“God is going to use you in BIG ways someday!” I will never forget when someone told me this. Many of us have heard something like this. For many this phrase stands out in italics in your life narrative. BIG sounds right, but what if God doesn’t use you in ways that seem “big”? Would you be okay if God let you have a ministry of smallness and obscurity?
This is challenging. I often wrestle with wanting something bigger, better, newer and more radical than the long journey of simple faithfulness. These same desires creep into ministry and mission. We are often sucked into believing that God works in amazing people, places, and situations, but is silent in the ordinary spaces. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
We are often sucked into believing that God works in amazing people, places, and situations, but is silent in the ordinary spaces.
Don’t overlook the small and ordinary.
Most of us would say we want to impact the ends of the earth. Maybe God has lit you up for a specific unreached people group or dot on the map. If we’re honest, we will admit that we haven’t left much of a mark on those right around us. We have overlooked the small and the ordinary in search of the big and extraordinary. Our eyes are busy scanning the horizon instead of praying for those next door. Global focus does not excuse us from local ministry.
Move from dislocation to relocation.
God doesn’t remove us from places; He places us. There is no missional dislocation, only missional relocation. Abraham trusted God enough to be dislocated from a place of family heritage and relocated to an unknown place. You may be so preoccupied with other places that you have never pondered that God intentionally placed you where you are. You may need to ask God help relocate you—to direct you to a particular place where you can locate yourself for the long term. Maybe you simply need to re-engage where you already are. Wherever we land, God beckons us to become faithfully present in our place.
You may be so preoccupied with other places that you have never pondered that God intentionally placed you where you are.
Consider the impact of staying.
Many pastoral mentors have shared with me how challenging their first five years of ministry were. Church planting seems to mirror that. Our first season in a new place is often full of fighting for credibility and lacking impact. But many Christian leaders exit before they can experience the impact that comes through staying and engaging in the next season. We daydream as we wonder, “Where will God take me next? When will I get a job in my field? What group will recognize the influence I can bring?” Who pays for this preoccupation with our next assignment? Our neighbors, friends, and family—the ones right in front of our faces. There are people who will miss the opportunity to see the Kingdom of God embodied and proclaimed if we are distracted by these daydreams.
Remember the grass isn’t greener.
It’s easy to believe the fantasy that life will be easier, smoother and have fewer issues in the next place. Let me assure you discontentment has no problem traveling with you wherever you go. Ministry will always seem easier “over there.” Perhaps the moments and seasons of doubting are exactly when you need to stay in your place and make an impact. In most cases our ministry effectiveness increases as we invest our time and energy in one place. Sometimes we just need to push through and be faithful.
Perhaps the moments and seasons of doubting are exactly when you need to stay in your place and make an impact.
Question your paradigms.
We are all carrying assumptions that need to be challenged. Maybe you need to stay in your place and get a “normal” job while you focus on growing roots there. Maybe you need to take a vacation, get some rest, prayer-walk your city and ask God to help you fall in love with it again. When you get the urge to move on to the next assignment in the next place, maybe you need to lean into God even more. Maybe you need your neighbors and the friendships you’ve cultivated more than you think.
It takes a long time to sink roots in the ground, but just a few seconds to cut down a tree. Often we transplant too quickly. Sometimes staying isn’t just the best thing for our ministry, it’s the best thing for us. Sometimes staying can weather a different kind of faith that can only be found in the mundane and the ordinary spaces of life. Maybe God wants you to learn to have a small impact in this big world.
Published September 3, 2015