Small is the New Big

March 26, 2012

Hey everyone.  This post appeared last Friday on Matt Brown’s blog, Thinke, but I wanted to share it with you too.

Everyone wants to make a difference, have an impact, change the world…

…And we want the difference, the impact we make to be big.

And as Christians, we feel we have a big mandate to make a big impact in the world.  Our dreams, our faith, our actions, our impact for the Kingdom of God all have to be big, otherwise it feels like a failure. 

It turns out, that our desperation to make a big impact is having a lot of big consequences…and not many of them are good.

Big: An American Obsession

Maybe it’s part of being an American, our obsession with big.  We live in a vast country that spans a continent, and has always believed in our big divine destiny.   We carry the spirit of the pioneers.

Today, we are saturated in big.  Our burgers are supersized, along with our TVs, houses, trucks, and blockbuster movies.  We are in awe of big buildings and monuments, big factories and we have to make sure our economy stays the biggest.  We worship the vast pantheon of big celebrities.  Big is a uniquely American obsession that is almost only noticeable to more reserved, compact car driving, economy-minded foreigners.

No doubt that our culture of big has saturated the church. America is home to hundreds of massive churches, rallies and conferences.  We worship our pantheon of big celebrity pastors and worship music gods.  We adore silly questions about the size of our churches and our lists of Twitter followers.  Bigness is virtually our only measure of success.

Bigger is Better

It’s no wonder that Christians have sold out to big tooEvery day, sermons, books and blogs tell people that they are too small.  Your dreams, your faith, your impact, your God are all too small.  Become someone God can use.  Get big. 

So every pastor and Christian author and inspirational person who has “made it big” has advice for how you, the little person, can become big too.  It’s all about quitting your job, or buying a product, or doing something big and radical so God will finally love you.  The irony is that the Christian inspiration industry works best for the guys who are already big.  They’re the ones with their photos on the book covers.

In our relentless pursuit of big, we cannot understand why a mega-pastor like Francis Chan would quit, to seemingly do something smaller.  Smaller must mean less important.

Small is the New Big

Our Christian culture has become a cult of big, and it is this misplaced obsession with big that makes us sick in a big way.  We prop up big heroes on pedestals, and then we feel like crap when we compare ourselves to them.  I’ve talked to so many people whose biggest frustration in life is that they feel too small.  Being small makes them feel inadequate, unimportant.  They don’t think they are doing anything that God even notices.  These are people who are raising kids, working jobs, helping people in need, and they feel like crap about themselves.

Here is the truth.  The pursuit of big that we’ve been sold is often just vanity and bloated ambition disguised as “faith.”  The biggest, most important part of the Kingdom of God is very small.  It is made of small people, with small faith, who make small impacts (and have small egos to boot).  When God measures things, size and importance are not really related.  You can make an important impact in your very small circumstances.  No more books or sermons needed.

Jesus said that when you are cursed, you are really blessed.  When you are weak, you are strong.  When you are poor, you are rich…

…and yes, when you feel small, you are actually big.

What do you say?  Should we constantly be thirsting for bigger and better?  Or are we so focused on making it big that we’re just making ourselves miserable?  Are you content with the impact you’ve made in your life?  Or do you wish you could’ve been a bigger person?

18 responses to Small is the New Big

  1. I’ve been mulling over this for the past few years, the difference between goodness and greatness. My perception is that more people want to abandon the former for the latter, but I suspect in the process, we’re losing what Christ called the best part. Because goodness is boring. Goodness is being friendly to customers and coworkers when they’re being turds. Goodness is a series of holding doors open and asking about how people are doing (and listening to the answer) and serving in countless mundane ways that don’t get noticed. And not getting noticed is the absolute worst way to make impact.

    Good thoughts. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Should we constantly be thirsting for bigger and better?
    We should be seeking the first the Kingdom of God. Being a Christian is not about church, programs, buildings or worship. It is about doing what we see the Father doing. I like situations where people do that.

    Or are we so focused on making it big that we’re just making ourselves miserable?
    The American church is pretty much a corporation. We could produce crappy American automobiles and it wouldn’t look much different than the discipleship process for the most part.

    Are you content with the impact you’ve made in your life?
    More so now than ever before. I am much more in tune with what God is doing in my life. We chat a lot, and the last few years have been awesome in Jesus.

    Or do you wish you could’ve been a bigger person?
    I just want to please God. I love the story where Peter goes to meet Cornelius in Acts 10. That is the kind of “big” life I want. I want to be where God is speaking to me, and allowing me to minister to others. 1, 2, 3, or 30,000 people it doesn’t matter. I have had so many 1-on-1 encounters that were much more profound than any church service I have ever been to.

    The story of Francis Chan is only important if that is what God is doing in his life.

  3. You’ve hit the nail on the head, here. Except I don’t think we want to make “small” the new “successful.” We have a way of ruining stuff by using all our ambition to achieve it.

  4. On one hand there is no place in the bible where we are discouraged from asking BIG and from expecting God to do GREAT! I love that. On the other hand I have to wonder if Big is just another we are trying to prove ourselves as important to others.
    I grew up in the “church growth” era when any church under 1000 or plateauing was considered worthy of ridicule and flogging. We were exhorted by the church stars of the day to lift the leadership lid, that healthy things grow, and that smallness was a disease that needed healing. I am that disease because we were always “small” by someones standard.
    Mega churches and their star pastors still make me feel guilty that I have never risen to their level. I’ll never get the invite to the conference to speak because unless you have 5000+ you really have nothing to say.
    BUT…we are doing God’s work. The children of broken homes, the students with broken worth, a community with broken people are hearing about Jesus. We have about 6 people preparing for vocational ministry. God is working.
    I want to rejoice for every win in the Kingdom – big or small – 1 decision or 534 – but can we be rid of the “bigger is more important” mentality? PLEEEEEAAAASSSSSSSSEEEE!!!!!!!!

  5. I’m not content with the impact that I’ve made in my life, only because I want to do more. Not necessarily bigger. Just more.

    But I agree with you on people not being happy with the so called “small” things that they do. Being a parent isn’t some small thing. You have a huge impact on somebody’s soul. That’s huge.

  6. Small-big, successful-unsuccessful, positive-negative…not mentioned in Scripture.

    What we do…or do not do….has all been nailed to the cross. Christ has put an end to all our efforts (when it comes to Himself).


    When it comes to others…go big if you care to. Or…go small.

    The Lord will use your worst, and your best…for His purposes.

    But because of the cross, you are free to do as you will…knowing that through it all, you are forgiven.

  7. I would be lying if I said I didn’t struggle with this. I want to kick butts and take names for the Kingdom of God. But if we really look at the model that Jesus gives us, bigger doesn’t quite fit. Sure he had thousands of people that came for sermons, but he focused the majority of his time and ministry on 12 men. How many of us would continue blogging if we only had 12 readers? How many of us would be passionately pursuing a public speaking career if we only ever had 12 people in the crowd? It’s tough, but we definitely need to make a habit of examining our motives and asking ourselves what we’re in it for and how we define success in ministry.

    • You are so right!

      And at the end (for Jesus) it was even worse than that. They basically all left him.

    • Oh yeah – most of us would say it’s not worth it.

      But how many of us would say that raising a family isn’t worth it if you ONLY had 12 kids? :)

      Of course, no one. We understand (when we aren’t being idiots) that bigger isn’t always better. We understand that the family relationship is the most important and meaningful and numbers have nothing to do with it. But we’ve reduced Christian life to something so much cheaper.

  8. Modern measures of success are very focused on measuring tangible results.

    You need Nielson ratings to know how successful a TV show is. You need test scores to know how successful a school is.
    You need stock prices and the number of widgets they sold to know how successful a corporation is.

    By that same token, the “success” of a church is measured by the number of butts are in the seats.

    No one can measure a change of heart or a level of commitment–but we’re living in the twenty-first century and we’re supposed to be able to measure EVERYTHING, dammit.

    And now you say that God actually might not actually care about the number of widgets (or butts) I produce for Him? What, are you some kind of hippie? :)

    • Hell yeah, Abby. :)
      You know what’s funny – in real life, there are very few tangible measures of success. No one’s grading you on how good a parent you are. There’s no such thing as getting a 100% on the parent test. We could always be better. It’s only in the contrived areas of life – starting with school grades, and so on that we are able to have “grades” and other measures of success.

      So if something can be measured numerically, can we assume that it is contrived? Maybe… :) Including the church…

  9. My thoughts reflect many replies here. I am not content with my Christian walk at all, but I do not wish to be a ‘bigger’ person. I long to have the love of Christ flow out of me in the same manner it flowed from Him as He sought out the needy, the lost, the hungry (the disgruntled, the lonely, the grumps, the cynics, the know-it-alls). But that means I actually have to GO to where ‘THEY’ are. I know there are very few (if any) needy and/or hungry people in my church. There may be lost people, but they know how to mask it with acceptable Christianese. So I am now pondering having a role in a mega church wannabe— this theatrical Sunday morning show designed to bring people into a pew versus going out among my neighbors, building a relationship, tangibly helping them and displaying the lovingkindness and tolerance and joy of loving people Christ demonstrated until THEY want what I have. That is the greatness I want– not to be a bigger person, but a better reflection of my Lord. And I find my current state of “Christianity”, involved in ‘churchiness’ in a building filled with Christians smiling and ‘hallelujah-ing’, to be sadly dry and lacking His Life.

  10. I like Matt Miles’ and David’s comments. And Abby had me falling out of my chair laughing! Abby, are you a doctor, by any chance ;-)?

    In terms of putting butts in the pews/folding chairs (thank you Abby Normal), I am a big, fat failure because all the people I have asked who are either literal or practicing heathens have said “no thanks” to my invitation to church or home Bible study. The only people I have led to Christ have been two of my kids. Our small groups have always been painfully small and haven’t really grown much. However, whenever I ask God why our small groups have been so small, His answer always seems to be that they are just the right size for my husband and I to do a good discipling job. And yet, I can say that three girls gave their hearts to Jesus two Sunday’s ago in our church and I rejoice at that, even though I had very little to do with it. I wrote about it:

    The kids and I are reading Matthew for Lent. It amazes me how Jesus can do amazing miracles in one town and in his own home town, hardly anything because of the people’s unbelief. Today, in Matthew 16:1-4, after he had healed all sorts of people and fed over 4,000 of them, he entered a different town. The Pharisees challenged him for proof, he declined their challenge and left.

    I don’t think Jesus cares about how much we grow as much as how many people we tell about His good news, leaving the results of our efforts to Him without getting upset or disheartened when people politely refuse us, challenge us or insult us.