small is plenty

small is plentythis in 2010 but it’s been on my mind a lot lately, especially in so many conversations with others about dreams for new communities-ministries-passions-ideas. it’s easy to measure our dreams by other people’s measures and forget that small is plenty.

* * * * *

“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 this season–just how powerful “small” really is.

i first earned my chops in big-church world, stepping into leadership a big chunk of years ago and then ramping it up a few years later 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 difference 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’s apples & oranges.

and while i’m not 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 lot of time and energy. learning Jesus’ ways of love is complicated.  most people–no matter how put together they may look on the outside–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 6 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 is also  impossible to share these kinds of burdens on too big of a scale.   when it comes to the needs of real life, small is plenty.

everyone needs a space to use their gifts & passions & voice. this is something i’m most passionate about because 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 tricky to do.

growth doesn’t mean numbers. 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.   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.  yeah, there’s a big difference between building churches & cultivating communities.

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. if we are always thinking we’re not big enough, strong enough, cool enough, sustainable enough, we will miss out on amazing people & opportunities to love & live right in front of us.

learning how to embrace small as plenty means becoming comfortable in our own skin, accepting ourselves how we truly are individually & corporately.

it means 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.

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

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.

16 Comments

  • An excellent ‘small’ piece Kathy. I’ve blogged about Guy Hershberger previously and appreciated the same theme. Right now I’m writing a book on slow. It’s going slowly (of course). I think there is a connection: small, slow, silent. The opposite works too: big,fast,loud. I had what is popularly called a nervous breakdown last year. Months as an enforced hermit made me appreciate that a small world (i.e. shut-in)can have its dark side too. Mostly I’m a big fan of small. It’s a welcome break from being the centre of our own universe.

    Reply
    • thanks so much, phil, for sharing & for your honesty about where you’ve been lately. i’d love to hear more about your book. the tug toward big, fast, loud is strong. i know that when i’m honest, i am drawn to it, too, because it feeds parts of me that like to be fed that aren’t necessarily good for my soul. “it’s a welcome break from beign the centre of our own universe.” great line. peace & hope from colorado.

      Reply
  • “most people … struggle with feeling loved by God & people & passing on love to God and people”

    Last night my wife and I witnessed something we pray we never see nor hear again. It’s one thing to empathize with a friend’s story of abuse. It is another thing entirely to witness it. A dear friend had to go back into an abusive environment to retrieve some of her belongings. She knew, instinctively, she could not go in there alone without getting hurt. That fear overcame her fear of asking us to accompany her … to love her.

    My wife and I dropped all our plans and accompanied her to the house — her own house that he won’t let her back into — to retrieve her stuff. We witnessed a gang-up three-on-one verbal assault that was so evil and oppressive that we were very grateful for the police presence to keep it from escalating.

    An hour later we came away with a few things (pictures of her grandchildren that he angrily tore out of their frames and threw at her). We stayed with her late into the night afterward to give her time to diffuse (de-fuse!) and time for His light to bleach the poison out of the arrows hurled at her … giving them time to fall harmlessly onto her past.

    This was not the way my wife and I had intended to celebrate our anniversary.

    … but we would do it all over again, given the chance. For had we selfishly kept to our own agenda would have have walked right past the burning bush … walked right past an opportunity to ad-minister God’s love lavishly and unconditionally into the life of a friend … a small ministry … but in this case and many others around us all the time … small is plenty.

    Amen, Kathy!

    Oh. And by the way, my Strength’s Finders top three? Empathy, Adaptability, and Connectedness. Ya. That’s no surprise.

    When I finally got off my pew-butt a few years ago and started … I started small … and continue to be blessed far beyond the proportions of my efforts. For I have discovered that God is less concerned about us doing the “exact right” thing, than He is that we do something, anything, in response to His still, small voice. (click on my name for more).

    Reply
    • now that’s a beautiful story. thank you for sharing. and happy anniversary.

      Reply
  • Many years ago I read a story (maybe in Guideposts, my mom’s favorite magazine) written by a woman. The story was about her mother, who dreamed of writing a book and becoming a famous author. The years passed, and then mama passed. She never wrote her book because she was too busy writing stories in the lives of people.

    That story explains why I do not spend nearly as much time writing as I would like. Spending myself on people, especially those overlooked, neglected and not accepted by others (including, and especially, the church) is a choice I make daily. Small is plenty.

    Reply
    • yep, i’ll choose people anyday. we never get props for it or fame or all kinds of things that writing & speaking & rising to the top of organizations give us but i wouldn’t trade it for anything.

      Reply
  • I was once asked by a friend if I would rather be a big fish in a little pond or a small fish in a big pond.

    I laughed and said I wanted to be a BIG FISH in a BIG POND… And I guess that’s sort of the “American Dream”…

    God’s dream for me is something else, though. And I never thought of it that way until now. I’ve always tried to “submit” to my limitations, never feeling I was “enough” — or that I was all I “needed” to be.

    Thank you for telling me that small is plenty. I’ve told others — “preaching” about the little boy’s loaves and fishes.

    But this morning I heard…

    Reply
    • ha, so honest and i so know what you mean. the american dream is so pervasive…but it will always leave us short. new measures, new ways to let go and appreciate what is instead of what isn’t is much more satisfying. thanks for reading and sharing here, i am so glad you are here.

      Reply
  • Kathy, I absolutely loved this post. I couldn’t agree more. I hate to be so boring, but you’re someone whose blog almost always elicits from me a hearty, calm and full Amen. I am so grateful to you for putting this into words. I absolutely loved the Shane C. quote! SO Good. Love that. Love you. Heather

    Reply
    • that makes me smile. thanks for reading and i’m so grateful for what you write, too! it’s all pretty contrary to a lot of what we learn in church & the workshop of effective marketing principles…

      Reply
  • “real life is unpredictable and hard; the needs are great.” Yes, in especially weeks like this one, I know that to be true. Ha. I was just talking to Mike this week about how three years in transformative community is simply not emotionally equivalent to a lifetime of plopping down in a pew. Yeah, this week I know that small is, indeed, more than enough.

    Reply
    • can you imagine more than this? no way! i love that line “three years in transformative community is simply not emotionally equivalent to a lifetime of plopping down in a pew.” i’m going to use that one again!

      Reply
  • Hi Kathy,

    I have been following your blog from just outside Belfast Northern Ireland for a few months now.
    I am part of a group called withoutwalls and I found your post very honest, helpful and inspiring for me/us as we continue on our journey of faith and adventure.

    We are a small group and it is refreshing again to be reminded of the significiance in what we are trying to achieve with small numbers, small budgets and limited support. Thanks for the reality check.

    If its ok with you I posted a link to your post on our blog

    Thank you for sharing.

    Blessings.

    Stuart.

    Reply
    • that’s so fun. i think you guys might have just skyped with emdes? they are my friends & love that somehow you guys are connecting that way. really lovely. thanks for reading and would love to hear what you guys are continuing to learn together. always feel free to share anything that’s here that you think might be helpful. peace from colorado.

      Reply
  • Hi Kathy,
    Yes we had a rather amusing Skype chat on Sunday, (technology proved to be bit temperamental, also our accents’ did not help, but that did not stop us) I have been following EmDes for a while and I thought it might be fun to connect and see how that goes. We are planning to do a joint ‘experiment’ based on some of the Jesus Dojo concept together for the next few weeks and to journal / blog our experiences from both groups. We have no idea how this will work out but we are up for a laugh if nothing else. I have also just started into your book in the last few days. Enjoying it immensely.

    Blessings

    Stuart.

    Reply
  • Hi Kathy!

    So cool for you to meet Stuart…one of my new “Irish” friends! I was thinking that it would be really neat for you to facilitate one of your “Down We Go” group chats via SKYPE with the Without Walls Cohort…You’ll never meet a more lovely, dynamic “little pocket of love”…the Irish got it goin’ on.
    I’ve already put a bug about the idea in Stuart’s ear…I’d love to know if and when you put something together. See you April 22nd?
    Peace!

    Reply

Leave a Comment

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