In an era of celebrity pastors who are accountable to no one, and many churches acting like businesses committed to growth for the sake of growth, the following blog post I read is quite refreshing. Dave Smith, the Senior Pastor of Northwest Community Church in San Antonio, Texas, wrote a moving post about what it means to serve “the least of these.” Today I am running that post with some commentary. This Evangelical Free pastor’s challenging thoughts helps put the Christian faith in perspective.
“Whatever God would want me to do…love each other and help others. I want to add, not take away.”
“Small deeds done are better than great deeds planned.”
For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Mark 10:45 NLT
This blog which also tackles and chronicles issues in both the Evangelical Free Church of America and modern evangelicalism has written a lot of difficult stories. The sad part is that there is a lot more to come. I’ve written about C.J. Mahaney’s blackmail and alleged covering up child sex abuse. Then there is Mark Driscoll and his profane rants as well as Steve Estes who is an EFCA Senior Pastor outside Philadelphia. Steve led his church on practicing church discipline on an alleged rape victim who knows she could be dead. Who allegedly raped Hurit? Why it was allegedly the Steve Estes son Brock allegedly violated his wife while intoxicated. This blog has been writing about it and will continue to write about it until Steve Estes and the leadership of Community Evangelical Free Church repents or the EFCA removes that corrupt church from the denomination. Buildings should not matter more than an alleged sexual assault victim, not in the 21st Century. Here at The Wondering Eagle I have written a lot about difficult topics and some people think or have claimed that I am enjoy being negative or focusing on scandals. That is not true as I would much rather write about the healthy or positive aspects of Christianity. But the reality is that you have to write about the difficult topics and challenge them. They need to be pushed back and confronted. Dealing with corrupt pastors is a sad part of that reality.
I write that to say the following. In this project I have had the sheer joy of getting to interact and slowly get to know a few EFCA pastors. Some have been pleasant, kind, loving, and profoundly caring. For me the best part of Protestantism is a loving pastor and a good expositional sermon or talk. A loving pastor who is sacrificial and kind who leads by example can be one of the best attributes of the Christian faith. Last year I wrote a tribute to an old pastor from Wisconsin who challenged and loved me. He won my respect by living a life in love and he won me over in his humble nature and willingness to help and the times he cared, or even said “I don’t know….” As I was working through the EFCA Texas and Oklahoma District and calculating the growth of Neo-Calvinism/Reformed theology I was studying Northwest Community Church in San Antonio and I came across Dave Smith’s blog. I read several posts and I was happy to see a pastor who is loving, kind, not authoritarian and involved in people’s lives. Dave Smith’s posts spoke that to me. It became more clear the more I read them. So I wanted to run one of them today for you to read.
Before I get into the post I should explain a little bit about Dave Smith. Dave Smith went to college at Stephen F Austin State University in eastern Texas. He describes himself as a Texan and attended Dallas Theological Seminary. Dave was one of 5 couples who launched Northwest Community Church in 1982. You can read much more about him in his biography page here.
In December of 2013 Dave Smith wrote a blog post called “The Least of These” which I deeply enjoyed and wanted to highlight. Its my contention that as Christians we should be known for our love primarily. Sadly, much of modern day evangelicalism is lacking in love. I attribute that to a rise of authority in both culture and the church. Plus there is also a lack of concern in many evangelical churches for the poor and the downtrodden. Plus you also have movements inside evangelicalism which have deified the celebrity pastor and promoted them above others and created a machine that is exempt from any accountability. After all when people celebrate success who wants to hear about the homeless women who is mentally ill? Who wants to hear about the teenager struggling with a drug addiction? Who wants to hear about the gay man who has HIV and is working at managing it? I believe that the church will rise or fall based on how we treat the broken and the least of these of society. And really I believe that is what we should all strive for. So with all that being said I want to re-run Dave’s essay and I hope you will find it encouraging. Please know that I love you guys!
Some time ago, when I created this blog, I decided to name it in honor of an idea that has long captivated my imagination. The idea? Simple. Small is beautiful. “Learning Small” reflects that deeply held conviction.
The thought that small is beautiful is certainly not to imply that big is ugly or that BIG won’t teach lessons. Over the years, though, God has typically done His best work in me through small things, through the seemingly trivial, the unobtrusive.
I serve what is, in comparison to many churches, a small church. Like many (Most? Come on, guys…) pastors of smaller churches, I have wrestled with my small-ish place in the grand scheme of things.
I’ve wondered as I’ve wandered through life in a small place, does God desire to do something BIG through me? Am I doing something wrong that is keeping me at a small place? Is there something wrong with me that is keeping my church under 10,000 (OK, under 1,000; OK, under 500)?
Then, this afternoon, I got a phone call from a fellow our church helped through a terribly ugly divorce back in 1986. He was a young man then. He worked with his hands as a skilled carpenter. His life was wrecked by the divorce, as many lives are. But, in the months following that divorce, lots of people in our church walked him through that valley. He gained strength and stability. He trusted in Jesus – and then moved from San Antonio and out of our lives.
I hadn’t heard from him for about twenty five years when the phone rang today. He still works with his hands. He has been happily married to a wonderful Christian woman for the last sixteen years. He is still walking with Jesus – and he called to say “Thanks” for the help our church provided to him during the low point of his life.
I don’t tell that story to gain bragging rights. No, I tell it to bring a different metric to the table when measuring the success of a life or of a church.
I wonder if rather than measuring success by more typical standards (money, bodies, buildings), we might better measure success by stories, the stories of lives impacted by love and grace.
Jesus’ life and ministry impacted thousands, true. And by His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead He has saved untold millions. But examine the record of His life as found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and you’ll see a life chock full of one-on-one conversations and small group interactions.
He impacted people – individuals! – up close and personal. In the end, He entrusted His worldwide ministry to a very few people (eleven men and a few women) who knew Him quite well. I think we would all agree that they did quite well with their mission.
I suspect that the greatest impact is always made face-to-face, one-on-one, life-on-life, within a small circle of intimates.
Impact occurs when a mom or dad speaks grace into the life of a son or a daughter; when an older woman lovingly mentors a struggling young mom; when a man who has been “clean and sober” for six years comes alongside the guy who is having a hard time making it to Day Two and says, “You can do it, buddy. Trust Jesus. One day at a time. I’m with you. I’m praying for you.”
There is no sour grapes-ism to this post. I genuinely thank God for the wonderful large churches in my city of San Antonio where God is doing amazing things.
I’m just wondering if, at the end of time, God will turn to each of us and to each church and say something like, “Well done. You loved ________ really well.”
And who is _______?
The homeless person.
The sad person who tried to make a living as a children’s party clown.
The socially awkward older woman who never married and hates men, anyway.
The guy with mental illness.
The high-powered executive who needed acceptance, not for achievement, but for his basic human worth.
The woman involved in the sex trade.
The lonely teen.
The child with learning challenges.
The Pharisee who finally found grace.
When Jesus took the time to reach out to the poor, the oppressed, the leper, and the diseased, He was creating a template for His people to follow for all time.
It is as if He was saying, “I never forgot the least and the last and the lost. Don’t you forget them, either. They are near and dear to My heart. Big is fine, but small is beautiful. And guess what? Put enough smalls together and you get BIG. Really BIG – Kingdom of God sized BIG!”
As seen through the stories of Gideon’s army, David vs. Goliath, and the early church, God often does His best work through small things. He has always been delighted to do His best work through small people like me and you.