By Mike Cahill
The kingdom rarely comes as we expect. Jesus’ humble beginning was a stumbling block for some because power does not normally come from weakness. Yet, Christ’s kingdom advances through surprisingly simple means.
Smallness is big in Scripture. Jesus uses the smallness of a mustard seed as the pattern for potential in the kingdom—from a tiny seed to a great tree, from a handful of disciples to a kingdom spread over all the earth. When disciples act within God’s will, the power of his kingdom is shown through their lives. The results look like mountains moving or—a picture more of us can imagine—a towering oak developing from a small, simple acorn.
I preach in a small prairie town where change is a rare visitor. Mockers sometimes wonder what we possibly can do to affect the kingdom. Glancing through a worldly lens there is no other conclusion—our ministry bears resemblance to a hamster on a wheel. In response, however, we continue to be challenged by Jesus’ message of smallness.
One day we acted with smallness and experienced the enormity of God’s kingdom. This story is to encourage all of our colleagues who feel inadequate and small, and to share our baby steps with others who feel challenged to have a mega ministry in miniature actions.
The leaders and I started with this question: What can we do to love people? From this we set in motion a plan for a hat and glove drive. It was not a dazzling endeavor, but it was something we could do to connect with our community.
We checked our motives very early on. As a small church community, we needed to restrain ourselves from making this a bait-and-switch operation: our objective wasn’t to increase attendance or giving.
We wanted many people to be involved. Our junior/senior high students prepared deposit boxes and created signs to place around town. One woman who works for the local paper placed news items about the drive in the most-read sections. A group of adults made a list of strategic drop-off spots and encouraged local business managers to participate. One of our leaders wrote a letter to all of the churches in town explaining our purpose and encouraging their partnership.
When the big day arrived, we had piles of gloves, mittens, scarves, and hats. It was a stirring sight. We had hot soup and freshly baked cookies so we could warm people inside and out. The arrival of a severe ice storm only intensified our resolve to get the garments to the people who needed them!
We met at the church, sorted the materials, and waited for the crowd . . . and waited . . . and waited. When no one arrived, we felt like failures; but God was teaching us that our obedience should extend outside our building. After a few phone calls we took to the icy roads. We switched venues and handed out gloves in front of the only supermarket in town.
We learned some valuable lessons. First, be confident in the God we serve. God can do a lot with a little. Second, be willing to take some calculated risks. Placing a deposit box in a liquor store was not popular with everyone, but our motive was to be salt and light. Third, be flexible. Focus on ministry and be willing to modify the original plan.
The dividends were mountainous. We collected more than 500 winter clothing items: hats, scarves, mittens, and gloves. Churches that had never collaborated with us made significant contributions. A small business in town contacted us to donate unsold clothing. This enabled us to send clothing beyond our community, all the way to Cambodia! Remaining hats and gloves went to two elementary schools and the local pregnancy center.
Some townspeople even wondered aloud, “What’s going on at that church?” God’s kingdom was near. We were moving mountains one handful at a time.
If readers are praying to meet similar challenges, some elements of our experience may be helpful.
First, we prayed fervently. Strategic planning is great, but only in submission to God’s will.
Second, we evaluated our motives and clarified our purpose. Then, when our ideas had solidified, we set a starting and ending time.
We made a list of all the resources we would need and appointed a point man, someone everyone trusted to steer the project.
We were cautious not to be too overzealous. If we had expanded the scope beyond our ability to do ministry well it could have been disastrous. The leaders kept perspective by asking three key questions: (1) What resources are available? (2) Whose are we? and (3) How can we serve with so few? As a result, we did a quick inventory of our people, time, and money, and reaffirmed our role as catalysts for God’s activity regardless of our size.
Our efforts were not simply about warming hands and heads, but impacting hearts. The goal of breathing the kingdom into people’s lives was successful. We had made a difference, simply through our small display of God’s reign.
Mike Cahill is preaching minister with Rushville (Illinois) Church of Christ.