It was the first meeting for the new Bible study I had launched. I’d picked out the content, planned a get-to-know-you game to start, prepped and prayed the night before that the morning would go well. After arriving a little earlier than was strictly necessary, I arranged the chairs in the room into a circle, imagining smiling faces in every one, just brimming with ideas to share. I had even placed little goodie bags on each seat with a few fun items my soon-to-be friends might want or need for our study.
As the minutes toward ten o’clock ticked away, the knot in my stomach got a little tighter as the door I was staring down remained firmly shut, not a soul walking through it. A nervous thought slithered through my mind: What if no one comes? Five minutes past the top of the hour ticked by, and I felt the armpits of my new sweater begin to dampen. Surely someone would show up…
As the clock hit ten minutes past, I started really getting worried. I was going to all this effort to lead well, but it seemed no one wanted to follow. I looked down at my hands clasped in my lap and, to my horror, I had even forgotten to get dressed that morning!
Thankfully, my alarm awoke me from this bad dream at that exact moment, rescuing me from what can be a very real nightmare when it comes to stepping out in leadership.
When it feels like no one wants to follow when you finally step out to lead, discouragement is hot on our heels making us want to give up. But what if the Lord is using a seeming setback to get to the heart of the matter? When you find yourself feeling called to lead and make space for others to experience community, but aren’t seeing others respond like you’d hoped, start by coming to the Lord with this question:
Why do I show up?
If we show up, lead, and make space for community to be affirmed, get accolades, or have others listen to us talk, then not receiving those things in the form of group attendance or participation could feel like a good reason to quit.
But Jesus didn’t seem to evaluate his ministry on the numbers. He prioritized the hurting people present in a given moment. Sometimes that was huge crowds, and sometimes it was just a few. But what drove him to this heart posture – secure in his identity and confident he was where God wanted him to be in a given moment? Love and obedience.
Jesus showed his love for others by showing up for the one. In the crowd on the way to perform a very public, awe-inspiring healing, he stopped in his tracks for an outcasted and ritually unclean woman (Matthew 9). He sat down to wait for the woman coming to draw water when she was sure her peers would be absent (John 4). Some he even healed privately and ordered not to tell anyone about it (Luke 5). Jesus didn’t seem troubled by an audience of one, and neither should we.
When we’re willing to show up for the one or the many, I really believe God can and will use our willing hearts in ways we may have never expected. Rather than feeling discouraged when your group feels small or attendance feels defeating, ask God how you can pour into the ones who are there. Trust that God has placed you in this position for a purpose, and that he has something for you here, even if it feels “unsuccessful” by the world’s standards.
In addition to love, Jesus also seemed to show up out of obedience to the Father. He says multiple times that he does the will of the Father, not his own will (John 6:38, for example). We can follow his example by going to the people and spaces the Lord calls us obediently, even if we don’t see the need or feel the impact in the ways we traditionally measure such things. Why? Because obedience is never a waste of time. When you show up to the spaces he’s called you, even when others don’t, you are honoring him as Lord of your life and trusting his voice. The mere practice of that obedience has weight for our faith.
Even if, let’s say, we decide eventually that God has something else for us to pour into during this season instead, that time still was not wasted. Because exercising obedience, even when we don’t see the effects in the lives of others, still impacts us. Obedience is a practice that exercises the muscles of our hearts, forever wrestling between doing the will of the Father and following our own.
We can show up for the one, but even without the one, we can honor the Lord by showing up simply out of obedience to his call.
Sure, there’s a place for reevaluating and redirecting our time, talents, and resources if we feel as though we’re not stewarding those as well as we could be. But only the voice of God, not just evaluating attendance rates, can bring clarity to his call on our life. The numbers might inform our stewarding decisions, but they can’t be all we consider.
Because God doesn’t define success the same way we do. Where I see consistent attendance of a few, God sees community all the same. Where I see someone else’s group doing so well, God sees an entirely different assignment that really has little to do with mine at all (John 21:22). When I feel like I’ve failed by the world’s standards, I’m not sure God even uses anywhere close to the same kind of measuring stick.
He sees deep conversations.
He sees intimacy of a few.
He sees loneliness softened.
He sees connection formed.
He sees the quiet one heard.
He sees you following his call.
He sees obedience and trust.
And as his idea of success begins to permeate our perspective, maybe we can begin to shift our questions from Why do I even show up? to Who is it today?
Love ya, friend.
Your Sister, Kimber
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