Small is Not Insignificant

I don’t know about you but sometimes I feel like I’m not accomplishing anything significant in life. I don’t see the results I would like. The wheels keep spinning but it doesn’t produce many visible outcomes. That happens often in small, rural churches.

Words like insignificant, unimportant, irrelevant, inconsequential are often part of my mental vocabulary. We don’t normally equate small with significant.

One reason for this equivalency is that our culture has taught us that large is better than small. Everyone strives for big. Bigger businesses. Bigger churches. Bigger events. No one likes small. Small is bad.

But is it?

Certainly there are times when small is not ideal – when growth is not only desirable but necessary. But is small always bad and large always good?

Not necessarily.

There were times when God used the small – even the insignificant to advance His Kingdom.

He chose Israel to represent Him on this earth, not because they were big or mighty but because they were small. He specifically said that He chose them because they were the least of all peoples (Deuteronomy 7:7).

He selected David the youngest and the smallest of his family (1 Samuel 16:11-12) to take down the giant, Goliath and then to rule His people.

He used a little servant girl to bring healing to General Naaman (2 Kings 5) and He picked another little girl from an insignificant village to bear the Messiah (Luke 1).

All of them small but not insignificant.

That’s just the way God works. He sometimes chooses to use the little things instead of the big things.

Which should say several things to us.

One is that God is OK with small things. They aren’t insignificant to Him. In fact, they are important enough for Him to use in His eternal plan.

Another is that God can use small things for big purposes. All of the illustrations I gave above testify to this.

A third is that small things have the potential to have an impact/influence that is out of proportion to their size. That’s encouraging.

I’m not trying to defend staying small. I’m just saying that small is not the end of the world when it comes to serving God.

If God has you in a small place, serve Him well. You’ll never know what kind of impact you will have.

And in that reality, I find great encouragement.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

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The Ministry of Presence

When I first started going to Haiti thirty years ago, missionary Dan Shoemaker would talk about The Ministry of Presence. Haiti has been such a needy country for so long that it doesn’t seem like any of the missionary efforts (by either short-term and long-term missionaries) or humanitarian efforts have made even a dent in the problems.

The situation remains hopeless, at least from our perspective.

That’s where The Ministry of Presence comes in. Just being there.

I remember in the early days meeting with the leadership of a Haitian church. We were discussing how we as an American church could help them. They came up with a lengthy list of options for us, far more than we would be able to do. Being inexperienced in their culture I was overwhelmed with their needs. But we had asked and they answered as honestly as they could.

In my mind, what I heard was – We need your money – if you come with it that’s optional. So, being the prototypical American (blunt, to the point etc.) I asked, If you had to chose one, money or us, which one would you choose?

It took less than 5 seconds for them to respond, We want you to come!

What they wanted more than our money was our presence.

I’ve learned in the years since then that it is my presence in Haiti that makes the most difference. Just to be there with them in their suffering. To sit in their homes no matter how poor; to preach in their churches, sometimes with cracks in the walls so big that I can see farmers herding their goats down the street outside. Just to be there.

The Ministry of Presence is not just for a Third World Country like Haiti. It’s not just for missions. We all have the opportunity to practice The Ministry of Presence with those around us. With the widow who has just lost her husband. With the neighbor who is discouraged. With someone at church who is struggling with God.

The Ministry of Presence is just to be there. To talk – maybe. To pray – perhaps. To encourage – always.

But most importantly just to be there.

To let God use your presence in the lives of other people when they feel like no one cares. No one understands. No one will take the time out of their busy schedules to simply sit with them.

We all know the story of Job in the Old Testament. How he was attacked by Satan until he had nothing left. How his friends came to comfort him but actually ended up making his situation somewhat worse with their ill-timed theological explanations of suffering.

But what we often miss in the story of Job is that his friends started out well. They started out simply practicing The Ministry of Presence. Job 2:13 says they sat down with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his grief was very great. That’s The Ministry of Presence.

Perhaps had they stopped there Job’s suffering would have been different. But they didn’t stop there – they began to lecture Job and try to explain why God allowed him to go through such great suffering which only added to Job’s pain.

There will be times in life when giving advice or council is appropriate. But there will also be times when The Ministry of Presence is what is needed. I suspect that we often error toward the former and not the latter. For some reason it’s easier to talk than to keep quiet.

It takes great discernment to know when to keep quiet and simply be there. To simply practice The Ministry of Presence.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Lessons From Haiti

It’s been awhile since I blogged – six weeks to be exact. During that time I was preparing for and engaged in ministry in Haiti. I’m finally back in my routine and able to reflect on things that happened during the time I was in Haiti.

On this trip I had the opportunity to teach a course to 40 pastors on Angelology and Demonology; preach in three churches; preach five evangelistic meetings; take our music team to four different venues to give concerts (they also sang each night of the meetings); visit four different ministries in Haiti to see how God is using them; and meet with two groups to discuss ministry in Haiti.

As I’ve had an opportunity to look back at all that took place I would say that it was a mixed bag – some blessings, some discouragements. Some things went right and some didn’t. Some expectations were fulfilled and some weren’t. Sometimes I was frustrated and sometimes I wasn’t. That’s often how it is in ministry.

Not that it makes it any easier to deal with. I’m just the kind of person who, in the words of Col. John “Hannibal” Smith, the leader The A-Team in the 1980s television show of the same name, loves it when a plan comes together. But even our best conceived plans don’t always come together the way we envision them – especially in Haiti.

Since my return I’ve been reminded of two passages in Proverbs – A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps (Haitians often say man proposes but God disposes – not a bad translation of Proverbs 16:9). The other passage is Proverbs 19:21 – There are many plans in a man’s heart, nevertheless the Lord’s counsel—that will stand. In the end we have to surrender all of our plans, ideas, hopes and dreams to a sovereign God.

Why? Why can’t it be OUR plans? Why does it always have to be HIS plan? There are two simple reasons: 1) He knows what He wants to accomplish. Ministry isn’t about us, it’s about Him. Whenever we insist on our plans we make ministry about us; we put ourselves in the center instead of Christ. 2) His plan is best. This is a direct consequence of reason #1. If God knows what He wants to accomplish then it stands to reason that His plan is always going to be better than my plan.

So whatever was accomplished in Haiti through our rather ineffective efforts was accomplished because God had a plan. A plan that was certainly different from my plan. But a plan that was far superior to my plan. And so I leave the results to Him, praying that in some small way our team made an eternal difference in the lives of a few people.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Your Church Needs You

One of the problems with the church in America is that many Christians view church through the prism of our culture. We live in a culture that is self-centered and self-absorbed. It’s all about me and what is good for me, what will benefit me, what will enrich me, and what will meet my needs. But is that the right model for the church? It’s certainly not the Biblical model.

The church is first and foremost about God (John 4:23-24). It’s what we bring to Him in our lives and in our worship. But there’s more – and here is where we so often miss the point. The church is about the Body. Not just your part of the Body (1 Corinthians 12, the hands, the feet, the eyes etc), but the entire Body. You are part of something much greater than yourself and the Body needs you to function properly.

One of my FB friends, a pastor, posted this statement. Every Sunday at church each person has something to contribute to others and when they’re absent, their words of encouragement and exhortation are absent as well. When you sleep in or choose another activity over being in God’s house someone else misses out!!

That’s the reality of the Body of Christ. How you and I are involved in our church impacts everyone else in the church. It’s not so much what you get out of the service (and I hope you do get something out of the service) as much as it is what you contribute to God and then to the rest of the church. Whether you realize it or not, you minister to other people every Sunday. When you are not there you not only deprive yourself of the opportunity of ministry but you deprive others of the ministry that they may need in their lives – a ministry that only you can give.

God put you in your church for a reason. He has people there that need your ministry. And He’s counting on you to be His hands, His feet, His heart. He’s counting on you to speak words of encouragement to the discouraged; to be an example to the spiritually weak; to pray for those in need; to come alongside those with burdens; to fellowship with the lonely.

There will be someone in your church this week that needs someone to minister to them – and only you can reach into their heart and life.

As we have opportunity, let us do good to all, but especially to those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:10).

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve