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.
From Harm to Harmony: Why becoming more like Jesus is key to having a healthy staff culture
As part of a young church plant, we’ve had plenty of growing pains.
“Oh…you can’t say that on stage?”
“Oh…who needed to be told about that?”
“Oh…we can’t use the church card for that?”
“Oh…who do I report to?”
“Oh…you mean that doesn’t fit our vision?”
My most recent “Oh…” moment was when I had my first review with a new appraisal tool.
After doing the reflection on “Christ-like Character” I was feeling pretty confident. I mean, kids’ ministry lends itself to having an ongoing personal walk with Jesus, being a servant leader, and being trustworthy. The “Leadership” questions were just as affirming. “I have a concrete vision and know how to communicate it well!”, I thought, “And I obviously have the best looking budget of any of the ministries…plus I’m on time!”
But then I got to the “Culture” questions, and realized some things that I didn’t care to admit.
Do I celebrate God’s grace?
Do I empower others early?
Am I part of this spiritual family?
Do I believe the best and work through conflict?
Am I honest in all things?
Do I move fast and embrace flexibility?
Do I take initiative and become the solution?
At first, I felt angry that I hadn’t known that these were our culture benchmarks (remember what I said earlier about growing pains). As a perfectionistic firstborn, I thrive when I’m given concrete expectations. I felt embarrassed that I’d failed to perform, and felt tricked into failing by not knowing what I was supposed to be growing in.
And as I gave myself one 2-out-of-5 after another, I began to blame coworkers and circumstances for my failures. “Well, I would empower others early if my request for an intern had been granted.” “Obviously I believe the best when people aren’t being shady and selfish.” “Clearly I would have been the solution if my plate hadn’t already been loaded up beyond what I can accomplish.” “Who even has time to have fellowship with other believers when all you do is ministry?!”
As I calmed down, I was relieved that this was just the self-evaluation. Then I actually began to do some self-evaluation.
“Who am I kidding…I’m the one who thinks that God can’t handle this without me…no wonder I’m totally burned out…I’m doing it all in my own strength!” “Well how can I be a part of a spiritual family when I won’t let anyone carry any of my burdens?” “I know these people…they’re all friends. I know their motives were pure, even if I disagreed with the methods. Why was I so suspicious of them?” “Why was I such a stick-in-the mud about that new idea? Was I trying to punish them because they aren’t as burned out as me?”
The ugliness of the pride that was lodged in my heart was a little shocking. I immediately thought of Hebrews 12:14-15, which says, “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”More recently as I read through Acts, I was taken aback by Peter’s rebuke of Simon the Sorcerer. Acts 8:21-23 says, “You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”
“You are full of bitterness and captive to sin.” Those selfish thoughts that I’d been harboring in my heart were not just thoughts. The way I was nurturing that bitterness was a malicious sin, and not yanking that root out was going to cost the unity of our team, friendships, and the effectiveness of my ministry.
“Dying to yourself feel like dying.” It’s a phrase I’ve repeated to myself lately as I remind myself that God doesn’t call us to things that are easy, or that will give us the glory…He calls us to look more and more like His Son. And His Son’s purpose was to come and die to make a way for us to be reconciled to the Father. And the more I resemble the Son, the more glory I bring to the Father as I love His bride, the Church.
How about you? What attitudes or “rights” are you clinging to because of self-protection? Where do you need to let Jesus have control of your heart and your ministry? How might relationships between church leaders change if the goal was unity and reflecting Christ to people from the outside looking in? What do you need to do to be reconciled to members of your team?
When Jesus gives the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18–19), Jesus tells His disciples that they must “go and make disciples of all nations.” Our goal as believers—this verse’s main subject—is to make disciples. “Go” in the Greek here is translated “as you go”—we are called to make disciples as we go.
Jesus is the most perfect model we will ever encounter for how to disciple. He verbally taught His disciples; He also traveled, slept, ate, and did life with them. He was compassionate, kind, truthful, and loving.
Here’s the kicker—how many disciples did Jesus have? He had 12 while He was on this earth. Think about the many people He taught and met throughout His life. But His disciples were the ones who literally walked through life with Him. Let’s be honest, 12 is not a lot of people to us, let alone to God incarnate who single-handedly created all of humanity. So we must pay attention to this model—Jesus had just 12 disciples for a reason. Because leading small is an effective, fruitful, and spirit-filled form of discipleship.
There are many times when Jesus teaches, but there are also many times when He listens. He gives His disciples room to respondto Him. He is a safe place for them to ask questions and express doubts (John 20:24–9). Jesus isn’t tyrannical—He is loving, friendly, and kind. He also gives His disciples room to exercise their faith muscles, such as when Peter walks on the water (Matthew 14:22-33). He exercises righteous anger at times, such as driving the money changers from the temple (John 2:13-16). But His heart for His people is evident, so much so that He is willing to die the worst possible death for them. It’s safe to say, Jesus modeled leading small with His 12 disciples.
If the God of the universe incarnate believed in leading small and gave us the perfect model for it, what is stopping us from doing the same? What if we as leaders spent more time in small groups, listening not speaking? What if we taught truth, letting the Spirit work rather than seeking to micromanage responses? People are messy, sin is messy, life is messy.
What if we stopped avoiding, denying, or trying to cover up brokenness and instead embraced it and laid it at the feet of the cross, where Jesus is waiting to redeem and heal?
One time when I led a small group of preteen girls, one of them raised her hand to say something while we were in the middle of going over questions in response to the story of Joseph. She said, “Miss Alicia, I don’t mean to sound rude by saying this. But there are days that go by where I don’t think about God at all.”
In my mind, I paused and realized I had two options in that moment. I could have said; “Oh sweetie, that’s not good. We must always think about God every day. He is the most important thing!” Or I could be honest and raw and say; “Really? Me too. Who else feels that way sometimes? Why do you think that is?” I am all about building trust through honesty that creates a safe place to share. And my friends, I cannot tell you how sweet and fruitful that conversation was. It led to other girls opening up about spiritual highs they’ve had and how they don’t know how to stay on that high.
I later began to think about how this young girl formed her statement. She said that she didn’t want to sound rude by telling me that she doesn’t think about God every day. That means she sees that we as leaders/teachers have an expectation of them to believe everything we say, and if we’re questioned, we will be offended. We as adults and leaders don’t express our honest struggles enough and think that we have to be perfect spiritual models for our youth. This is a lie that we must not buy into. If we act like we don’t need Jesus to heal our brokenness, then so will those we love and teach. If we aren’t modeling what we want to see in our young people, then there will be no change. Paul tells those he writes to in his epistles to imitate him as he imitates Christ. The best way we can lead small is by being who we are in Christ and walking out our identity in Him. Everything else must flow from that.
Maybe we as leaders will be able to see more visible growth in kids and youth if we give them more time and room to respond to truth and ask questions knowing they will not be judged because they know that they are not the only ones who are broken. The truth of the gospel doesn’t make sense in our human minds. It shouldn’t, because God is an infinite God, and we are a finite people. We weren’t created to know all things. In Philippians 2:12, Paul calls Christians to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Wouldn’t this imply some form of doubt and a need to ask questions?
How can we get the kids and teens in our church to know and love Jesus Christ as Savior? We can’t. What we can do is create safe environments for kids and teens to respond to God and freely ask questions and for the Holy Spirit to supernaturally work in hearts and minds.
In Lead Small, author Reggie Joiner writes, “Your few are not problems to be solved. They are people to be loved, when you love them, you will . . .
- CONNECT by showing up predictably, mentally and randomly;
- naturally create a safe place for them to CLARIFY their faith;
- partner with others who love them in order to NURTURE an everyday faith;
- Want to INSPIRE them through your example; [and]
- ENGAGE their faith with things outside of your circle.”
So, for the love of God and for the sake of His Kingdom and glory, let us seek to LEAD small. God has magnificent plans for His Church, and it truly is an honor to serve Him.
Strengthen Your Ministry: Study, Study, Study!
If you work with kids, it will happen sooner or later. While teaching a lesson, you you ask the class if they have any questions. Sure enough, one child asks a question that has nothing to do with the lesson.
Not only that; it’s a difficult one to answer quickly. For example: “Where did God come from?”or “Does God love the devil?” Or, “How can Jesus be God and man at the same time?”
And soon, others in the class start raising their hands with additional challenging inquiries.
Fruitful Learning Times
Our initial reaction may be to dismiss these questions because they don’t pertain to the lesson. But while this may be tempting—especially if you’re not sure how to answer—these can be some of the most fruitful learning moments for you and your class.
After all, the reason kids ask hard questions is because they are already thinking about them. Why not try to address them, even if they sidetrack you from the main lesson for a while?
Spend Time Studying
If you are a children’s pastor, or if you regularly teach kids about the Bible, it’s questions like these that remind us of the importance of studying (see 2 Timothy 2:15) to grow in our understanding of God. This can include reading books about theology, doing biblical research, memorizing Scripture—seeking God so we can get to know His will and how to love Him and others, not just to have information to present.
If we adopt an attitude of study to know God and know His will, we will be in a better position to disciple others. If we only study to obtain information for our lessons, that information will not be as impactful as presenting knowledge that has actually affected our hearts. We can’t give out what we don’t have ourselves. Kids can tell when Jesus really means something to us personally versus when we’re just sharing information.
Here are a couple of benefits this type of studying mindset provides to you and your ministry:
Preparation for Hard Questions
Sometimes, we need to be OK spending time studying a subject that may not have much to do with children’s ministry at the moment. For example, I have been struggling with the question of violence in the Old Testament as well as the relationship between the Old and New Testaments (For example: How does the New Testament fulfill the Old?) These subjects don’t appear on the surface to have much to do with children’s ministry. Even so, they might have more impact on children’s ministry than we might think initially.
This is what I mean: studying challenging subjects helps me better understand God’s purposes and how to relate to Him. This also helps me as a children’s pastor, as I teach about Him.
I can envision the day when a child will raise his or her hand in class and ask, “Why did God command the Israelites to kill all those people but Jesus said to love your enemies and pray for them?” (If we’re honest, we adults ask this question too.) The easy answer would be to say, “Because God commanded it and we don’t need to question it.” Answers like that sometimes do more harm than good, because we’re not showing respect for a child’s honest inquiry.
Studying difficult subjects like this can better prepare us to have well-informed answers. And we learn about resources we can share with parents, which can help them talk about challenging topics with their kids.
Absorb God’s Word
There are many reasons studying various topics in theology and Bible interpretation can assist us in ministry. But the most important point I want to make is that it is always good for us to know the Bible intimately. I encourage you to find the best way to simply sit down and read and absorb your Bible.
Memorizing Scripture has proven to be tremendous exercise for me. I like to memorize whole chapters and books at a time. Doing so helps me see the big picture and themes throughout a certain book; it helps me to develop perspective. If this sounds interesting to you, start with small books or letters such as Philemon, Titus, or 2 or 3 John. You will be surprised at how memorizing whole letters like these can help you in your understanding of them. Do a google search on Bible memorization apps you can download for help.
For some people though, memorization is difficult. That’s OK. I heard a pastor say once, “We are not all called to memorize but we are all called to meditate upon God’s Word.”
Find whatever method works best for you to absorb God’s Word in your mind and heart. Feed on it; drink from it. God will use it in your life and in the lives of others. And when kids ask difficult questions, you will be better equipped to know where to direct them in the Bible.
Planting Seeds, Both Now and In The Future
These are just a couple of benefits you will receive from adopting a lifestyle of studying and meditating on Scripture. I encourage you to find time in your daily schedule to take on a challenging topic that has been on your mind for a while. You will be surprised at how God can use that in your ministry—now or later.
In your walk with God and in your ministry, adopt St. Anselm’s motto, “Faith seeking understanding.”