Learning from lizards about church growth
Churches are very impressed by size – over-impressed, really. We like reading stories of dramatic growth. The congregation that attracts hundreds of worshippers on Sunday is badged as a success. So is the author whose works sell tens of thousands of copies and who's a regular on the Christian conference circuit, or the ministry that's a household name (at least in Christian circles) and is seen as a mover and shaker of events. And if you want to just how important someone is today, you can look at the number of Twitter followers they have. It's not an infallible guide – for a fee, you can acquire thousands – but it can make us think these people are worth listening to.
But Christians need to be careful not to play the world's game. There are some verses in Proverbs 30, drawn from keen observations of nature, that we ought to heed.
Four things on earth are small,
yet they are extremely wise:
Ants are creatures of little strength
yet they store up their food in the summer;
hyraxes are creatures of little power,
yet they make their home in the crags;
locusts have no king,
yet they advance together in ranks;
a lizard can be caught with the hand,
yet it is found in kings' palaces.
None of these creatures is, on the face of it, particularly significant. But their seeming powerlessness – the hyrax is a small rodent-like creature – is deceptive. They know enough to survive and prosper. They have their place in God's scheme of things.
The Bible tells big stories about important people – kings, counsellors and prophets. But it also speaks of very ordinary people, many of them nameless, who still have a place in God's story. Most of us are far more like them than we are like the heroes who bestride its pages – we are the ants, or the hyraxes, rather than the lions and leopards.
God has a special love for small people. As Jesus said, 'Many who are last will be first, and the first will be last' (Matthew 19:30). In the heavenly kingdom it will not be the megachurch preacher who has the place of highest honour; it will probably be the person who swept up after the services. The ones who were barely noticed will be honoured; the ones whose contributions were hardly valued will be praised. The little lizard is at home in the palace.
When the British troops surrendered at Yorktown in the American War of Independence, they were serenaded out of the city by the victors' bandsmen playing The World Turned Upside Down. God turns the world upside down, too. We had better start getting used to it and learn to be less impressed by size and success.
Follow Mark Woods on Twitter: @RevMarkWoods