I remember after writing my first book getting the opportunity to teach from it at my church. It was really more of a workbook. Self-published and something I used in my high school classes. A tool for my students. But nevertheless, my pastor asked me to teach a class on apologetics and encouraged me to use and promote my newest source of pride.
I was elated and jumped at the opportunity. I had a few weeks to prepare so in the meantime, we advertised in the bulletin, website, and the pulpit. I was getting boatloads of ego thrown all over me, week after week. When the time came, I was ready. And I naturally expected a standing room only crowd and book sales galore. After all, I was the expert, prepared to wax eloquently on subject matter few could comprehend.
I may have even gone so far as to convince myself that this single gig, in my midsized home church in southeastern Michigan, would somehow catapult my writing and speaking career into overdrive. I had myself convinced it was my time to shine and that I deserved it.
That’s how many showed up. Four. More than just a slice of humble pie, the entire thing was tossed in my face. It was one of those moments you are on the edge of an important and perhaps life-changing decision. Do I cancel the class? After all, anything less than a few hundred people is not worth my time right? Or do I proceed? But what if next week, I am sitting, waiting and no one shows up at all?
I taught the class, but I was angry, frustrated, belittled. And I was wrong. I was so wrapped up in how many people, what it would do for me, my career, book sales and such. I ignored the revolutionary notion that the people that did show up were actually interested in what I had to say and wanted to learn more about apologetics and how to share their faith.
I nearly blew it
Thankfully I made the right choice, but I am not sure that my attitude was right until nearly the end of the five-week class. But I learned (or perhaps relearned), my goal shouldn’t be how many butts are in the seats but how many disciples I am making. It forced me to consider the power of a smaller more intimate setting. It forced me to reorient my focus from myself to Christ.
I had to consider, given a choice, which is better: creating a space where thousands can show up, or space where real authentic discipleship can happen? There is a reason there are limits on students in a school classroom. The more students you are trying to teach at once, the fewer are actually learning. I believe the same is true in making disciples. The more students you cram into a room and preach at, the fewer you are likely to be disciplining.
You already knew all of that
You know that the best discipleship happens in smaller settings. You know that even the best sermons really only reach a few people resulting in lasting change. That’s kind of the point with small groups. But our flesh cries out for recognition, fame, importance, notches on our spiritual belt, and attendance numbers. We take good things like baptisms and conversions and misplace them as metrics for discipleship.
So whatever area of ministry you are in and whatever sermon, mission trip, special event, or class you are preparing for; be sure to think through how you are creating the necessary space for discipleship to happen, not just fill seats.