My daughter Esther has a book which I end up reading on a fairly regular basis. In this book, It’s Not Easy Being Big, written by Stephanie St. Pierre, Elmo and Big Bird express the difficulties each other have with being their perspective sizes. Big Bird is too big to play hide and seek or seesaw with Elmo for fear of launching him into orbit while Elmo is too small to throw a football or see over a crowd, all to a cute, pithy childhood rhyme. I was thinking about this book as I was participating in an ordination counsel the other day. No, we didn't talk about the doctrinal ramifications of Sesame Street characters during the ordination, but as many pastors could relate to, we tended toward what the characters did in this children's book. We compared each other with each other.
If you're a pastor you know the first question pastors ask each other; that cursed "how many are your running now" phrase followed by the excuses, exaggeration, or self-exaltation that comes with your current stage of church growth. If you're small you don't want to seem inferior so you try to brag about something else you're doing well and if you're big you want to flaunt it by talking about what you're doing better than other churches in your community. This is followed by either a feeling of dejection or dominance as you leave the conversation. Today I’m going to give my encouragement after considering my responses to this conversation.
1. Who Grows a Church
Who grows a church? If you asked your average person they’d say the pastor, but if you asked God the answer is quite different. Jesus said in John 12:32 “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” This verse explains that Jesus draws people to Himself and thus the church his local body of believers as He and His crucifixion is brought to people's minds. Therefore, the question must be asked, are you raising up Christ in your community? If you are, then have you considered that your church is the exact size Jesus wants it to be right now? Sure, there are things that we can and should do better to reach our community (more posts on this later), but we mustn’t forget that it’s the Lord that grows the church. Therefore preachers, stop beating yourself up for not being as big as or bragging about being bigger than the church down the road. That’s nothing but a focus on ourselves (aka pride) and God’s pretty clear on how he views that (James 4:6, I Pe. 5:5, etc.). Letting God build your church gives you freedom to do what you’re called to do and not worry about what you have no control over.
2. Why He Grows a Church
Why does God grow a church? Many people in our current church culture would say for ministries, after all you need people to effectively serve people. Now I’m all for ministries. I have headed up numerous ministries over the years and am someone that’s “addicted to ministry.” I love serving people almost to a fault sometimes, but that isn’t the purpose of the church. Your church’s mission is bigger than your children’s, media, or youth ministry (or lack thereof). Your church exists to reach your community with the gospel. Period. Can a ministry like those listed above help with that? Sure, but if you’re doing lots of things but not doing the one thing that matters for all of eternity something is very wrong, and that goes for any sized church.
3. When He Grows a Church
We are impatient people sometimes, aren’t we? We know what we want and we want it now. Unfortunately, this attitude creeps into our churches sometimes. We focus so much on the future that we fail to live right now. I’ve only been at Pleasant Plains for about six months now and sometimes I find myself thinking about what I wish we could be doing already. My encouragement is to enjoy the stage you’re in. You may be big or small right now and that’s fine. Each stage has unique blessings and unique challenges you must face. God will grow you when he’s ready to. Remember His ways are not our ways and his timing isn’t your timing so keep trusting him and working in the areas you can for His honor and glory.
My daughter’s book which I quoted earlier starts by saying sometimes it’s not easy being big or small, but it closes by saying that sometimes it is easy being big and small. The moral of both this book for toddlers and this blog post for saints is that when you accept what God’s made you there’s peace and joy. You may be big right now; if so, thank God for what you are and be faithful with the greater resources you’ve been given. If you’re small, know that as long as you’re being faithful, that is where God has you right now. It would be wise for all of us Christians to we remember Paul’s encouragement in II Corinthians 10:2 “For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” May God help us to be wise in these areas until He returns.