“Get ready, God is preparing you for something really, really small.”– Shane Claiborne
I have always tended to do everything big in my life. I have five kids. I had 12 bridesmaids and more than 400 people at our wedding. I keep the post office busy at Christmas by sending out a lot of cards. I can’t help it—my number one on the Strengthsfinder test is “Includer.”
But I also am continuing to learn something really precious and beautiful that shapes and forms me in new ways almost every day—just how powerful “small” really is.
I first earned my chops in big church world, stepping into leadership many years ago and then ramping it up a few years later on the pastoral staff at a mega-church. The contrast between where I was 10 years ago and where I am now is actually quite comical. I went from a system that was professional, amazing, smooth, full-of-wow-and-tons-of-people to simple, pared-down, unplugged, awkward and small.
And while I’m not saying that “big is bad” (I know that it works for many), I am continually convinced and convicted that “small is plenty.”
- Transformational, redemptive relationships require a lot of time and energy. Learning Jesus’ ways of love is complicated. Most people—no matter how put together they may look on the outside—struggle with feeling loved by God and people. Shifting those deep places in hearts is not something that comes in a snap. It takes a long time to build trust, intimacy, and connection. It takes intention and fighting against the path of least resistance, which will always tend toward “I’m too busy” or “I really don’t need people in my life, I’ve got it covered well enough on my own.” After almost nine wild years of life in The Refuge community, I see up-close-and-personal just how much time and energy it takes to nurture transformation. The tangled web of life together is impossible to navigate in a sea of hundreds of nameless faces.
- Real life is unpredictable and hard, and the needs are great. $*!&#% happens. Marriages begin to crumble, jobs get lost, people get sick, family members die, relationships break up, kids get in trouble, people get inspired to adopt children from foster care and overseas, depression kicks in, the pain gets great enough to enter recovery. One thing I’m more sure of as I look around not only my community but in relationships outside of it, too: there’s a lot of real life going on that is complicated and messy. Sure, it’s easy to stand by and never even know what’s going on inside people’s lives when there’s no real connection between people. But in a small community dedicated to life together, we all share in the pain and struggle together. While it is a beautiful gift, it is also impossible to share these kinds of burdens on too big of a scale. When it comes to the needs of real life, small is plenty.
- Everyone needs a space to use their gifts, passions, and voice. This is something I’m most passionate about because the body of Christ is supposed to be a place where each and every person who is a part contributes in some way, shape or form–bringing their gifts, passion, and voice to the community. In big settings, there’s only so much “room” so the more-perceived-as-talented and louder voices are the ones who usually get heard. In our practicing community, we go out of our way to hear from as many different people as possible in as many different ways as possible. And even though we’re small, it’s still extremely tricky to do.
- Growth doesn’t mean numbers. Almost all our models for success–whether it be in ministries or organizations or initiatives–are focused on numerics and dollars. Transformation can’t be measured in these same ways. What if stepping into a dream is the “growth” that’s supposed to take place in our own life, not the success or failure of it in the world’s eyes? What if one life matters enough to do the work we’re doing? What if we didn’t measure ourselves against others on the outside but trusted what was going on underneath the surface in God’s economy?
Which leads me to the last thought …
- Never underestimate how much impact “small” can really have. I feel deeply grateful to see this in little initiatives, pockets of friends, tiny missional communities, and individuals who are dedicated to the poor and marginalized in all kinds of crazy and innovative ways. Small pockets of love do matter. Justice, mercy, and hope ripple out from small acts of kindness and love. One life can change one other life, and those are little miracles. If we are always thinking “we’re not big enough, strong enough, cool enough, sustainable enough, _______ enough” we will miss out on amazing people and opportunities to love and live right in front of us.
Learning how to embrace small-as-plenty isn’t easy in a world always beckoning us to believe that bigger is better or success has something to do with size.
It requires accepting ourselves how we truly are individually and corporately and trusting our own unique story, purpose, passion, and contribution.
It means bending our ear and heart toward the ways of the kingdom of God–where the ways of the world are turned upside down, the last shall be first and the first shall be last, where learning the ways of love one relationship at a time supersedes everything else.
More than ever, I am discovering that small is plenty.
How about you?