I’ll never forget one of the last conversations I had with my grandpa. I was driving home from my church’s prayer meeting. I was tired. I was discouraged.
I had been pastoring for five months in Vermont. Our prayer meeting attendance had slowly dwindled. The excitement of having a new pastor ebbed, and summer activities and travel amped up. I’d decided to begin a “How To Study the Bible” series in the fall that we would go through on Wednesday evenings before our time of prayer. It was the first Bible study I’d created a graphic for. I advertised it for weeks and weeks. I sent out special e-mails. I studied and prepared and prayed.
Four people showed up.
As I drove home, I remembered that my grandpa had pastored faithfully for over 40 years in several small churches. Surely he had been discouraged about the number of people he preached to or taught a Bible study to. So I called him.
Here’s what he said that I will never forget: “God’s job is to worry about the number of sheep. Your job is to feed the sheep.”
What my grandpa taught me that night has echoed in my mind again and again. And he backed it up with the faithfulness of his life. He had consistently fed the sheep that God gave him even as he served in hard places like a small town in Utah.
Jesus told Peter: “Feed my sheep” (John 21:17). He didn’t tell Peter to only feed the sheep if the pasture was overflowing. If we think that Christ is only worthy of being preached to a larger church, or to vast amounts of people, or even to a growing amount of people, then we’re committing two major errors: we’re not valuing Christ highly enough, and we’re not valuing the people Christ values.
THE VALUE OF PREACHING CHRIST ISN’T DEPENDENT ON THE NUMBER OF HEARERS
When we tie our value as preachers to the number of people we’re preaching to, we devalue the Christ we preach. We forget that Jesus himself attended to small, even dwindling groups. Jesus is all-glorious. He is worthy of being proclaimed in both small churches and mega churches, both small towns and large cities.
When we promote missions work, we often talk about the fact that Christ is worthy to be proclaimed among every unreached people group in every country and every village, no matter how small or obscure. The same is true outside the mission field. He’s worthy to be proclaimed in every church, no matter how small or obscure.
THE VALUE OF THE PEOPLE YOU PREACH TO IS NOT DEPENDENT ON THE SIZE OF YOUR CHURCH
You don’t have to read far into the Gospels to realize that Jesus often ministered in the small places. He traveled to Jerusalem now and then, but he spent the bulk of his time in out-of-the-way places with people that were often looked down upon by the cultural elite. Yes, Jesus preached to thousands. But Jesus also healed one man with a withered hand in one small synagogue in small-town Galilee. And he preached in the small towns again and again (Mark 1:38).
I wrestled with this before I started pastoring in Vermont, the least-reached state in the U.S. On its best Sundays, the church had 50 people in the pews. The church I was in at the time had 300 on an average Sunday. I felt the temptation to think, Would I be wasting the gifts God had given me by preaching to fewer people?
But as I prayed through this, God helped me to see that this church was filled with brothers and sisters in Christ who needed to be fed the Word week in and week out. And this state was filled with people who desperately needed to know Christ as Savior. The needs of both believers and unbelievers are the same in any church, no matter the size.
DON’T DISDAIN WHAT CHRIST VALUES
I recently attended a gathering of small-town pastors and heard something that reminded me of my grandpa. Pastor Stephen Witmer said, “The gospel does not disdain what is small.”
He’s right. Witmer reminded us that God often works through small things. God saved the world through sending one baby. Jesus trained 12 disciples. The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. Only the Lord knows what he will do with an army of preachers committed to expositing God’s Word with precision and passion week in and week out in small churches across America.
Brothers, it bears repeating because we can be so tempted to believe otherwise: the value of preaching Christ is not dependent on the number of your listeners. The value of preaching is in Christ himself. His supremacy over all things makes all preaching valuable, whether it’s to 30 or 3,000 people.
So, to the glory of God, study and pray and preach with all your strength—no matter how many people are in the room.
Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared at the 9Marks blog and is used with permission.