One of the last ministry conversations I had with my grandpa is one that will stick with me for the rest of my life. I was driving home from Prayer Meeting. I was tired. I was discouraged.
I had been pastoring for five months in Vermont, and Prayer Meeting had slowly shrunk as the excitement of having a new pastor ebbed and as summer activities and travel amped up. I had decided to begin a “How To Study the Bible” series in the fall that we would dip into each Wednesday evening before our time of prayer. It was the first Bible study that I had created a graphic for. I advertised it for weeks and sent out special e-mails. I studied and prepared and prayed. Four people showed up that first night.
As I drove home, I remembered that my grandpa, Cordell Baker, had pastored faithfully for over 40 years in several small churches. Surely he had been discouraged at times with the number of those he preached to or taught a Bible study to, so I called him. Here is 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 since then, because it was backed 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). Jesus 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, we are committing two major errors: not valuing Christ highly enough, and not valuing people that Christ values.
The Value of Preaching Christ is Not Dependent on The Number of Listeners
When we tie our value as preachers to the number of people that we are preaching to, what we don’t realize is that we are devaluing the Christ that we preach. Jesus is all-glorious and he is worthy of being proclaimed in both small churches and mega churches, both small towns and large cities.
We devalue Christ when we look down upon preaching him to a small congregation because we are essentially saying, “You are worthy of being proclaimed when there are lots of ears to hear, but when there are fewer ears, I don’t see you for who you are.” When we promote missions we will talk about the fact that Christ is worthy to be proclaimed in a small village among an unreached people group in another country. But do we remember that the same Christ is worthy to be proclaimed in our small churches on Sunday morning? “All things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16b). Since all things were created for him, he is Lord of our small towns today. Jesus is worthy of being proclaimed in all places.
The Value of the People You Preach To is Not Dependent on the Size of Your Church
The other error that can creep into our thinking is not valuing people that Christ values. You don’t have to read far into the Gospels to realize that Jesus often ministered in the small places. He did travel 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 had to wrestle with this before I accepted a call to the least reached state in the U.S., to a church that had 50 people in the pews on a larger Sunday. The church I was in at the time had 300 on an average Sunday. Would I be wasting the gifts that God had given me by preaching to fewer people? As I prayed through this, I was struck by who I would be preaching to there: brothers and sisters in Christ who need to be fed the Word week in and week out, and people who desperately need to know Christ as Savior. The needs of both believers and unbelievers are the same in any church, no matter the size. And the Savior who meets their needs is the same One.
Don’t Disdain What Christ Values
I was encouraged in the importance of preaching Christ my small town while attending a recent Gospel Coalition Small Town Summit. Just as my grandpa reminding me to feed the sheep—no matter how large the flock is—continues to shape my view of preaching week in and week out, there is one phrase I heard there that keeps echoing in my head:
“The gospel does not disdain what is small.”
– Stephen Witmer
At the Small Town Summit, Witmer reminded us that God often works through the small. God saved the world through sending one baby. Jesus trained twelve disciples. The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. Only the Lord knows what he will do with an army of preachers who are committed to expositing God’s Word with precision and passion week in and week out in small churches across America.
Brothers, remember that the value of preaching Christ is not dependent on the number of listeners hearing you preach, but dependent on the value of the Christ that you preach. The supremacy of Christ over all things is what makes preaching him valuable, whether it is to 30 or 3,000 people. So study, and pray, and preach with all the strength that you have, to the glory of God–no matter how many people are in the room.
Tim Counts is the pastor of Northshire Baptist Church in Manchester Center, Vermont. He and his wife Melanie are the proud parents of three young children. You can follow him on Twitter @timothycounts.