I was following another man recently out of the grocery store when he – finishing the Starbucks cup in his hand – tossed it into the wind despite the trash can present right at the store exit. The cup bounced and rolled across the parking lot; I saw a weary shopping cart attendant go chase it down.
The man hopped into his truck: a sticker on the back of the truck promised anyone following him that Jesus was the way, the truth, and the life. It occurred to me that, at least for the shopping cart attendant, this man wasn’t doing Jesus’ reputation any favors.
It’s the little things.
I thought about this again when I was walking in a little downtown neighborhood I love. There’s a church there with a clock tower that chimes on the hour, but apparently something’s gone wrong with it. When it started to chime, the chimes were a discordant disaster. It sounded like cymbals banging together. I stopped and laughed, unprepared for the noise. And I noticed an older woman standing next to me had also stopped to do the same. I joked, “Sure sounds historic, doesn’t it?” We laughed together, and then she admitted to me that she was new to the neighborhood and was lost, and did I know the street she was looking for? To my delight, I was able to help her on her way.
Modern churches often approach ministry and evangelism the way that massive corporations approach branding campaigns. There are logos and strategies involved, directives, guidelines, mission statements, breakdowns of demographics and concerns about targeting and retention. But if we invest ourselves in the idea that ministry is a business, we can often miss the important truth: ministry is, many times, the summation of a great deal of little things that accumulate over time into the overwhelming love of Christ.
Small builds on small.
When you introduce yourself to someone new, or give your name, you’re saying something implicit: I’m here and I don’t mind if you approach me. When you start a small-talk conversation with someone you meet on the street or out and about, you’re telling them: It’s okay to engage me. Treat your server like a person and not an automaton who exists to deliver your food and you send a message: you’re valuable and I see you. This is the stuff that opens the door to relationships. It begins a conversation. It creates a beginning.
The inverse of this, of course, is that negative small actions have resonance, too. Treat a shopping cart attendant or an employee like dirt, and they’re not apt to want to engage with you about anything. Show carelessness or disregard for others, and they’ll hear you don’t matter. Walk around with your headphones in and your nose stuck in your phone, and you’re telling people you are inaccessible and unwilling to engage. All your small cruelties toward others build up like the small grains of shifting sand Jesus warns against in Matthew 7. Try to build a house of ministry on that shoddy foundation, and it’ll collapse.
Ministry is so overwhelming to so many people because we see it as a big-picture affair: we look at it as the grand drama of leading someone to Christ. We talk about serving other people as though it’s something we need to gear up and go at with gusto for four hours on a Saturday. In reality, though, the smallest things we do – noticing people, being approachable, sharing a kindness, asking a question, lending a hand – create the foundation of love and ministry.
Small builds on small. Don’t be discouraged if it feels like you’re getting nowhere – the little things matter. And if you’re paying no heed to the little things, it may be time to start. The cumulative impact of all the small, meaningful ways we interact with others can be huge, and we’ll miss it completely if we aren’t tending to them.
Don’t worry about big. Start with little.