By Eddie Pipkin
March 4, 2017
It is my habit on Tuesday mornings to attend a breakfast Bible and book study in a small town near my home. We meet early, 6:00 a.m., and when we finish up it’s usually just about sunrise. Most Tuesdays, some friends and I will head over to the adjacent local lakefront for a postprandial stroll, and this past week was no exception. As we arrived at the waterfront, the sun was just breaking over the horizon as birds glided in to scout out a meal and bass boats motored out in search of game fish. It was a sunrise so stunning that I stopped and took a picture with my phone. We stood there overwhelmed with the grandeur of God’s creation.
It was only when I bent to tie my shoe that I noticed something equally amazing, if far more subtle: an intricately crafted spiderweb, one of dozens along the pole-and-chain barrier which bordered the walkway. So mesmerized had I been by the dominant display of the sun that I was close to missing the fragile beauty of the silk strands gently blowing in the breeze.
This is a good illustration of a problem that we encounter as ministry leaders. We get so caught up in the big things (big events, big personalities, big projects) that we miss the small but significant things that are happening all around us. We build our ministries around “show stopping” moments that demand our time and attention (the Easter extravaganza! the family camping retreat! the awesome new youth ministry logo!), so much so that we can be guilty of running roughshod over the quieter moments of connection and discipleship happening all around us. Jesus – who was, of course, prone to engage in a shiny, spectacular miracle on occasion (loaves and fishes for thousands, water into wine, friends raised from the dead, etc.) – built many profound moments of ministry on quiet interactions with disenfranchised folk who were broken and hurting. God works through the small things to produce lasting results (here’s a devotion by Christyal Evans Hurst at the Proverbs 31 website to show what I mean).
We need to guard ourselves against getting caught up in the ministry hoopla to the exclusion of embracing these quieter workings of the Holy Spirit. They are valuable for many reasons:
- They remind us of what lasts: the legacy of transformation that persists once the spotlight has faded and the confetti has been swept up.
- They bring things back to a human scale and the concerns of individual souls (which is a scale emphasized repeatedly by Jesus).
- They guard us from the burnout that is the inevitable byproduct of the quest for ever greater numbers and grander spectacle.
- They help to keep us humble (by keeping us grounded in the concerns listed above).
This sense of remembering that the small things matter is a natural byproduct of a healthy spiritual life, but it is also the result of disciplined strategies:
- Have conversations around the edges. Don’t just talk to the main players working with you in a ministry, program, or event (who tend to be the same people, over and over, if you think about it: your fellow leaders and large personalities). Take time to talk to those who quietly serve, as well as those who are quietly served. What are their stories? What are their concerns?
- Be thankful in an organized fashion. Always take the time to do a debrief of events and programs, and as part of that debrief, make a special point of acknowledging the small things. This is one of the great spiritual disciplines for closing out one’s day as well. Take a few moments to review the day’s blessings (large AND small). And technology has made it more possible than ever to note those small blessings in the moment.
- Have a plan for discerning other perspectives. Any activity or event you have organized is really in good shape if you have time to step away and fade to the back of the room or the middle of the crowd to share the experience from a participant’s perspective. Likewise, having opportunities for people to provide feedback (and paying attention to that feedback) will result in seeing things you had not anticipated – and while these fresh insights can be areas for constructive critique, they frequently are positives that had not occurred to you.
- Find ways to celebrate the non-obvious. We tend to celebrate the things that are most obvious (and, indeed, this can be a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy because we are looking to celebrate the accomplishment of the goals we set out to achieve). That’s all well and good, but don’t miss opportunities to celebrate quieter narratives and more subtle successes. Spinoff stories can lead to new dimensions of discipleship and new corridors for connection on the part of those who may be feeling disconnected or marginalized. Give people lots of ways to tell their story of blessing in their own unique voice!
Share your own tales of the small things making a big difference. We at EMC3 provide training and resources to help you with practical guidance in fulfilling your ministry vision. Let us know how we can help.