struck by how He purposefully left a thriving outreach to large crowds and crossed the Sea of Galilee to change the life of one—a demon-possessed man. Why leave a highly impactful ministry for one crazed person? Why choose the small over the big? It makes no sense until you look at the heart of God.

Jesus demonstrates in this story how God loves and values every single person. Everyone He’s created is made in His image and deemed worthy of receiving His provision of salvation. While sizeable numbers may matter to us, each heart is what matters to God. Jesus chose to abandon the bigger ministry we read about in Luke 8 to impact the life of just one man, which tells us that He values “small.”

One of the smallest ministries in our church—caring for those with special needs—is one of the nearest and dearest to my heart. We provide one-on-one buddies, who come alongside children with special abilities. In doing so, we also give their parents a much-needed break to find spiritual refreshment.

We don’t serve a lot of children, but what we do is impactful. As we lovingly care for each child, we are also blessing their parents, siblings, and the extended family. We are also sending a message that God loves and values each person, regardless of ability.

Some of our families have been unable to attend church for years due to their child’s health demands. But this small but faithful ministry is creating a safe place for these families to minister and be ministered to.

Some day in heaven I would love to hear the stories of the lives changed by the testimony of that former demoniac. My guess is that small ministries are not so small after all.

How is your heart?

I have struggled with writing this blog post for months as I’ve wrestled with the Holy Spirit. He has been working in my heart, revealing to me that, despite my best efforts, I am prideful, envious, and filled with thoughts of comparison.

I’ve now started to realize the core of my sin: I have cared too much for what others think of me—or my ministry—and not cared enough about who Jesus is calling me to be or who He says I am. My heart screamed with fear that I have not been doing enough—that I am inadequate.

But then I read 2 Corinthians 10:12–18.   

We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the sphere of service God himself has assigned to us, a sphere that also includes you. We are not going too far in our boasting, as would be the case if we had not come to you, for we did get as far as you with the gospel of Christ. Neither do we go beyond our limits by boasting of work done by others. Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our sphere of activity among you will greatly expand….For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends. (NIV)

Ouch, Paul!

As I read that passage, I had to reorient my perspective and repent of the comparison, judgement, and boasting in my heart—and my lack of wisdom. In 1 Corinthians 1:5–7, Paul says:

For in him [Christ] you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge—because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.

It is not the works of my hands and the things that I do that I am to boast of. I am to boast about the work of Christ. He chooses to use me and to use you. I am to give glory, thanks, and praise in all situations. He gives me all I need, and I lack no spiritual gift.

As I’ve begun to understand that it is to be less about me and more about Him, my heart has started to heal. I’ve also found David Benner’s book The Gift of Being Yourself quite helpful in reorienting my heart back to the truth of Jesus.

“In order for our knowing of God’s love to be truly transformational,” Benner says, “it must become the basis of our identity . . . An identity grounded in God would mean that when we think of who we are, the first thing that would come to mind is our status as someone who is deeply loved by God.”

Can you imagine how much we could show the world God’s love if we were not concerned about our own accomplishments and instead felt deeply loved by Jesus? Knowing who we are in Christ can set us free. That is why it is important to know the truth of who the Bible says we are. It says we are:

And so much more. The C&MA has a wonderful resource that details all that the Bible has to say about who we are in Christ. You can find the downloadable resource here: http://cmalliance.org/about/family/leadership/books. It is a great place to start meditating on the truth of God’s word as we examine our hearts.

When Encouragement Shows Up

Do you have days when you need a little encouragement?

Recently, I looked back over my pastoral career serving children and families. I wondered, What returns are there for all the effort—the cookies, story times, costumes, murals, songs?

Truthfully, I was tired. I not only was looking for encouragement; I also lacked energy to go on.

I am usually an Energizer Bunny. I just keep going and going. That week was different. I was finding it tricky to keep plowing through. This was a sign to me that I had switched power sources by relying on my own steam—so the work had quickly overwhelmed me.

God has called me, all of us, to Spirit-empowered, not self-powered, ministry. Still, there I sat in my office, feeling the heavy weight of the work week.

Make Your Presence Known

So I quietly prayed for God to make His presence known to me—in a way I could see clearly. I have prayed that prayer for countless others, but this was a first for me.

It should never surprise me—although it still does—when God graciously hears and responds to our prayers. The days that followed were not any less busy or frantic. The workload did not disappear.

But everything changed because God answered my prayers. And encouragement arrived.

Encouragement first showed up through a brief encounter with my friend, Jillian. She told me how she had spent time with Abby, a new friend. She discovered Abby didn’t believe in God and had no interest in knowing about Jesus. So Jillian had told Abby, “Even if you didn’t believe in God or know who Jesus is, God still believes in you and Jesus definitely knows who you are. God loves you, Abby, and wants to be in a relationship with you.”

Jillian did a beautiful job sharing the good news of a God who pursues us in love. This was particularly encouraging for me because Jillian is just seven years old and attends our children’s programs. What an answer to prayer!

I was encouraged again during our storytelling time that Sunday morning. We were engaged with the story of Noah’s Ark. The final page of the book we’d read had a beautiful drawing that included a spectacular rainbow. I asked the children to share with the group how the rainbow made them feel. I listened as the kids—ages 18 months to 11 years—expressed their insights.

After most of the kids had chimed in, it was Elijah’s turn. Approaching 5 years of age, he has a joy and exuberance I treasure. “When I see the rainbow,” he said, “I feel so happy because it reminds me that God is always with me. He is always with us all—and that’s just good news!” That encouraged all of us in the room!

Finally, encouragement also made an entrance into our preteens group that week. We were wrapping up our morning time together, preparing to pray. Then the kids, one at a time, prayed for each other—their tender hearts for one another were stunning. And the simplicity and power of their intercession was extraordinary. I was so encouraged by the empathy these middle schoolers had for one another.

I write of these encouragements to bring glory and praise to our Father in heaven. He truly is a good God, faithful to hear our prayers.

I know some of you today may be feeling tired. Some of you are in need of encouragement. I pray that God will make His presence known to you in ways that you will see Him clearly. And if you are in a season of being encouraged, I pray that you will quickly seek to encourage others—you may just be the answer to someone’s prayers.

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word. (2 Thessalonians 2:16–17).

 

The Power of Imitation

I recently had an inner struggle concerning my work as a children’s pastor. I had some down time recently, but I was conflicted about how I should spend it.

Why Not?

I realized that I needed to reach out to someone to help me with this struggle. So I decided to e-mail a well-known Bible scholar and author I respected and trusted. I was not sure if he would respond, since he had no idea who I was. In addition to teaching and writing, he is also a sought-after speaker, a “celebrity” in the theology world because of the books and commentaries he has written.

So I typed out my e-mail, read it over, and hit “send,” hoping he would write back. But I also felt like I was getting my hopes up, thinking, “Why would a popular Bible teacher, author, and speaker take the time to write back to some random children’s pastor who wasn’t his student?”

So I closed my e-mail and did what many people do—I checked it again about 10 minutes later. And to my surprise, he had already written back! His response was not a couple of hurried sentences, but some thoughtful ones. This blew me away. He had taken the time to read an e-mail from someone he didn’t know and chose to help me.

The next morning, I e-mailed him back, thinking, “surely he will not write back again.” But I was wrong. He had responded once more, providing me wise counsel and honest, truthful advice.

Why Does This Matter?

So why am I telling this story? Because my interaction with this man made me realize the importance of imitating those who live and act like Jesus. I wanted to imitate him because even though he did not know me, he saw my email as important and he believed it was worth taking the time to respond.

His thoughtfulness reminded me of how I had recently received an e-mail from someone I didn’t know who inquired about how we conducted some children’s programs at our church. Since I didn’t know her, I put her email on the backburner—I had other things to think about.

But the response I received from this scholar made me realize the importance of imitation; it reminds me that the Apostle Paul said he wanted his spiritual children in Christ to imitate him as he imitated Jesus (see 1 Corinthians 11:1).

When this Bible scholar and teacher e-mailed me back, giving me a thoughtful response, it was obvious that he did not dismiss my struggle as unimportant or a waste of his time. This in turn made me want to do the same with others. I was convicted to respond to the person who e-mailed me about our children’s ministry practices.

Imitating Those Who Imitate Jesus

Why is this important for children’s ministry? Because as anyone who works with kids knows, they imitate people—the things they see, feel, and touch form them. Their hearts are shaped by their observations of the ways adults and others live and act in relation to them and the world.

If we work with children—whether as a children’s pastor or children’s ministry director or a volunteer—we cannot do it alone. We have to be intentional about imitating those in our lives who look and live like Jesus. As we do, we grow to be more like Him—and the children under our care will grow to be more like Him as well.