What church planters and pastors like me tend to think of as “significant” when it comes to kingdom impact nowadays is often at odds with what Jesus says is significant.
Every church planter I know wants to reach lots of lost people for Jesus. We want to baptize new believers. We want to see lives transformed. We want Christians to grow in Christlikeness and act like Christians.
And because most church planters are big vision type dreamers, we want it to happen on a big scale. And by big scale we mean lots of people.
And that’s great! We should want lots of people to come to know Jesus. But we need to be careful.
The Subtle Significance Of The Kingdom of God
We need to be careful that we don’t redefine what Jesus says is significant in the Kingdom of God. Jesus said the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, or like a little leaven in a lump of dough. (Matt. 13:31-33)
Mustard seeds are tiny. Leaven is invisible. As they respectively grow and spread, they make their impact, but it’s often beneath the surface and hardly noticeable.
By using these two illustrations, Jesus meant to teach that Kingdom work will often appear insignificant and unimpressive to the eyes of the world.
The big impact, according to Jesus, is not in bringing in huge crowds, raising millions of dollars, or baptizing scores of people. Those things are not necessarily a measuring rod of the hand of God’s favor. You can do stuff like that without God (and that ought to terrify us).
In the gospels particularly, the “big” impact Jesus calls the disciples to is doing the work of a servant. “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant” (Matt. 20:26). Did you guys hear that? Jesus said that greatness in the Kingdom of God looks like being a servant.
A servant does thankless tasks. Servants don’t get recognized. They don’t get articles written about them in the paper and they don’t typically have huge followings. They just faithfully do the work assigned to them and it is their Master who gets the acclaim and the attention.
Nobody knows the name of the servant. So why is it that we think “big impact” means the opposite of all that? Why are the greatest successes that are celebrated the stories where buildings are built, attendance swells, and fundraising dollars are flooding in?
It’s because, just like the 12 disciples, we too misunderstand what greatness in the Kingdom of God looks like.
The good news is that according to Jesus, you can faithfully shepherd a flock of 50 Christians and teach them to make disciples until Jesus comes back and have a massive kingdom impact that won’t be fully known or revealed until we stand before Him on the Last Day.
The big question you need to ask yourself is, “Am I OK with that? Or would I be disappointed if that is God’s lot for me?”
The answer to that question will reveal the hidden motives of the heart. If you can’t imagine yourself being content with smaller numbers in insignificant places, you may be living for the glory that comes from man rather than the glory that is from God.
Keep Building, Pastor
Much of what appears to be significant today will turn out to be hay and wood when it’s all said and done, while much of the unsung work of faithful pastors and planters is being built with gold, silver, and precious stones (1 Cor. 3:10-15).
You may not hear about that work. It will often go unnoticed and under-appreciated in the eyes of man. But God sees and God knows.
God may give you a big congregation or a big building, but just remember that has very little to do with the impact you are making.
Impact in the Kingdom of God is underneath the surface, often unnoticed to the untrained Kingdom eye. So, planter or pastor, keep building. Even if no one notices.
Jared Huntley is a church planter and the teaching pastor at Pillar Church of Washington, D.C.
Check out this week’s podcast from In The Trenches as Jared and Logan dive deeper into rethinking the way we evaluate success in ministry!