Think Small

Think Small

Luke 16:10 “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.” – Jesus of  Nazareth, a first century Mediterranean peasant, Son of God.

Think small. As Jesus taught his disciples, learn to be faithful with very little. Being faithful, after all, is what it is all about. Think about impacting one or two lives with what you do in mission. Engage in one relationship with one person. Too often grandiosity gets in the way of ever getting on the ground and getting started with anything. Beware of something that people in a previous line of work I served in refer to as the “Footprint Paradox”.  This occurs when the desire to have everything perfect before you get started leads us to add more and more complications to our plans, and our initital footprint gets bigger and bigger until we reach the point where a community’s fear of failure and natural risk aversion overtakes our plan and nothing ends up actually happening.  If we think small, then our initial investment is small.  If our initial investment of resources is small, then the risk is small.  If it fails – and many missional efforts WILL fail – we have not lost everything. We can then learn from the failure, and we will still have something left with which to try again.

I have people come from all over to immerse themselves in some of our missions so that they can go back to their communities and replicate what they see here.  And very often, these amazing folks get confused by what they see and focus on the wrong things.  They will come and volunteer at one of our larger food pantry missions, for example.  And they will think that what their project is is to replicate the food pantry in their own community.  They start building mental models in their heads for how that will happen and they start studying all of the logistics and fund-raising and investments that go into making that possible.  And then they go home excited about the possibilities.  They tell their churches about what they have seen and what it will take to make a food pantry happen in their community.  And they run into a wall of negativity because the bureaucracy in their churches are too risk-averse to invest in a “maybe” with that large of an initial footprint. Part of the problem, of course, is that most churches have become bureaucracies, but that is not a problem that you or I are going to solve today.  Any change to that reality will come from the grassroots up anyway.

Instead, we should focus not on the pantry operation, but on the small relational interactions that take place between individuals at the pantry.  Those are what bear replication and multiplication. The pantry is just a large network of smaller relational connections built up over 11 years. It has taken 11 years of sweat and loss and pain to get that mission to the size that it is.  It wasn’t like we just decided one day to plunk a pantry down in that neighborhood.  We started by taking a pick-up truck load of meals and winter clothing into that neighborhood and handing out simple and inexpensive lunch bags one at a time.  We set out to reach a handful of people.  We made mistakes. We examined those mistakes and learned from them.  We pulled on threads and started to develop situations and relationships with those small individual threads.  It is always about one-to-one interactions with people on the ground who are living in the context and suffering from the problematic.  We invited those people into the process of finding solutions to their own small problems. They know better than anyone what is needed. And those individual relational threads became strong.  And those strong threads became webs. Over time, those webs of friendship and commitment became strong.  And those webs have now become bigger – not giant by intention – but bigger. A web of weak threads simply gives way in the wind anyway.  Let’s not ever forget that. Look to develop the thread, not the web.  The webs will form on their own.

The thing people looking to get involved in Christ’s mission should focus on is simply getting into the context with whatever you have to offer and initiating trust-based individual relationships.  In other words, and I can’t say this enough – get on the ground and develop the situation as it emerges. Develop the situation. The risk to you is huge, but the risk to community resources over which decision-making bureaucracies hold sway is small.  I mean, honestly, what does your community have to lose in that? The smaller the initial risk in a bureaucratic organization (and most churches are that), the more likely it is that something will actually happen.  You need permission from the bureaucracy to spend large chunks of their resources.  But you don’t need anyone’s permission to follow Christ into the mission.  Think small.  Change one person’s circumstances and you change the whole world.

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4 Comments »

  1. Cathy Manthei Said:

    amen!!!!

  2. Sam Said:

    …Instead, we should focus not on the pantry operation, but on the small relational interactions that take place between individuals at the pantry. Those are what bear replication and multiplication..

    Great point and is at the heart of growing in a mission field! I always have to remind myself that relationships take time to build…

  3. Jackie Said:

    I really like the concept of developing the thread. The integrity of the web does indeed depend on the integrity of the thread.

  4. Ron Carlson Said:

    Thanks for the reminder! Before working on my main task for the day – preparing to introduce a church to the missional mental model of church life next weekend – I decided to read Farther Out Nearer To. glad I did! For one thing, your article kept me in focus (time to delete some of my more complicated PowerPoint schematics on “transformation”!) For another, you have given me another voice to bring to a congregation seeking to reconnect with their community.


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