“The light is the brightest in the deepest darkness, even so is God in the mist of His chosen few.”
Word association exercises are often good indicators to the mindset and worldview of the participate involved. Sociologist often use this method to determine the thought process of their subjects. If you ask a group of people to express words that they would associate with small, you would get a wide range of responses. With most, if not all, the responses are negatively charged in application. This should be of no surprise since if one would look up the word small in the dictionary it has been portraited negatively in many of the same ways. Definitions such as; having comparatively little size or slight dimensions; minor in influence, power, or rank; little or close to zero in an objectively measurable aspect.
With the latter definition mentioned it is no wonder that the small church struggles with loss of identity and loss of purpose for themselves. If you would do the same exercise with “small church” you would get many of the same negative results: insignificant numbers, lack of money, handful, inexperienced and entry level pastors. Often people inside and outside the church define small churches by the numbers they have, or even the lack of. Numbers are most often used when judging the small church, pointing out its inadequacies or devaluing its effectiveness.
“Esteem has to do with identity and well-being; it is connected with the discovery or recovery of one’s God-given individuality.”
This is the struggle for the churches with such dynamics within its body. They see themselves as insignificant and many times impotent. Their self-esteem is negative and self-defeating. Psychologist Marsha Sinetar has this to say about the subject: “Self-esteem is just an idea we have about ourselves…about our competence, our worth, and our power…a picture we have in our minds about ourselves.” She further suggests that “we often lose sight of our identity and self-esteem, or find it distorted, damaged, or hidden.”
It is very often that small churches, like individuals, lose the image of themselves that God intended for them in the culture that they exist. They are many times swayed by the image dictated by peers, society as a whole and a culture that is dominating, an image backed by past failure and depression.
The mission is to rediscover and capture that healthy God-given image that He intended and recover the small churches self-esteem and be transformed in it. Sinetar concludes: “[self-esteem is feelings] and self-pictures that we ourselves make real, and only we can change it for the better, for our own good, forever.”
When identity is lost or distorted then purpose is lost or distorted as well. The uncertainty of self-causes purpose to drift from the center, and left unchecked and uncorrected will lead to areas never intended to be dwelled in. No church happens accidently. There is intention and purpose driving the new congregation of believers. But time seems to cause drift and slackness. We all become complacent in our worship, satisfied with tradition and status quo. The fire in the belly grows cold without the coals being stoked like a blacksmith’s furnace. The church finds itself saying, “we had no idea where we were going or what we were doing.”
For far too long the small church has bought a bill of goods that does not need to be true. They have bought into the assumption that since they are small then they must be insignificant. Small does not have to mean it is negative but that in fact it is positive. The words that can accentuate the positive can be close, community, family, intimacy, and trusting are some of the things that can be said, but potential is another. If you take a moment and think about the size of the church, then you can see that the small church has tremendous potential to do the mighty things for God. The smallest obedient deed can be magnified because no one expects much from them. God receives multiplied glory in the mist of His small body of believers. The light is the brightest in the deepest darkness, even so is God in the mist of His chosen few.
In the next few weeks and months I hope to expand and look in more detail some of the pitfalls and distractions that move small churches from outward faithful obedience to inward self-preservation. God can still do the greatest and most significant work with the least of these. If we still believe and trust that then I think we are in some pretty good company.