small is plenty

kathyescobar church stuff, dreams, incarnational, the refuge 16 Comments

small is plentythis in 2010 but it’s been on my mind a lot lately, especially in so many conversations with others about dreams for new communities-ministries-passions-ideas. it’s easy to measure our dreams by other people’s measures and forget that small is plenty.

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“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 never really set out to have 5 kids, but i am the one who had 12 bridesmaids and over 400 people at our wedding & keeps the post office in business with how many christmas cards we send every year.  it’s just…me (and that my #1 strength on the strengthsfinder is “includer”, ha ha).

but i’m learning something really precious and beautiful in this season–just how powerful “small” really is.

i first earned my chops in big-church world, stepping into leadership a big chunk of 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 and where i am now is actually quite comical and once in a while at some our refuge gatherings i find myself chuckling at the difference between the two.  i went from as professional & amazing & full-of-wow-and-tons-of-people as you can get to simple-pared-down-unplugged-and-small.  it’s apples & oranges.

and while i’m not saying that “big is bad” i think i’m more convinced than ever that  “small is plenty.”

here’s why:

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 & people & passing on love to 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 & 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 on my own.” after 6 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; 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 & overseas, depression kicks in, the pain gets great enough to enter recovery.  real life is unpredictable and if i look around most of the relationships i am in–both in and outside of the refuge community–there’s a lot of real life going on that is complicated and messy.   sure, it’s easy to just stand by and watch when there’s no real connection between people, but in a small community dedicated to life together, in different ways we all share in the pain and struggle together. and 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 & 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 is contributing in some way, shape or form–bringing their gifts & passions & voice to the community.  in big settings, there’s only so much “room” so the talented & 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 then, it’s tricky to do.

growth doesn’t mean numbers. almost all church-planting and success-in-life models are focused on numerics & dollars–butts in seats & bucks in the offering plate or some combination of that.   the growth that i see really has nothing to do with the-number-of-people-who-come-to-our-gatherings but rather seeing people become more loving, caring, compassionate, generous, and kind in little & big ways.  of seeing people find hope when there wasn’t any.  of seeing people really “become more like Christ” even if none of those words were ever used.  yeah, there’s a big difference between building churches & cultivating communities.

never underestimate how much impact “small” can really have.  i feel so blessed to see this in some little ministries, missional communities, and individuals-who-are-dedicated-to-the-poor-and-marginalized-in-all-kinds-of-crazy-innovative-ways.  small pockets of love matter.  justice & mercy & hope ripple out from small acts of kindness & love.  one life can change one other life.  and that one life matters. if we are always thinking we’re not big enough, strong enough, cool enough, sustainable enough, we will miss out on amazing people & opportunities to love & live right in front of us.

learning how to embrace small as plenty means becoming comfortable in our own skin, accepting ourselves how we truly are individually & corporately.

it means bending our ear and heart toward the ways of the kingdom of Godwhere 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.