THE SIGNIFICANCE OF SMALL
I am surprised how much I have changed since I was a teenager and young adult and I don’t just mean my receding hairline and expanding waistline. When I was younger I liked BIG, I dreamed of big cars, big houses, big wages, big fast motorbikes. When Christ grabbed me by the scruff of my neck and reorientated my life around the Kingdom of God I still liked BIG but in another way. I wasn’t really bothered by the big wages, big houses and big cars any more (ok I confess I am still slightly obsessed by the big fast motorbikes) but I dreamed of BIG christian stuff. I had day dreams of being the pastor of a BIG church, of being involved in BIG evangelistic events, of BIG social action projects impacting and changing my nation. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not on a downer on BIG, I think we should dream about making a BIG impact for the Kingdom of God and I am personally very grateful for the people from big Christian organisations and churches which have helped me.
However, as I think about making an impact here in Scotland I am more and more becoming convinced of the significance of small. Big evangelistic campaigns like we did in the 80s when we hired football stadiums and brought Billy Graham over are not going to work now, we would largely attract only the already convinced. Big national campaigns with Scriptures in buses etc seem to return negligible results. Big media events, like those that surrounded The Passion of The Christ, again didn’t have a huge impact many of us thought they would. I read this recently from a blog from 3DM which has been really making my brains itch, “our job isn’t to try to do big things. It’s simply to do the small things we see around us with great love, trusting that God will take our small things and all the other small things we don’t see and weave them all together into a tapestry that announces His love for humanity and calls all people to new life under God, who is making everything new.”
The idea of small things done with great love has been filling my thoughts as a result of reading that quote. I have been reflecting on things that have made the biggest impact on my life and they nearly all have been what I would categorise as “small” things, small acts of love, short conversations filled with love and small communities where I have built significant friendships. Maybe its time for us as the church to realise afresh “the significance of small” in making a big impact for the Kingdom of God in our culture. In our increasingly Post Christian culture most of our friends and colleagues are never going to respond to an invitation to come to a large Christian evangelistic service but over a coffee one to one with a friend we may find they will often be willing to talk about deeply significant spiritual things. Most people who live around us won’t ever enter one of our big church buildings but can experience an act of grace and kindness from a Christian neighbour. Your work colleagues are unlikely to accept an invitation to an Alpha course to discover the truth about Jesus but will in all likelihood respond to the truth of Jesus incarnated in your actions in the work place, the kind word, the turning the other cheek, the integrity and grace filled generosity.
When the Gospel went viral in the Roman Empire it wasn’t because of BIG events, getting Peter to preach at the Coliseum etc. The first generations of Christians were a despised and barely tolerated marginal group who when they took on a high profile were often persecuted, BIG wasn’t an option for them. The Gospel infected Roman culture through countless small acts of kindness, small communities incarnating the Kingdom of God and offering love and acceptance, numerous small but significant conversations and discussions. Small goes viral in a way big never can, a whole of small things can have a much bigger impact than one big one.
I suspect there is something to the significance of small in the very DNA of the Kingdom of God. Jesus when trying to explain how the Kingdom of God would any impact used this metaphor. “Again he said, ‘What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.” Mark 4:30 Jesus describes how the very smallest of seeds can grow and have a great impact and parallels that with life in the Kingdom of God. Jesus seems to being reminding us that potential significance is not linked to size.
I still can’t help myself dreaming BIG but I have a BIG small dream. What if we could wake up the Church to the significance of small? What if instead of pumping money and resources into big events and initiatives that all too often return small results we got excited and committed to huge numbers of small acts of Kingdom life which could return potentially big results? What if instead of trying to persuade people to come to our big events when we gather as the Church we instead inspired and equipped our people in our gatherings to go and carry out small acts of kindness with great love and have meaningful conversations filled with significance and meaning? Dare we believe a viral infection of the Kingdom of God in our culture could result, person by person, community by community? What if Christians regained the reputation for being people marked by grace and love rather than judgementalism and intolerance through expressing love and grace to those we meet in the ordinary and mundane moments of our week? What if instead of relying on pastors and evangelists to spread the message of the Kingdom in large gatherings we all took responsibility for it in the small moments of our everyday lives?
Many of us are involved in small churches, or small church planting initiatives which can make us feel all too often insignificant, as if anything that will really make an impact for the Kingdom will come from the BIG churches, the BIG movements, the BIG name preachers when the truth is our small, as Jesus himself pointed out, has the potential to be truly significant. Hundreds of small churches doing small things with great love could have a greater impact on a city than a few big churches, despite all their resources. So lets listen to Jesus and learn from church history and wake up to the significance of small. What small thing can you do today with great love?
I did so much appreciate your column James. The “small is great” concept is clearly at the heart of Jesus’ message yet so often missed in our scramble for relevancy and significance in the church. The statement you quote came to me through the writings of Mother Teresa of Calcutta who said, ” we cannot do great things but we may do small things with great love”.
I confess, on my journey I learned that lesson late, yet not too late to now apply it in my life and my service in and out of the church. Praying your ministry in the “small” may continue to be great in the kingdom. Blessings.