Do big things for God! Do radical things! Do hard things! You’ll reach thousands for Christ! An evangelist! A preacher! A pastor! A healer! A prophet! Signs! Wonders!
And every time I heard that message preached, it subtly communicated something to my young heart: If it’s not big and audacious, it’s not good enough for God.
Brian and I refer to it as our Evangelical Hero Complex.
All of those years of hearing sermon after sermon, youth camp after Bible study, about doing BIG things for a BIG God with BIG visions and BIG plans left us with crazy-high expectations on ourselves coupled with a narrow understanding of following Jesus. And then, when, like most of the kids in the youth groups or Bible colleges, we found ourselves in a rather usual sort of life, surprisingly not preaching to thousands on a weeknight, we were left feeling like failures, like somehow we weren’t measuring up, we weren’t serving God effectively, we must have missed it because isn’t our life supposed to be about doing big, successful things for God?
Plus there was this hierarchy firmly fixed in my mind that everyone in full-time vocational ministry was at the top of the Truly Committed Christian Food Chain – missionary wins every time – and the rest of us were support workers, some call it “pew fodder”. If you are really serious about God, you go into full-time ministry. And God will honour you with big, hairy, obvious success. (I don’t think it was intentional and I yearn to give a measure of the grace that I have found and received in Church, but, I can’t deny, for better or worse, the message was clear.)
God loves big. If one is good, two is better, and thousands mean the Holy Spirit is all over it. And so we valued the man preaching at the front to thousands more than the social worker with a caseload of 80, more than the caregiver with one tired soul in their care, more than the father coaching basketball in the suburbs.
We were so busy celebrating the Evangelical Hero that we forgot heroes come in all walks of life, callings and success ratios.
And, like so many in my generation, I became so tired of doing big things for God.
Tired of feeling like I didn’t measure up.
Tired of gauging my obedience to someone else’s calling.
Tired of feeling inconsequential.
Tired of defining success by what others see in terms of numbers or income or job title.
Tired of celebrating the preacher and ignoring the foster parents, the hospice workers, the carpenter, the faithful giver-in-secret, the teacher, the prophet-disguised-as-a-mother.
Tired of feeling like it – whatever it is – all depends on me.
Here is the funny thing I learned when I began to dis-entangle from my Evangelical Hero Complex: I’m pretty sure that there aren’t actually any big things for God. There are only small things being done, over and over, with great love, as Mother Theresa said. With great faith. With great obedience. With great joy or suffering or wrestling or forgiving on a daily completely non-sexy basis. And grace covers all of it and God makes something beautiful out of our dust.
The Kingdom of God starts small, a grain of wheat, a mustard seed, a leaven in the loaf. And it spreads, oh, yes, it grows. But it starts small, even hidden in the secret places, a knitting together of wonder, perhaps. A candle on a lamp stand, a woman searching for a coin, a man in a field with a treasure worth selling everything to possess.
Even those people doing the big traditional Hero Things have told me this, they are just doing one thing at a time and the daily work of it doesn’t look that sexy. There is a lot of blood, sweat and small wins coupled with small failures along the way and usually we are only seeing one small part in that moment of their life.
One soul is as valuable as thousands, millions. One soul is as important as 99, worth leaving everything behind to rescue. If there is one soul in your care, one face in your loving gaze, one hand you are holding, you are holding the world. If anything matters, everything matters and the work today, the love we give and receive and lavish on the seemingly small tasks and choices of our every day all tip the scales of justice and mercy in our world.