Many years ago my wife and I went to a marriage retreat and learned our love languages. Her top one was Quality Time, by far. It was my last. My first was Words of Affirmation, followed very closely by Physical Touch. Guess which two were on the bottom of her list? Yep, you guessed it.
This little tidbit of information has, however, been invaluable in our ministry. Being able to see how people feel and show love has been amazing; a window into the soul and a portal to the gifting of God.
It has also been helpful in understanding my own struggles as a husband, father, and particularly as a minister. Words of Affirmation is a dangerous love language for a pastor, I wont lie.
In the spiritual realm it translates to seeking the affirmation of men over the approval of our Father. It can be a rigid and merciless task master. I know first hand.
All my life I’ve wanted to be somebody. Somebody great, somebody recognizable, someone of renown. And all my life, I have failed in that endeavor. Just another guy. An also-ran. Mediocre at best. And it has plagued me. This, my friend, is sin.
When we started in ministry some 24 or 25 years ago, we were inundated with goals and efforts to train us to build bigger churches, have more success, more salvations, more baptisms, more, more, more. I learned to crave it; the recognition of my success. The problem is, I never found it. I never had it, at least by the standards of the world and the religious organizations with which I’ve associated.
But I continued to dream big. I still do it. I wrote a book, started a ministry, maintain a blog. I look at my metrics and analytics and see how many subscribers I have, how many new views, how my SEO is doing. I still want the approval of men. And it is empty. It is eternally unfulfilling. Heck, it’s unfulfilling here on earth.
More times than not it is disappointing. I find myself looking at my posts and counting engagements, clicks, forwards, shares, responses. The ones I really like, no one else does. The ones I don’t like do the best. It’s weird. I can easily become a slave to the numbers.
I dream big.
I can see it. Me standing on a stage telling our story, impacting lives, selling books, living my big dream. I’ve even looked into life coaching courses to show me how to be a paid speaker and life coach. Boy, that would feed the monster alright.
But then … then I started thinking. I started trying to answer a question about the past, an answer I didn’t have, to a question I’d never really thought about, until October of 2017.
That’s when the church I pastored closed its doors to join with another church in the same small community in a flesh and blood outflow of John 17. Here is what I have been asked countless times since then:
“How did you guys get what you had?”
What was it that we had? That’s another good question. We had relationship. Love. Simplicity. Community. Unity. Passion. Love. Joy. Peace. Intentionality. Ferocious Biblical fidelity and a willingness to die as an organization.
But we also had other things: Small numbers. Decreasing influence. Public ridicule and condescension. Discouragement when I allowed myself to live in the mindset discussed earlier. Confusion over what God was up to. Things we couldn’t understand. Things we couldn’t explain. Things we couldn’t control. Things we needed to overcome.
One preceding event that brought about the unification was a mass exodus. Everyone moved to Colorado and logistically things began to unwind. All but one of Elders: gone. Our entire worship team: gone. All of our Sunday School teachers: gone. Most of our finances: gone. My closest friends: gone. Dreams of growing: also gone.
In recent months I have tried desperately to quantify, qualify, and legitimize what it was that we had that was so special. Though there were several things that stand out, the two most significant were intentional vulnerability/accountability and overlapping community and life.
We worked together. We played together. We ate together. We wept together. We laughed together. We prayed together. We served together. We worshiped together. We literally were in each others’ lives all the time. We transcended friendship and became family.
We also walked into each other’s struggles and joys. Sometimes with, sometimes without, invitation. We asked hard questions and gave hard answers. We said what was on our minds because the relationship was more important than feelings.
We loved each other so deeply we were willing to offend for each other’s own good and God’s glory.
We gave up dreams of new buildings. We cut our programs so we could focus on important things. We asked sinners into our homes and allowed them into our hearts. We admitted we, too, were sinners just as they were.
We ministered to those who came and left the bringing to the Lord. We invited out of our natural influence and we dug deep when we found a kindred spirit.
We learned to Dream Small. (There’s even a song about it) We took one step after another because that step was in front of us. We messed up ALOT. We made more mistakes than should be allowed. We got it wrong … alot! But we always wanted the best for each other according to the Scriptures, not according to this world.
We realized that we served in a Kingdom of mustard seeds, lost coins, and widow’s mites. At least in theory, I gave up all hope of platform, reputation, notoriety, and recognition. I resigned myself to serve that body until I, they, or it died. And eventually, it did.
Looking back, it was the sweetest 10 years of my life. One day I’ll write a book about the process and tell some of the transformational stories that kicked us down the street towards the goal of knowing Christ and being known.
Truly, we didn’t really do anything. We didn’t know where we were going or what we were doing. We did, however, know what we wanted. We wanted to know Jesus more and were willing to give anything to have Him.
I still don’t know how to duplicate it. What I do know is we often need to Dream Small. Take our eyes off the prize the religious organizations have set before us. Stop counting heads and start tracking transformation. Stop dreaming big as the world defines it.
Dream small. Do the really important, small things right in front of us. Then we can change the world.
As one author said in “The Ways of the Alongsider”, we can “think big, but start small.”
I like to dream big. My dreams become idols. Dream small.