Every once in a while I love reading a book that is just a fun read. Malcolm Gladwell writes those kinds of books. If you have never read anything that he has written, you should give him a try. I also like him because he grew up in Elmira, ON, the town in which I now live.
One of my favorite books that he wrote is called David and Goliath. As should be no surprise it is all about the little person overcoming what seems like impossible odds. It is filled with stories of people who succeeded in situations in which it didn’t look like they had any chance whatsoever of succeeding. He describes his book in this way:
David and Goliath is a book about what happens when ordinary people confront giants. By “giants,” I mean powerful opponents of all kinds – from armies and mighty warriors to disability, misfortune, and oppression. Each chapter tells the story of a different person – famous or unknown, ordinary or brilliant – who has faced an outsized challenge and been forced to respond. (p.5)
The biblical story
Most of you know the story of David and Goliath. Some of you have probably preached on the passage in which the story is found. A very young man is sent to visit his brothers who are serving in the army. He brings them a care package from home, from a father who wants to make his sons’ lives a little easier. When David arrives at the battle scene there is a giant walking up and down between the two armies challenging the Jewish army to send out a Jewish champion to fight him.
David doesn’t see the size of the giant. He only hears the insults that are being cast against Israel’s God. He is horrified at what he hears and offers to fight the giant himself. With only a sling he kills the Philistine champion winning the day for the Jewish people.
Gladwell tells this well known story in a slightly different way but he too stresses the victory that came from an unlikely source.
Gladwell’s greatest strength as an author is focusing on unlikely topics and then telling stories that illustrate his point. He is a master story teller. The book may be worth reading just for his different slant on this foundational story of the young man who beat the giant.
Don’t underestimate the small church
As I began reading this book for the second time, I couldn’t help but think of the lessons in it for the small church. There are many but I want to focus on just two.
If you want the full content of the stories in the quote that I am about to pass on, you will have to read the book. It is the lesson in the quote that I am after.
Goliath didn’t get what he wanted, because he was too big. The man from Hollywood was not the parent he wanted to be, because he was too rich. Hotchkiss is not the school it wants to be, because its classes are too small. We all assume that being bigger and stronger and richer is always in our best interest. Vivek Ranadive, a shepherd boy named David, and the principal of Shepaug Valley Middle School will tell you that it isn’t. (p. 62)
It is so easy to buy into the idea in our churches that “bigger and stronger and richer is in our best interest.” That is not necessarily true. There are many healthy small churches that are having an impact on their communities and on the people who form their church family. The small church needs to find and totally accept those qualities that will enable them to have that kind of impact. They will probably be different from the large church but that doesn’t mean that they are any less impactful.
How bad do we want it?
Gladwell tells about a basketball coach who had a less talented team but who had a winning record. One of the things that set that team apart was that they worked harder in practice than any other team. They went full out for two hours every day. They had the seven-second rule that said that if the coaches wanted to correct something or give instructions they had to do it in seven seconds so that the players’ bodies didn’t have time to cool down. Other coaches watched his practices and gave up trying to imitate him. The players knew that they couldn’t win on talent or size. They had to work harder than anyone else if they were going to experience victory.
For a small church to make an impact there has to be a strategy. They need to develop a way by which they can use their size to their advantage but then everyone needs to buy into that strategy so that their passion is evident to everyone they come in contact with.
The full title of Gladwell’s book is David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants. The early church was made up largely of underdogs and misfits. They were mainly people who would never be called upon to make a difference in the Roman Empire. There weren’t very many emperors or governors in those congregations.
What they were though was passionate. They believed that Jesus had died, was buried and on the third day rose again and they carried that message wherever they went. With that message they changed the most powerful empire that the world had ever seen.
Small churches can defeat the giants. They can impact their world. They can make an eternal difference in people’s lives. They will never, however, do it as comfortable Christians going through the motions. Only passionate followers of Jesus Christ willing to pay the price can have the kind of impact that changes worlds.