On Tuesdays I like to post a short reflection on this pastor’s story I’m in, on this life in pastoral ministry. Thanks for taking the time to read even a single word.
And suddenly we were all televangelists.
These are strange days we’re in. Some pastors are scrambling to learn new skills related to technology and livestreaming services. Other pastors are trying to figure out how to navigate these days and still have a congregation that wants to meet together when this pandemic is over. A few pastors of small churches are excited that the playing field has suddenly been leveled by a tiny little virus and mega-churches and small churches all have the same opportunities to reach people for a moment. And many of us pastors are a little scared that after a month of Sundays in PJs and slippers on and with fresh coffee in hand and feet up, we may not get people back to “church as usual.”
And I don’t think we will. Not all of us anyway.
That freaks me out a little.
But something else freaks me out more.
I’m reading other pastors comments and posts on-line, pastors of smaller churches, pretty chuffed about the numbers their “Facebook Live” posts reportedly reached.
The comment usually goes something like… “I normally reach 35 people on a Sunday but Facebook tells me our online service/my online sermon reached 650 (or 800 or 1200).”
And I get it.
We all want our voice to be heard. We all want our lives to mean something. We are all in this because we feel we have something to say and something to say that is uniquely brought to the world through us.
But here’s the thing. You can never judge your impact by the size of your crowd.
Unless the impact you’re going for is on your own ego.
But seriously, we’ve all seen huge crowds follow despots and cult leaders.
We’ve all seen the cult of personality blossom, bloom, fade and burn out in spectacular fashion in pastoral ministry.
But I get it. I’d like to be called out by Preachers in Sneakers.
I’d like to have my picture taken beside my celebrity parishioner.
What pastor doesn’t want to be called to appear live on a national news show to offer the definitive “Christian” answer to a national situation?
But here’s what I’ve learned in almost 35 years of pastoral ministry – it’s almost always the small things that God uses to change the world.
It’s the George Baileys, the Mary Ann Shadd Carys, and the Bilbo Baggins’ that quietly go about influencing lives that make the difference.
In Lord of the Rings, the wizard Gandalf says, “Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.”
Dr. King reminded us that, “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” Which was him riffing on the words of our great emancipator, Jesus, who re-oriented our values with these words, “Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Jesus, who in the end couldn’t hold a crowd to save his life, but made it possible for the whole world to change despite his public failure to gather followers and generate ‘likes’.
As pastors we need to remember the beauty of what we do is in the small things, the unseen things, the only things that will get ‘rewarded’ in the coming life – the secret things that don’t draw a crowd.
long suffering kindness
setting captives free
being an agent of transformation one heart at a time.
There’s no place in Scripture where Jesus promises to hand out special prizes based on crowd size or size of influence. Those are ego metrics, not Kingdom metrics.
Don’t get me wrong. I was right there with you this past Sunday when I saw our view numbers going up during the live feed. I was pumped when I saw people sharing our on-line service with friends and my ego was positively thrilled when I saw people who don’t normally attend our service not only watching it but sharing it with others.
It was a rush.
But it wasn’t the good stuff. The real stuff. The important stuff.
A conversation with Jesus on Monday reminded me of the wisdom of Bilbo Baggins, ““It is no bad thing celebrating a simple life.” Because the truth is that the mom who is looking after her two little ones at home during this pandemic is changing the world. The dad working from home, juggling his active 3 year old daughter is making eternal waves. The single person, working from home who is faithfully reaching out to others from their solitary confinement is making a kingdom size impression on lives through their kindness and conversation.
As shepherds I think we always have to guard against creating a notion that the important work of ministry involves crowds of people and thus out of the reach of 99.5% of everyone in the flock of God of which you are a part.
Pastoral ministry is, I think, as it always has been, about doing small things with great love.
And this is still enough to change the world.