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.
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.”
How would you feel if the community labeled you with your weakest trait? Suppose you were in the grocery store and a familiar voice called out: “Hey, it’s Mr. Can’t-Dance” or “Mrs. Bad-at-Math!” How would you feel?
As a teacher in Uruguay I found myself wondering how to inspire fourth grade boys to reach out to people with disabilities in the community. My plan? I invited a group of blind soccer players to demonstrate their skills for the school. These boys were F-L-A-B-B-E-R-G-A-S-T-E-D at how talented these players were. Being able to use your strengths to overcome a challenge is essential for growing in life. These boys admired other people they might have ignored due to a lack of knowledge regarding how to relate to each another. They realized that not only did they have common ground they could use to form friendships, but most significantly, they realized the importance of getting to know people and appreciating their strengths. Since we were faced with social stigmas against people with different abilities (a.k.a. someone labeled as being disabled), the program Ability Awareness was initiated.
Human nature tends to dictate that we focus on the negative instead of the positive attributes of people. The Puzzle Piece Perspective, which Doug Bowman introduced through the Christian Learning Center (CLC) Network, offers an outlook we can intentionally adopt. The concept in this case is that the puzzle piece, or individual, is composed of both green and pink areas. Green represents a person’s gifts and strengths; pink represents areas we consider weaknesses or that need more development. I agree with CLC consultant Barbra Newman’s supposition that we humans were knit together with green and pink yarn. “For you have created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13). The purpose of this concept is to celebrate the reality that each of us has strengths and weaknesses.
Unfortunately, many people see individuals with disabilities as “all pink.” They may use a disability as a label instead of focusing on the person and that individual’s abilities.
God knew exactly what He was doing when He made us. He does not make mistakes, and He does not make puzzle pieces that are all pink. Each of us has been given a gift—a different perspective than the world offers—to bring to the Body of believers. God has hand-knit each of us and given us each a specific spot to fill in His Kingdom.
God also does not make all-green puzzle pieces. We each are a beautiful blend of strengths and weaknesses. As members of a family, community, and church, our strengths can be used to encourage or help others where they need development—their “pink” areas. We fit together like a puzzle in the Body of Christ, crafted and placed in a community God planned, as described in 1 Corinthians 12: 21–27.
We can apply this perspective to our church ministries. The questions that initially arise when discussing ministry among people with disabilities may be:
- Do you want to minister TO a child with disabilities?
- Do we have ministries FOR children with special needs?
But these questions are sending the subliminal message to those with disabilities that “you need me to thrive.” This makes it sound like people who are disabled are fully pink puzzle pieces and the rest of us are all green. This is not the case.
We need a philosophical shift away from “leaders and followers” in how we do ministry among people with disabilities. Our goal must be to create genuine relationships. This shift can begin with healthier questions such as:
- How can we minister WITH people that have disabilities?
- How can we empower people to use their strengths to engage them in meaningful ministry?
In Disability and the Gospel: How God Uses Our Brokenness to Display His Grace, Nancy Eiesland reminds us that: We are “…temporarily able-bodied and our seeming wholeness and wellness is fragile . . . and fleeting in this broken world.”
As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more” (Psalm 103:13–14).
It is wise to remember we are dust and therefore cannot trust in our own abilities. As a church, how can we foster an “ability awareness” mentality? We must be good stewards today of the strengths God gave us before the wind blows.
Interested in learning more? Let us introduce you to Patty , our Special Needs Ministry Consultant.
Email: [email protected]
Beates, Michael. 2012. Disability and the Gospel: How God Uses Our Brokenness to Display His Grace. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway.
Newman, Barbra. 2015. Accessible Gospel, Inclusive Worship. Wyoming, Michigan: Christian Learning Center Network.