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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Small but Exceedingly Wise (4)

A lizard you can catch with the hand, but it gets into the palaces of the king (Prov. 30:28).

I wish we had a panoramic picture of one of the sieges of Jerusalem that took place during Judah's monarchy, such as by the Egyptians, the Assyrians, or the Babylonians.  What an awesome and fearful sight it must have been to stand by the invading general or king among his entrenched ranks ringing the entire, heavily fortified city.  How many mornings did those generals wake up and gaze on wall upon wall up the steep hillside until, at the very top, the temple of Yahweh stood with the Palace of the Forest of Lebanon in which sat the king of the line of David?  How often did the general rub his beard, wondering how on earth to get inside?  How many useless volleys of arrows did he order to be fired, how many fruitless assaults with the battering ram against the gates, and how many times did he shrug his shoulders and decide to wait it out another day?

And all this time, while the most formidable armies on earth stood outside looking in, in the very center of Solomon's citadel, a lizard skitters silently across a wall.

The lizard is wise, because it proves that access is not guaranteed by size and strength.  In fact, sometimes great size limits access, and something much smaller can reach where the big boys can't.

This is good news for small churches.  From the perspective of a small church, big churches seem to have all the advantages when it comes to reaching people.  They have a big building or "campus" beside a busy road.  They have an advertising budget that puts their message on billboards all over town.  They might have a radio or TV program.  Their preacher might even be a minor Christian celebrity.  Everyone in town knows who they are.  A small church could easily conclude, "If that church isn't reaching them, they can't be reached—certainly not by us."

But the lizard shows us that small churches can reach people with the gospel, because the small-but-wise take advantage of the access that is unique to them.

Imagine that you could draw up a list of every unsaved and lukewarm-Christian acquaintance, worldwide, of every individual in your church.  Probably a lot of names, isn't it?  That list is "the palaces of the king" for your church, the inner sanctum, the sweet spot.  That is where your church can go despite its size.  The big church down the road may also have personal access to some of those people, but not to all of them.  In fact, some of them may not be accessible to any church but yours in the form of the one member of your church who is friends with that person.

Mass-media advertising (including the least expensive and increasingly essential medium, the internet) does help establish what might be called "brand awareness" for your church and what it proclaims.  But rarely does such advertising seal the deal.  Even in our often impersonal, highly marketed culture, most people connect with a church for the first time because someone they know invited them.  A successful invitation and a successful welcome when the invitation is accepted requires an investment of time and attention, but in financial terms it's pretty cheap.

As a matter of fact, it is here once again that a small church actually has it better than a large church.  The larger a church gets, the more publicly attractive it gets, to be sure, and the more unsaved acquaintances it has among its members.  However, its difficulty making guests feel at home and part of something, not just a face in the crowd, becomes greater and greater.  By contrast, an intentional small church can make the seeker feel loved from the get-go, and that love may very well till the soil of his or her heart that allows the seed of the gospel to be deeply—and fruitfully—planted.

If you are a member of a small church, God has given you access to souls that he loves that he has given to no one else.  Are you being faithful to the access he has given you, or are you distracted by how seemingly powerful a large church is?  No matter how impressive they appear, they are still outside the walls of the heart in which you can enter like a lizard.  It's not our size but our lack of wisdom that limits us.

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