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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In which I [just write about] want to be fearless about aging
In which I believe in God all over again
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  • Sarah C.

    Beautiful.  And much needed…Thank you!

  • Kristin

    This made me tear up. Because I DO hold one hand, take care of one soul, day in and day out (ok…2 counting the husband who needs taken care of…sometimes.) And for some reason, the title ‘stay-at-home mom’ has this underlying….”ooooh, she doesn’t WANT to work”, “oooh, she doesn’t NEED to work, hubby makes the big bucks…” gross THING attached to it. WELL, I am shaking that gross thing OFF because I know it’s important! To my heart, my daughter’s heart, hearts she might touch in the future, the kingdom. I’ve always known it to be important, and your acknowledgment of it today (and many other roles) is beautiful.

  • Very well put and hugely encouraging.

  • Kimberley

    Ahhh Sarah. I’ve been silently reading for quite some time now. I can’t remember how I ‘found’ you in the first place, all I know is I read voraciously… and haven’t stopped. I’m finding so much kinship, comfort,  encouragement and community here (even if it is silent).

    This morning you have brought me to tears (which you’ve done many times before). I have worked for churches for the better part of 12 years and finally finished that journey 8 months ago. The ‘hero complex’ kind of attitude never, ever sat well with me… in Bible College there was a class in my 3rd year which required us to meet with a pastor to discuss our 5 year ‘ministry’ plan. I bore my heart and soul and was told ‘you’re not thinking big enough, come back with something else.’ My heart sank at the next meeting when I told them some big plan for starting a program, which is what I knew they wanted to hear. My grade shot up. What a terrible disservice I participated in, when I knew in my heart the actual truth was so much better.

    I could go on… but thank you for having the courage to say – and publish – what I know many are thinking. You are not alone.

    PS If you ever see a woman awkwardly looking over at you if you’re at Gourmet Gallery it’s probably me trying to decide: 1. If it is you. 2. If I should come over to say Hi. So… don’t be too worried. 😉

    • You go right ahead and come on over, pull out a chair. 🙂

  • Jason Strietzel

    “There are only small things being done, over and over, with great love…”

    YES!  What a good reminder as I do the small things today.

    Also, having been surrounded by missionaries my entire life, I want to agree with you that they really are just people too.  Doing a lot of boring things and being giving sometimes and selfish sometimes and sometimes…just being.  I want to recognize the mission in day-to-day life.

    edited to add: Signed in with husband’s account, can’t figure out how to change it. Sigh.

    • Yes, recognising the mission in every-day life could probably be my mission statement. haha

  • I recently saw my friend go from working to being a stay at home mom. She is incredible at it. Truly, truly gifted. She shows me what it means to be the hands of Jesus, bringing food and hugs to her neighbors and friends in need. She has been able to untangle herself from the lie that the work place was somehow more important than the home-work. It is just about showing up every day where you are called.

  • Sarah, you’re speaking my language here. I remember what a revolutionary concept it was to realize that I could minister in and through my work even if I wasn’t a missionary or pastor.

    • Yes – and I won’t even tell you how old I was when I finally HAD that revelation. 🙁

  • You have no idea how much this hits home… thank you for this today.

    • You’re welcome, Denise – glad I’m not alone!

  • rayhollenbach

    First of all, mad props for using the Christopher Reeves Superman.

    Second, many Christians are unaware of this verse, “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands.” It’s part of a larger passage (1 Thessalonians 4:1-12) that speaks directly to your point. The end result is that you and Brian will, in fact, become superheroes: to your children, your neighbors, and those to whom God binds you over the years. Shalom!

    • Yes, exactly. Shalom, indeed!

    • That is one of my favorite verses.  I find it applicable in so many ways to our lives as “professional Christians” both in the US and now overseas.  Doing small things and living a quiet life is very satisfying. Our lives are not dramatic and we are not doing big things.  But hopefully we are faithful in the small things we are doing and bearing witness to our neighbors.

  • I remember several times answering an altar call for “full-time Christian Ministry” while I was in high school with this nagging voice in the back of my head: I don’t know what I’ll do, but it will be full-time for Jesus.  And it has been.  The inner-city teaching, the mothering, the studying.  But they have also been very, very mundane at times, so I keep two quotes from Mother Teresa on my wall, the one you mentioned, “There are no great things, only small things with great love,” and “Do not think that love, in order to be genuine, has to be extraordinary.  What we need is to love without getting tired.”  I never made the connection before, that you brilliantly make here, between the pressure to do something big for God and why I love these quotes.  Some days I look at the quotes and think, “Wow, these kinda sound depressing, can’t I still aim for something big?”  But you can’t get much bigger than what Momma T accomplished with those humble acts of untiring love.  I want to be like her when I grow up.

  • Love this. Oh I remember it well, all that talk of doing it up BIG and of REVIVAL. The Evangelical Hero Complex is a perfect name for it.

    • Then I’ll look for it to appear in your bestselling book! I’ll feel like I’ve made it when I’m part of the Evangelical dictionary. 😉

  • I don’t even know how to comment, other than to say that you have written out a piece of my own heart here, a hard-won (sometimes loosing) battle to embrace all the beautiful mess, all the little nothings that are really everything. I grew up in the same ethos, and there is much I am very, very grateful for from those formative years – really, but the cape and the illusions of grandeur have been unraveling for some time now, and I know I pick it up, all threadbare and don it here and there from time to time. Thank you for these words today, Sarah.

  • Yes. Small things. Everything matters. On a day filled with non-sexy dishes and laundry and paperwork and loving the non-exotic, un-glamorous, regular (and sometimes not-so-lovely) people around me – this is a good reminder.

  • Oh my goodness:  this post resonates so much with me.  I was basically nodding, Yes, yes, YES, throughout the whole thing.  In fact, I blogged a couple of years ago about a similar phenomenon that I recently re-posted.  If I may make a shameless plug, can I recommend ?  Feel free to delete this if you don’t think it adds to the conversation.  When I first published it, I got some push-back from well-meaning sisters in Christ warning me against complacency.  While I understand their concern, I also think that this evangelical hero complex, as you put it, borders on idolatry.  Mainly, I am just giddy to hear another voice who understands and feels the same way!

    • It feels so good to know you’re not crazy, I know! haha

  • I agree wholeheartedly.  As someone who is currently in full-time ministry I HATE it when other people with a similar “job” to mine declare that being a pastor is “the highest calling there is.”  Firstly, what a complex that will give those who are in it (either growing a big ego or constantly feeling like they’re not living up to the hero complex), and secondly, what a complete a total lie.  I am convicted by this post to be even more mindful of what I say to youth (I am occasionally in a setting where I am the one speaking at those “bigger is better” youth events) and the beautiful reminder that you have just given.

  • I’ll take one father coaching basketball in the suburbs over ten new churches popping up in my city any day of the week.  

    • Bernard Shuford

      I agree 100%.  I’m a little sick of everybody thinking that starting churches is the most important thing the church does. Dang.  That was an epiphany of a sort right there.  Or a serendipity, or something.

  • Tara_pohlkottepress

    oh yes, Sarah. Yes.  When I figured out I would change the world through whispers instead of soapboxes. When my causes became love…when my life became humble, I could feel Him doing more.

  • Growing up with pretty much the opposite of this (I’m a born and bread Lutheran who went to Catholic school) thank you for sharing some insights into another common perspective. It helps me understand others better. And also keeps me from over-reacting to the shortcomings of my faith heritage by heading in the do too much direction instead of what small things God has put in front of me for today direction.

  • Mar

    You’ve done it again … spoken what has been in my heart and which I couldn’t quite put into words … and then you go and do it.  I want to be willing to do kingdom things in a kingdom way, which includes obscurity — and at the same time, being willing to be public and outspoken for the oppressed and those who matter.I love the “caregiver with one tired soul” line … and when that parent no longer even recognizes the caregiver as being their own child … yes, that.

    “tipping the scales of justice and mercy”  — what a visual.

    You have sent an important volley against this BIG LIE today … thank you.

  • Beautiful.  I felt for some time too that BIG things were BETTER things.  But I learned that is not so, and, in fact, I recently wrote:

    “…not necessarily needing to have some big, grandiose plan to change the whole world.  By not devoting my life to one specific thing, I know that I am freed up to do many different things that God throws my way, and I actually really like the variety of that.  I’ve been in monotonous jobs and couldn’t stand that they were always the same thing all the time.  If I am faithful, I can affect just my small part of the world, even if I don’t get to see any big results.  I may not see any small results either, for that matter.”

    I think the idea of BIG probably comes from when “The Prayer of Jabez” became so popular.  Then everyone was encouraged to do big things…and we forgot about the small things.

  • Oh, I really, really love this post! So much of how I’ve felt and thought sounds pretty much exactly the same as what you described. And I’ve known for a while that things need to change. My heart has been changing, but now I’m getting ready for the BIG change – my husband and I are taking a break from full-time ministry (gasp!), and we’re “entering the secular work world”! I feel like it’s time to care about people (one at a time!) because we love them, not because we’re paid to. We’ve always done it with love, but I feel like something does change when it’s not a “job”.

    And I’m scared and nervous and excited! Even more so after reading your post. Part of me does feel like we’re leaving the highest calling there could ever be. I almost feel guilty at some moments, actually! But I’ve known it’s not true, and reading your post made it even more clear!

    Thanks for your words.

  • Erin Szczerba

    Hi Sarah,
    I was first introduced to your blog through a friend in WM who thought perhaps you had read her mind when you wrote your now-famous blog about Women’s Ministry. It’s always a delight to find a kindred spirit. 🙂
    This blog spoke directly to my heart, soul, and mind. I felt a distinct calling to ministry in 2008 and have been riding the God-wave of waiting patiently ever since then. Now, it seems this is the right time, the right place for God’s plans to come together. In the last 9 months, I’ve moved to Austin from Denver. My parents (pastor, seminary professor) have divorced after 36 years of marriage. My Dad has renounced his faith. I started a business with my sister. I’ve been asked to be a speaker as well Leadership Support for an NPO. I’m going to the Hatmakers’ church. I’m meeting authors I’ve admired for years. And all I could think was: When is the BIG THING going to happen? Am I missing it??
    Oh goodness, me.
    The swirl of thoughts and emotions vows to turn me inside out. On Sunday, after church, I had lunch outside and began to ask God to clear some things up for me. I opened up my notebook and wrote, “God has led me…” And I began to list all of the ways He has guided me in the last 9 months. And I was blown away.
    The small but significant intersections that only He could design are awe-inspiring. The truth that size is irrelevant began to settle in my heart. I just want to be USED by God. I follow Angie Smith, Angela Thomas, Jen Hatmaker, Sheila Walsh, Beth Moore, and all the others on Twitter. I love what they say, how they minister, what they do…and I get distracted from what God has placed in my lap and asked me to invest in.
    I suffer from the Big is Better mentality too. Yuck. If ministry is about following Jesus by loving people…then isn’t it about even just one person being loved?
    So I left my lunch spot, bought ingredients to make 4 pies, invited a friend over that evening for dinner. She came over, talked to me while I made the pies, and then we enjoyed a home grilled meal together. 2 days later, my son and I delivered pies to our 3 nearest neighbors and were invited into 2 of their homes to sit and chat for a while. That’s the first time I’ve spent any time with them in the 9 months I’ve lived here.
    It felt wonderful.
    Well, now that I’ve just blogged in your comments section, I think I’ll wrap up and call it a night.
    Thank you, Sarah. Your writing is a gift to me.

  • well, as a “missionary” i can assure you that my life is no different than yours! one little step of obedience at a time…

    trust me, i sometimes really do wish it was more glamorous than that. 😉

  • Bernard Shuford

    I almost didn’t read this, just because I was moving thru emails quickly and the title didn’t grab me too much. But I am so glad I did.  I said an internal “YES!” so many times.  The continual “who’s the best Christian” crap in evangelicalism drives me crazy.  Thank you so much for reminding me that my little job, my little home, my little church, is NO less important to God than Billy Graham or Mac Powell.  Thank you.  

  • I really appreciate this blog, and the timing of it, which, of course has everything to do with God and nothing to do with you!  (Except that you are a willing vessel, able to be used as he sees fit.)  Immediately before reading your blog on doing “big” things for God, I read one by a guy who is very passionate about orphans and believes that all Christendom should be every bit as passionate about orphans as he is.  I think it’s great that he is passionate about orphans.  But we can’t all do the same thing.  That’s what part of Corinthians is about.  We do care about the needs of others, and support various ministries when we can. I’m passionate about worship.  I used to think everyone should be just as passionate about worship as me. I spent a large part of my life wanting to be a “worship hero!”  But, like you, I’ve backed off of that ideal a bit.  I agree with you that there are really no “big” things for God.  How can you do something “big” for a God who is infinitely big??  Anything we can do for him is infinitely small.  But it all matters. No matter what…”If just a cup of water, I place within your hands, then just a cup of water is all that I demand.”  If you’ve never heard the old gospel song, “Follow Me,” you should look that up.  I’m so glad I stumbled across your blog, Sarah.  You are blessed, and a blessing!  God bless you!~~Jeff

  • Wonderful post! We had this similar revelation 5 years ago when we got married. It actually made us leave our church (one that was very ‘productivity’ driven, where they made you do something, anything, even if God didn’t call you to it). It was the best move, and what God wanted for us at the time. Now I’m home raising children and I do need to be reminded often that I am ministering to their little souls every day, that my mission field can and should be right here, wiping noses and changing diapers with joy. 

  • Heatheroftheeo

    OH yes. YES. I could say so much more but just YES. I love how you write and speak your heart.

  • Right on Sarah. What I’ve found is that it’s really easy to jump on board with a church’s vision and plans, sacrificing the people for the vision, which is totally backwards. The people are God’s vision. Whatever we build around the people is expendable. THAT is hard to get!!!

  • this is so interesting–and foreign–to me. i was raised in a more Kingdom-focused, do-it-all-for-the-glory-of-God mindset, and it kind of makes me sad how much this resonates for so many, but i thank you for giving voice to recovery:) the real heroes are the quiet, everyday faithful–and your life speaks volumes, friend.

  • I’ve been in a fierce fight with my Evangelical Hero Complex this week.  It’s been winning.  I too grew up in that youth group, hearing those words, climbing that food chain.  Sometimes I want the BIG so bad it hurts.  Thank you for your words that breathed truth to me.  
     ” If there is one soul in your care, one face in your loving gaze, one hand you are holding, you are holding the world.”  Amen and amen.

  • This hit home in so many ways. Thank you!

  • pastordt

    Oh, yes. Amen and AMEN. Thank you.

  • Tonia

    Beautiful and comforting….to realize we don’t need to always do BIG things to make an impact.  Finding that out more and more with the LITTLE moments with my precious babies.

  • ohAmanda {impress your kids}

     Beautiful post. THIS: “If there is one soul in your care, one face in your loving gaze, one hand you are holding, you are holding the world.” I wish every mom could know this for certain!

    Thank you!

  • Emilystone

    Shared the link to this at  I hope more people read this.  It is an important critique of evangelicalism…specifically western evangelicalism.  

  • Shar

    This is my first comment ever on your blog, even though I devour it
    daily, but now I’m typing in capital letters because what you wrote is
    every kind of true! Though I feel like I could write a 10-page essay about evangelical heroism here in your comment section, I’m going to forego that and instead copy and paste your words into the Word document I store on my desktop, the one I occasionally open when I need to reread words that replenish my tired heart. This is so…beautiful. Thank you.


  • Tara L.

    Sarah –  I just reposted this with links back to you — if that steps on your toes and you don’t want that — PLEASE scream at me.  I loved this and I wanted to share it.

  • Melinda T.

    I came to this post from the Livesay’s Haiti blog.  I can not begin to express how much I needed to hear this today and how you so perfectly spelled out what has been on my heart lately.  I am so encouraged.  Thank you for blessing me, a stranger, today.

  • Dan McM

    Excellent post. I’ve struggled with the “EHC” at times (ooohhh… an acronym 😉 but try not to get too bogged down with it.

    Being a musician/songwriter doesn’t necessarily help in this case. If I write a song that my local congregation loves, part of me wants to see the song move beyond the borders of the local church, not because I give a rip about notoriety, but because if it’s a good song, I’d like to see others blessed by it too. The desire to minister to people is at the heart of it as much or more than a desire to be famous (if a million people loved a song I’d written and had no idea who I was, I’d be completely blessed by that.)

    Micah 6:8 has been huge in helping me get past “EHC”:  “He has shown thee, o man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of thee? But to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.”

    Nice and simple. No expectations of glory or magnitude required.

  • i love this post!!  i think this kind of teaching/thinking/practice has really jacked a lot of us up.  so thankful for your voice and the way you point us all to the heart of God in such a beautiful, challenging way.  

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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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  • 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.

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