I recently came across this quote from discipleship writer Peter Scazzero:
“We must change the scorecard in our churches for success from great services and large gatherings, to a deep transformational discipleship for every single person in our church.”
Many of us subscribe to the idea that bigger is always better.
This is no surprise, as such thinking is deeply woven into the fabric of our culture.
We like big.
And the appreciation of big doesn’t stop at the doors of the church.
If the crowd is large, we must be successful. If the building is big, we must be doing things right. If the church calendar is jam-packed, we are ringing the bell
Now, some really good things can happen in large settings.
But big isn’t the only way to get things done.
And there are, in fact, some things that cannot be accomplished in a big, broad ministry setting.
My fear is that we might fall into the thinking that God can’t do much in small settings like he does in large settings.
In reality, God does some amazing things in settings that are small and obscure.
Think John the Baptist small and obscure.
John didn’t carry out his ministry in the city, but rather in the desert. Which made it fairly difficult to get to him. Plus, John was a pretty odd character. He dressed weird and ate strange foods.
Also, John’s message was really challenging. He didn’t mince words or try to make people feel good. No, John preached a message of introspection and repentance.
On paper, one might read about John’s ministry and wonder how it succeeded. But God typically uses the weak and unlovely to carry out his ministry, not the slick and polished.
I went to a small Bible school that barely made a blip on the screen. Classes were small, and we met in an old elementary school that was barely functional. The desks, left over from the school, were small and we had no A/V resources. Everything about the school facilities was austere.
But those stark conditions were no match for the level of instruction and discipleship I would receive. Because of class size, the professors were available to us for extended conversations and counsel. In spite of the condition of the facilities, God did deep work in my heart and soul.
And that’s what matters.
The church is not really in the business of gathering crowds or constructing buildings, but developing disciples.
We can only say we are successful if people are turning to and following Jesus. That’s the measure of our success.
Think about Jesus’ discipleship strategy. Yes, he did speak to large crowds. But he spent the majority of His time with 12 disciples who followed Him around the countryside of Israel. Here, Jesus was committed to quality over quantity. And the results of Jesus’ efforts speak for themselves.
Scazzero offers this perspective on getting our priorities mixed up:
When we define success wrongly, it means our best energies will be invested in cutting-edge services, cultivating our brand, and preparing captivating messages. Little is left for discipleship – our own or that of others – especially when it produces what appears to be such a small and slow return. With little time to invest in the slow, messy work of discipleship, we do the next best thing. We standardize discipleship and make it scalable. Our approach resembles more of a conveyor belt in a manufacturing plant than the kind of relational discipleship Jesus modeled for us. We like standardization. Jesus preferred customization. (From the book EMOTIONALLY HEALTHY SPIRITUALITY)
It seems to me that the words “mass produced” and discipleship have little in common. But mass production can be very tempting to us. We can be drawn toward quantity, while Jesus is much more concerned with quality.