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Jun 28, 2011

Outreach Magazine Column: Small is the Kingdom Big

Here is my most recent column in this month's Outreach Magazine. The July/August issue each year focuses on small churches and their impact, so my column is reflective of that theme.

If you aren't already subscribing to Outreach, it's a great resource.

Small is the Kingdom Big

Americans are obsessed with big things. If something is big, it must be better. It has strength. It has legitimacy. Yet, that's an American value, not a biblical one.

Jesus confused a lot of people when He showed up and announced that the kingdom of God had come near. Then, he confused even more people when he described it as small.

Small Is Incarnational

The kingdom of God broke into the world with the birth of Jesus Christ. The Son of God came into the world in an unexpected way, showing up in the form of a baby. In the smallest of packages, the full authority of heaven resided. It happened in the middle of nowhere. The Roman Empire was vast, and the city of Rome was an exquisite crown jewel. Israel was a little province in the middle of nowhere on the eastern side of the Mediterranean, and the little town called Bethlehem was virtually unnoticed by the rest of the world. In the most obscure of places, in the most unlikely of circumstances, the King of Kings was born. So when Jesus talked about small things, we ought not to be surprised, because He modeled that in His incarnation.

It should not bother us to describe the kingdom of God as small because Jesus says the same thing:

"'The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It's the smallest of all the seeds, but when grown it's taller than the vegetables and becomes a tree so that the birds of the sky come and nest in its branches.' He told them another parable: 'The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into 50 pounds of flour until it spread through all of it.'" (Matt. 13:31-33, HCSB).

Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a tiny mustard seed dropped into the soil and to an insignificant portion of yeast mixed into pounds of flour. Each has a potential impact that is beyond their appearance.

Small Is Subversive

Church leaders in America also tend to think big is good and bigger is better, but Jesus says that small is reflective of the kingdom of God. It starts as something small, but it will not stay small and, ultimately, it will change everything. A revolutionary movement begins with only a handful of subversives, but eventually expands so widely that it can overthrow a king with an army. The subversive kingdom starts small, but ultimately overwhelms the Devil and his minions when Jesus returns as reigning King, replacing the deepest darkness with brilliant light.

Jesus is unembarrassed, unashamed and unperturbed by describing the Kingdom using small things. That is His point. He says the mustard seed "is the smallest of all the seeds." He is emphasizing the smallness of the kingdom of God. But more to the point, He is describing how small can be subversive.

Small Is Normal

Small churches are normal (the typical church has less than 100 in attendance) and can easily reflect the kingdom of God. So, why are so many embarrassed by them? Why do pastors sometimes aspire to leave them (and go on to bigger things)?

Too many church leaders are like the teenage girl who thinks the beautiful actress she sees every day on TV is normal. It is a skewed view of reality. Actually, what's normal (and very valuable) is small churches living on mission in their contexts, being about the business of the kingdom of God.

I think we have forgotten the value of small. We need to relearn that "normal" churches are used by the extraordinary kingdom for subversive effects on the culture.

Feel free to weigh in and discuss.

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Posted:June 28, 2011 at 12:00 am

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Outreach Magazine Column: Small is the Kingdom Big