Dream big, but act small

Published 6:00 am Friday, May 22, 2020

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As a pastor, I encourage churches to dream big dreams toward making a difference in people’s lives.

I also emphasize the importance of forming good teams that can effectively navigate the nuts and bolts of organizing a Godly response to the opportunities for ministry God provides to serve our community.

My formula for becoming stronger during crisis? A strong foundation, big dreams and good teams.

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This all sounds good, but something is missing. While it’s exciting to dream big dreams and organize good teams, I’ve learned that big dreams and good teams are not always God’s way.

Years ago, I agreed to visit and preach at the smallest church in our district. On a good Sunday there would be 10 people, on a bad Sunday, none. The new pastor was an enthusiastic, lay speaker and pastor want-to-be, who was full of energy, asked lots of questions, was a little brash at times and often a little annoying. I was not thrilled to be there.

“I shouldn’t have to deal with this.” I thought. “I have big dreams and good teams to worry with. Why am I wasting my time here?”

There were only two cars in the parking lot. As we prepared for the service, Kathy, (name changed) talked about the excitement at her church. She showed me a new food pantry and talked about families they were helping. She mentioned a new couple where the wife may join. “And,” she gushed, “my husband, who seldom comes is here today to help me.”

I was only half listening and looking around thinking, “what new couple? I don’t see anyone, but a few regulars.”

Her husband was quietly sweeping the sidewalk outside, seemed nice enough but he didn’t look too elated to be there.

A few minutes later, 10 or 12 more people arrived, including the new couple. Then, as the service is ready to begin Kathy shouts out to the couple, in front of everyone, “Hey, are you going to join this church or not?”

Oh no, what a way to begin a Sunday worship service. Little did I know that I was about to receive an attitude wake-up call.

The wife immediately says to Kathy, “Sure.”

Kathy then looks at me, shrugs her shoulders and in front of everyone says, “Now, what do I do?”

So, I gathered my wits and spent a few minutes with Kathy and the couple. It turns out, they have been attending this church for weeks thanks to the encouragement of a grandfather who had been praying for them. In anticipation of this big day, other members of the family came and were ready to support her.

While all this was going on, another woman in the congregation looked at the new member’s husband and said, “What about you?”

The husband was quiet for a moment, so I assumed he was looking for a polite way to say, no. But instead he thoughtfully said, “Yes. I really want to do this.”

So, the couple comes forward followed by the rest of the family to commit their lives to serving Jesus Christ as new members of this church. After the prayer, they are welcomed and mobbed by their family and the rest of the congregation.

Is this how people normally join a church? No, but during all the flaws and mistakes a miracle happened and, in my eagerness, to move on to something big, I almost missed it. Kathy had received more than her share of bad breaks. Yet with no formal training, no real encouragement, she managed to make a difference in one of our churches. And I nearly missed what was happening right in front of me.

While dreaming big dreams and building great teams I nearly forgot the power of small.

1. The power of personal encounter, unplanned, unscripted where something significant occurs.

2. The power of the small group – Bible study – Sunday School class – where we are held accountable, encouraged, prayed for, loved and inspired.

3. The power of an encouraging word spoken to a friend, colleague or stranger.

4. The power behind a simple act of kindness given simply because you care.

5. The power of a prayerful grandparent and a caring family support system.

6. The power of our personal witness in small but potentially life-changing situations.

Big dreams and good teams are important, but if we become too immersed in our carefully laid plans, we overlook those unscripted moments God provides every day. It’s not that thinking big is wrong but thinking big without an accompanying willingness to think, act and be small, seldom has a lasting impact.

Jesus said, “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me. Farmers say, ‘Four months between planting and harvest.’ But I say, wake up and look around. The fields are already ripe for harvest. The harvesters are paid good wages, and the fruit they harvest is people brought to eternal life. What joy awaits both the planter and the harvester alike!” – John 4:34-36

A few days later, I received an email from Kathy thanking me for being part of the service. In that email she shared the news that her husband had been moved by what he saw that day. After they went home, he started asking questions about how he could become more involved in helping her. Helping her at that tiny church that I almost closed.

As churches struggle to reopen, we do our best to lay a strong foundation, dream big dreams and organize good teams. But we also want to be aware of the small, day-by-day opportunities that God provides. Those opportunities enable us to make a difference, in this community and in our world.

REV. LARRY E. DAVIES can be reached at larrydavies@vaumc.org.