Big. That's the word. "Go big or go home" is the catch phrase of the real success stories. Right? Winners produce results. Great winners produce dramatic, big results. This is what is ingrained in our minds and egos from day one.
Pastor, I bet you're a little like me. I want people to want to come to church faithfully with eager hearts. I want empty seats filled with people genuinely seeking the Lord. I desire for the church to fulfill its mission to proclaim the Gospel and minister to people. I crave for people to understand that they are the church. I want to see big results. I long for greater attendance, more giving, and increased enthusiasm. I'm just being honest. I bet you want those things too. Striving for all this in service to God is what the church is to be doing. We are to be increasing with God-honoring methods while we are about the work of reaching, teaching, and ministering to people.
However, if we spiritually perseverate on big, we are going to take for granted or miss altogether the small gratifying blessings of ministry. Of course, ministry is not about getting gratified; it is about calling and serving. But let's be real. If you get no gratification from your ministry, you won't be doing it for long. And I don't think it is spiritually shallow or off target to be personally gratified by spiritual victories and success that is truly of the Lord, whether big or small. The gratification comes in knowing that God did a good work in someone's life of which you got to be part. That is a ministerial blessing and gratifying. It's like a divine at-a-boy, which we all need from time to time.
Here's the potential pitfall. If we are always measuring ministry success by big we are going to fall into some dangerous, self-destructive traps. We will actually condition ourselves to believe that success is measured by big. I don't believe that this is simply jealousy speaking or the proverbial sour grapes. Big is not proof of true ministerial success anymore than small is proof of genuine ministerial failure. Conversely, big isn't necessarily the product of compromise, gimmicks, or appeals to all that is shallow anymore than small is somehow indicative of spiritual superiority. Some of our greatest heroes of the faith served in both contexts. Charles Spurgeon preached to thousands in London and oversaw several successful ministries, yet Adoniram Judson didn't see a single convert on the mission field in Burma for years. In the end he actually saw very few converts and endured great personal hardship throughout his ministry. Biblically, I think that we are hit with the principle that ministerial success is measured by faithfulness, whether big or small. From what we know, both Spurgeon and Judson were faithful in the contexts in which they were placed by God. Nevertheless, even if we know this, we still seem to feel intuitively that bigger is not only better, but evidence of ministerial success. We might admire Christians from history that sacrificed and ministered in the small, but we secretly don't what that to be us. Our selfish desire cries, "please, Lord let me be a Spurgeon, not a Judson!"
Relatively speaking, we already know that Jesus told us that narrow was the way of the true Christian path and few there would be that would actually walk it. Jesus also said that, within the larger crowds, many who were sincerely wrong and outright fakes would exist (I'd say even at the Metropolitan Tabernacle too!). Jesus said that many would claim to be followers, but in the end God will declare that He never knew them. This is a sobering reality that genuine Christians have always walked in a minority and always will. With this knowledge alone, it should be clear that big is not the goal. Therefore, if I can get it into my think head that big is not the goal, then I can position myself mentally and spiritually to celebrate and find gratification in what may appear to be small or even singular spiritual victories.
It's wonderful to see a big crowd on Easter or at Christmas or some other special event. If I do my duty as pastor, then all those present will hear the Gospel. This is a great opportunity and privilege, even if it just changes one life. But all year long, especially in a small, economically stagnant town, one can get really discouraged if all I'm looking at is the church stats. Don't get me wrong, I still need to look at baptisms, attendance, and giving. They are important indicators to which every leader needs to attend. Additionally, I need to be leading the church to plan and strategize for bigger. However, the bottom line numbers are not the only or ultimate measure of my ministry's effectiveness.
It's important that we don't miss the notable, individual matters that may never show up on an annual church profile (SBC), or whatever reporting your denomination uses. Praise God and celebrate the fact that Wednesday night prayer meeting is becoming more real and more important to those who participate and that the average attendance is increasing, even though its still a small percentage of the whole church. Rejoice when a church member tells you how much she has grown in responding to your challenges and encouragements as you have preached the Word. Some people really are listening! Take joy in how you have witnessed God work in a family as they endured a difficult trial and sought your counsel through it all. Praise God when a deacon calls you on the phone one evening and reports to you a great visit they had with an elderly couple in the church who are going through a rough time. Don't miss the fact that God is growing the choir, not just in numbers, but in their joy and spirit and you see the difference in worship when they sing. Be encouraged when you see a couple getting plugged into a small group and you hear from others how they are walking closer to the Lord. Get excited when a single leader begins to get it. These and so many other so-called small things might not catch your appreciation as they should if you're only focused on the big.
An inappropriate focus on big can also lead you to questionable methods simply to get a crowd and produce big results. We've seen many, many examples of this. Additionally, if you simply live for big, then you live in the world of the law of diminishing returns that can certainly lead to burn out. It's a trap in which everything has to be bigger than the last most awesome big thing.
The point is that we don't want to miss God at work even in what we may think are the small and most modest things, while we are always planning to reach more and do more. When we see God at work even in small ways we need to rejoice. Jesus himself talked about rejoicing over the one. Take time for the one. Take joy in the one. And maybe we'll finally realize that small and insignificant are not the same. Keep striving to reach more, but don't take for granted what God is doing in the people who are already there. Celebrate them in the presence of God, continue to do the work to which God has called you, and make sure to take note of and take joy in the small things that God is doing that in the end may not be so small after all.
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