Assembly-line technology and mass evangelism, both born in the early 20th Century, have the same goal and express similar values: quantity over quality. Success and importance only exist when numbers are multiplied.
Industries scorn the ideas of “hand-crafted,” “hand-made,” and “individual attention.” because they involve investing too much time and energy for so few results. Perhaps the most painful expression of this philosophy is the automated answering service in which a live caller is passed from one digital recording to another until he or she is finally bumped off the line altogether. The value of a human being does not even equate a few minutes of someone’s undivided attention. “It’s not cost effective,” we’re told.
But this utilitarian mentality is nothing new. Just look at the outrage vented against Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, when she wasted an entire bottle of costly perfume, on one person – Jesus (Matthew 26:6-13; John 12:1-7). “Why this waste?” cried the disciples. “We could have helped many people with this.” But Jesus immediately defended Mary and said that wherever people preach the Gospel, they would speak of her actions in memory of her. Jesus validated ministry to individuals. In fact, with just one or two exceptions (e.g. when he healed the ten lepers – Luke 17:11-19), Jesus exemplified this. He only healed the sick, cleansed the lepers, gave sight to the blind, cast out demons, led tax collectors to repentance, raised the dead, and called apostles one at a time.
Yet critics still question the value of wasting time, energy, and resources on individuals. The greatest successes in the church only take place when radio and television broadcasts “reach millions” or when “hundreds come forward” at an evangelistic crusade. Critics condemn building a relationship, establishing trust, and becoming a friend to unbelievers as far too time consuming and inefficient.
Tragically, this scorn for investing so much in so few has not only poisoned church values, but family values. Our own children are not worth the huge investment of our time, patience, and love. We pass that responsibility to minimum-wage laborers while we pursue more worthy endeavors. To my own shame, I am not immune to this flawed thinking.
But Jesus praises and validates the small-scale efforts of individual ministry. He does not measure success and importance based on quantity. That’s why He said of the poor widow’s small gift: “She has given more than all the others” (Mark 12:43). Her gift of two tiny copper coins outweighed all the bags of gold of the rich. Because she gave in love and faith and pure devotion. Quantity meant nothing. Quality of motives and character meant everything.
Dear Jesus, forgive me for my worldly values and for neglecting “the lesser” duties to which You have called me. Help me to realize that it’s not what I do that determines whether my work is sacred or secular, but why I do it. Amen.
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