Some pediatric researchers estimate that 5 million minors have lost a parent or caregiver due to Covid-19. “The impact on a psychological level is very strong”, explains a Christian psychologist.
While the world is quick to celebrate the strong and mighty, the large and powerful – the Lord has a special place in His heart for the small, the weak, the overlooked, and the ones society barely notices. This is especially true in the case of little children and little churches.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14). On one occasion, Jesus “took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in His arms, Jesus said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me” (Mark 9:36-37).
No one loves little children more than Jesus; not even their parents. The lyrics of a popular children’s song convey God’s attitude: “Jesus loves the little children, All the children of the world, Red and yellow, black and white, They are precious in His sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
It is no wonder Jesus gave this warning: “If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matthew 18:6).
Jesus told His disciples: “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in Heaven always see the face of my Father in Heaven” (Matthew 18:10). While the world tends to look right past little children and little churches, Jesus loves them dearly.
“God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him” (1 Cor. 1:27-28).
Many congregations are relatively small, and even more churches have garnered this label over the past two years of COVID-related social distancing and an overall decrease in church attendance. And yet the Holy Spirit is not limited in accomplishing His powerful work in churches that are small in number, yet strong in faith and obedience.
Chapters 2 and 3 in the book of Revelation contain seven letters from Jesus to seven congregations in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). In five of those letters, Christ identified particular problems in the congregations, while only two of the letters contained no such corrections. One of those two churches was the church in Philadelphia, which was a small congregation of believers.
You see, the size of a church is not what determines the Lord’s approval or displeasure. Instead, Jesus is pleased by the faith, love, sacrificial service, spiritual growth, persistence, faithfulness to Scripture, obedience, and graciousness in the lives of the Christians in the church. This has always been God’s measuring stick for those who belong to “the body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:27).
Jesus loves little children and little churches, and believers have been given a high calling. We are not called to impress the world or to achieve some worldly measure of success. Instead, we are called to humbly serve the King who gave His life on the cross for our eternal salvation.
In his book, Strategically Small Church, Brandon O’Brien writes, “Instead of illustrating the dominant narrative of success, the Bible testifies to the narrative most pastors experience — the narrative of obscurity. Sometimes faithfulness to God’s work results in the sudden shrinking of a group of followers. People left Jesus in droves when His teaching struck too near to the bone.”
O’Brien suggests that we “adjust our mental image of the size and success of the early Church. The three thousand that responded to Peter’s message were dispersed over an area twice the size of Texas and separated by the Mediterranean Sea. Pentecost may have been the first mass revival in history, but it did not create the first mega-church. Instead, Acts 2 records the birth of many small — even micro — congregations.”
It should not surprise us then today that the vast majority of Christian congregations have fewer than 100 people in attendance. The Hartford Institute for Religion Research reports that “the median church in the U.S. has 75 regular participants in worship on Sunday mornings.”
Thankfully, Jesus loves churches of all sizes and people of all ages. During the three years of Christ’s earthly ministry, He chose to spend much of His time teaching, discipling, and mentoring those in His small inner circle of followers. And the impact of Christ’s intentional and relational ministry has been transforming lives for 2000 years wherever believers have implemented the Lord’s life-changing model of discipleship.
The Holy Spirit empowers Christians who trust, love, and obey Jesus, regardless of the size of their family or the number of people in their congregation.
Jesus teaches us how to effectively raise children and how to effectively make disciples. Our focus should always be on individual people rather than on numbers. If and when the Lord chooses to increase the number of people in a family or in a congregation, our task remains the same. God wants us to become mature disciples, and to assist others in becoming spiritually mature as well.
The Holy Spirit helps believers grow in the grace, love, and knowledge of Jesus Christ. The fact that Jesus loves little children and little churches so much is a huge motivator to “press on toward the goal to win the prize” (Philippians 3:14). Believers are free to focus on Christ rather than on numbers.
Our goal is to please our King and Savior, and one day to hear these words: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness” (Matthew 25:23).
So don’t be surprised when the world continues to ignore the very things that cause angels to rejoice in Heaven! (Luke 15:7,10).
Dan Delzell is the pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Papillion, Nebraska.
Originally published on The Christian Post
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