small is plenty

i’ve been off line for the past few weeks getting my kids off to a new school year & taking a break from thinking about the blog.  it’s nice to have 8am-3pm back every day after 3 long wacky months getting my oldest out to college & enjoying summer with my other 4.  i hope you’ve had a good summer, too! i love fall & am really looking forward to the upcoming season.

* * * * *

“get ready, God is preparing you for something really, really small” – shane claiborne

i have always tended to do everything big in my life.  i never really set out to have 5 kids, but i am the one who had 12 bridesmaids and over 400 people at our wedding & keeps the post office in business with how many christmas cards we send every year.  it’s just…me (and that my #1 strength on the strengthsfinder is “includer”, ha ha).

but i’m learning something really precious and beautiful in my life right now–just how powerful “small” really is. most of you know that i earned my chops in big-church world, really stepping into leadership about 9 years ago and then ramping it up a few years later and being on the pastoral staff at a mega-church.  the contrast between where i was and where i am now is actually quite comical and once in a while at some our refuge gatherings i find myself chuckling at the differences between the two.  i went from as professional & amazing & full-of-wow-and-tons-of-people as you can get to simple-pared-down-unplugged-and-small.  it really is apples & oranges. and while i’m not in any way saying that “big is bad” i think i’m more convinced than ever that  “small is plenty.”

 here’s why:

  • transformational, redemptive relationships require a whole lot of time and energy. learning Jesus’ ways of love is complicated.  so many people–no matter how put together on the outside they may look–struggle with feeling loved by God & people & passing on love to God and people.  shifting those deep places in hearts is not something that comes in a snap. it takes a long time to build trust, intimacy & connection.  it takes intention and fighting against the path of least resistance which will always tend toward “i’m too busy” or “i really don’t need people in my life, i’ve got it covered on my own.”    after 4 wild years of life in the refuge community, i see up-close-and-personal just how much time and energy it takes to nurture transformation.   the tangled web of life together is impossible to navigate in a sea of hundreds of nameless faces.
  • real life is unpredictable and hard; the needs are great. $*!&!( happens.  marriages begin to crumble, jobs get lost, people get sick, family members die, relationships break up, kids get in trouble, people get inspired to adopt children from foster care & overseas, depression kicks in, the pain gets great enough to enter recovery.  real life is unpredictable and if i look around most of the relationships i am in–both in and outside of the refuge community–there’s a lot of real life going on that is complicated and messy.   sure, it’s easy to just stand by and watch when there’s no real connection between people, but in a small community dedicated to life together, in different ways we all share in the pain and struggle together. and while it is a beautiful gift, it also reminds me of how impossible it is to really do that level of sharing burdens on a big, wide scale.   when it comes to the needs of real life, small is plenty.
  • everyone needs a space to use their gifts & passions & voice. this of course is something i’m most passionate about because i believe that the body of Christ is supposed to be a place where each and every person who is a part is contributing in some way, shape or form–bringing their gifts & passions & voice to the community.  in big settings, there’s only so much “room” so the talented & louder voices are the ones who usually get heard.  in our practicing community, we go out of our way to hear from as many different people as possible in as many different ways as possible.  and even then, it’s still hard to really create the space and cultivate the possibilities for everyone.
  • growth doesn’t mean numbers. this has been the best lesson i keep trying to remember.  almost all church-planting and success-in-life models are focused on numerics & dollars–butts in seats & bucks in the offering plate or some combination of that.  i have come to peace with something different in a new way this past year.  the growth that i see really has nothing to do with the-number-of-people-who-come -to-our-gatherings but rather seeing people become more loving, caring, compassionate, generous, and kind in little & big ways.  of seeing people find hope when there wasn’t any.  of seeing people really “become more like Christ” even if none of those words were ever used.  as i’ve said over and over again here at the carnival, there’s a big difference between building churches & cultivating communities.
  • every system struggles to be healthy. families, groups, churches, organizations all have a tendency toward unhealthiness because there are people in them! keeping any system on a healthy path is no small task.  i think there’s a misconception that small can mean insulated or in-grown.  it doesn’t have to.   smaller communities need to really consider how to integrate and enfold new people & continue to reach out & be open to change & transformation & connection with the wider body.  this takes work, but i have seen how beautiful it can be, too–when new friends are welcomed & integrated & loved in tangible practical ways or supportive friendships with other communities are formed.
  • never underestimate how much impact “small” can really have.  i feel so blessed to see this in some little ministries, missional communities, and individuals-who-are-dedicated-to-the-poor-and-marginalized-in-all-kinds-of-crazy-innovative-ways.  small pockets of love matter.  justice & mercy & hope ripple out from small acts of kindness & love.  one life can change one other life.  and that one life matters. voca femina, the creative arts site for women we started over a year and a half ago, is small potatoes in all kinds of ways; yet, for each woman who contributes, each person that reads, beauty & hope is being inspired.   if we are always thinking we’re not big enough, strong enough, cool enough, sustainable enough, or all kinds of other barriers-to-freedom-and-peace, we will miss out on amazing people & opportunities to love & live right in front of us.

i was in a conversation with a dear sister-on-the-journey a while back & she said, “kathy, i just want a small deep rich life.  that’s enough for me. i don’t want to travel the world, change the course of history. i just want to live my little life well.” those words have lingered.  that’s what i want, too.  sure, i have visions of grandeur here and there, but that mainly comes from getting sucked into what other people are doing instead of keeping my eyes focused on the loveliness right in front of me that is made to be enjoyed, valued, treasured, nurtured, cultivated, honored.

i think learning how to embrace small as plenty means being comfortable in our own skin, accepting ourselves how we truly are individually & corporately, and bending our ear and heart toward the ways of the kingdom of Godwhere the ways of the world are turned upside down, the last shall be first and the first shall be last, where learning the ways of love one relationship at a time  supersedes everything else.

yeah, more than ever, i am discovering that small is plenty.

what do you think?

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

9 Comments

  • Last week I saw a post on facebook that said, “Now this is how worship should be.” I listened to the music with the strong voices, lights flashing people singing, a top notch group of musicians. I used to think that, but reflecting back on the previous night listening to The Refuge group of musicians brought together by community and love, I realize that small truly is plenty.

    Reply
  • Thanks for this post. I have a tendency to want to “change the world,” so I really appreciate the words of your friend, “I just want to live my little life well.”

    I agree that small is plenty. It’s often more than I can handle.

    Thanks again for writing this – blessings.

    Reply
  • A great reminder right now, as I’m in the throes of considering whether the small things I’m doing are “sustainable”… it’s good to remember that they definitely are beautiful.

    Reply
  • I honestly think small “in the world”…is HUGE in the Kingdom!!! I mean, how many angels partied it up when The Refuge scooped up my pathetic drowning butt?!?!? 😉 Probably a few because He loves me a whole heap! Wish I could always remember that and embrace that though! I think I’m learning to journey, Pastor Kathy, but I’m a stubborn and slow learner sometimes! I often cringe at words like patience, wait, process, etc…oof…but, don’t we all sometimes? hmmm…I feel like going and listening to Alan Jacksons, “Little Bitty” song right now! heehee! 🙂 As always, thanks for the encouraging posts and God bless!

    Reply
  • This is a gorgeous and inspiring post. Thank you! coming from an evangelical background that so values the “hero” and routinely “prophesied” over youth that they would “LEAD MILLIONS TO CHRIST!” I have found myself captivated by small and simple servanthood over the past 10 years.

    Reply
  • Pingback: Links for August 27th | jonathan stegall: creative tension
  • Hmm… I was a leader in a Mega-church wannabe. They’re still trying to acheive that status. Yeah, small is plenty. Hmm… a group that meets once a month – sometimes there are only 8 or 10 people – and the worship is more genuine than anything I ever experienced in the big church.

    When the church becomes mega, it becomes about the corporation and not the people. It often becomes about the leader and not Jesus. From my perspective, there are a lot of little kingdoms of men out there masquerading as churches. Not that all big churches are bad, but most that I have encountered or know anything about are all about the ministry (corporation) image and will sacrifice any individual member or group of members for that entity.

    Okay, I’ll quit ranting, now. 🙂

    Reply
  • Your words are like a refreshing glass of cool water in the desert, Kathy. Every time I feel a bit parched, I head over to your blog and find something that quenches my thirst for what really matters. Thanks for always being there!!

    Reply
  • sylvia – thanks for taking time to share that, it really made me smile…i’m so glad we’re in this nutty, small beautiful thing together. learning a lot, that’s for sure.

    jesse – no kidding, when you say “small is often more than i can handle.” i think that all the time. why in the world would i want more than this? it’s PLENTY! thanks for reading & sharing here.

    beth – yeah, that word is such a tricky one because it gets mixed up so often with viability. what does real viability mean? and what does sustainable really mean? i keep learning more and more that those words have to be detached from money & people & success-measured-in-the-world’s-terms. thanks for sharing & peace and hope to you in the work you are doing up there!

    tammy – oh you are so funny with the PK thing, ha ha. i am so with you, that in the kingdom of God small things are huge. so glad you are here!

    sarah – yeah, lots we’re learning, aren’t we? it’s so interesting to me how hard it is to shake but how each year that i get further away from it it becomes more clear for me. thanks for your voice out here, it is very soothing to me!

    jonathan – thanks for the link love, hope one of these days we get to have a real conversation.

    katherine
    – i love stories like that because they remind me of just how much beauty is happening in little pockets around the world, small clusters of people learning and sharing together. i do agree with you that so often in big, the person–the average, ordinary, lovely, simple person desiring to learn and follow the ways of God–gets lost in the hubub of the structure, the system, the program, the whatever you want to call it. i don’t think that was ever supposed to be the idea of the body of Christ.

    sandy – oh i am so glad you’ve been such a faithful part of the carnival over the past few years. thanks for reading & i am glad that you find some refreshment here…that makes me happy.

    Reply

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *