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In which I have an Evangelical Hero Complex

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.

It won’t surprise anyone to know that I am no hero. I don’t really want to be anymore. (Okay, so sometimes I do. I’ll be honest. It’d be nice.) But I do want to take the work of my hands right now, today, whether it’s a book I’m writing or a floor I’m sweeping or a phone call I’m making or a meal I’m cooking and I want to hold it all in my hand, in my spirit with a breath of prayer and intention, like we are all a fragile universe needing love in this moment.
And I want to honour and respect and celebrate the work of us all, big, small, noticed, unnoticed, seen, unseen. 
He is The God Who Sees and I want to see with His eyes.

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.

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church, emerging church, faith, journey
  • Janice DeFluiter

    “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.”

    Beautiful and inspiring.

  • http://bethmorey.blogspot.com/ Beth

    Yes and yes and yes.  I am loving your blog, Sarah.  Exquisitely written.  Thank you.

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  • lindseyfoj

    Oh well…you KNOW I get this! While I was challenged and inspired at ORU…as the years went by and I continued in environments that perpetuated this thinking…I felt like you expressed…small and insignificant! But I have learned that I am a methodical influencer, like my word for this year, relentless….consistently there doing things that impact people…individuals…and while my extroverted self often wanted to be BIG….the older I get…small and true and real and well-you-get-the-idea….seems just to mean more….at least most days! Thanks for reprising this in your favorite posts post.

  • http://twitter.com/arielkprice Ariel Price

    Great post. This is why my word for this year is “faithfulness,” by which I mean persistently, diligently walking with God. With books and messages like “Radical” and with hearing the stories of missionaries who are “giving their lives” or moving to Africa and saving thousands of orphans, it’s easy to feel like I’m not good enough. What’s the point of reading my Bible everyday? What good does that accomplish? What’s the point of simply going to my 9-5 job? But it matters so much.

  • http://www.pensieve.me/ Robin Dance

    You pull these thoughts together–the ones that have hidden in many a heart but without voice–and wrap them in words that fit perfectly. This, your gift…your GIFT…is Kingdom big AND small, because God loves the paradox, doesn’t he? So (at least for now) this time is yours to write and give as offering, perfectly wrapped words that give voice to the unspoken but weary.

    Not that I’m trying to be the boss of you :).

    Reeeeally liked this one.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.gibson.796 Robert Gibson

    I am enough and small things do matter……Reminds of a quote by brene brown “honor the ordinary because it is extraordinary”

  • Dlighted

    I agree that obedience is most evident in the mundane everydayness of life, but where would we be without the hero’s of the faith (Hebrews 11) who in many cases sacrificed everything because they loved God with such a passion. Where would we be if Paul had not given his life for the proclamation of the Gospel? Or how would those who have never heard hear if men like Jim Elliot and C.T. Studd did not give up everything to make it known to them? And ultimately, where would we be if Jesus had not loved so beautifully and given up everything for us? This world needs both moment by moment simple obedience and extreme sacrificial obedience. We need it.