Ever feel overwhelmed by the number and size of the needs around you? Ever wonder how one person can make an impact in this broken world?
One side-effect of the digital age of social media is that we’re constantly made aware of all the tragedies and suffering around the globe: abducted children, famine, sex trafficking, earthquakes, government corruption, hurricanes, war and genocide. Its all coming at us constantly, and too much for any person to take in.
What about the amount of suffering and heartache in just in our own immediate circles? Cancer diagnosis, a miscarriage, job loss, mental illness, quarreling and feuds, etc.
On top of this pile of human suffering, add the fact that weChristians are called to show compassion and love for those in need around us. We’re called to pray for the sick, take a stand for justice, advance peace, love the loveless and forgive the unforgiving. We’re called NOT to run from suffering but walk boldly toward it with the hope of the gospel firm in our grip. We’re to bring light into the darkness, hope to the hopeless, relief to those suffering. “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).
But I get overwhelmed sometimes as I look around this tattered landscape and behold the vast crowd of humanity shuffling about with open wounds from all life’s varied onslaughts. What to do?
I read the (over) familiar story of Jesus’s feeding of the 5,000 recently, and noticed a detail I’ve tended to overlook. Not this time! What’s the secret to feeding 5,000?
12 Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.” 13 He replied, “You give them something to eat.”They answered, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.” 14 (About five thousand men were there.) But he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” 15 The disciples did so, and everyone sat down. 16 Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to distribute to the people. 17 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.
We know the basics: a hungry crowd, a compassionate and powerful Jesus, the doubtful disciples and, of course five loaves of bread and two fish. But Luke gives us a detail about how Jesus went about meeting the vast need surrounding him. He doesn’t wave his hand over the vast crowd and miraculously feed them one by one himself. Instead, he takes an overwhelmingly large crowd of people, each one standing in need, and gathers them into groups of about 50.
Now, its tempting to read too much into the text, but let me take some liberty anyway and draw out a couple practical points about how we should go about ministering in a world that threatens to overwhelm us with all the needs.
- Feeding an entire city of 5,000 is an overwhelming task, but feeding 50 is much more manageable. This is why I prefer small churches. Caring for 5,000 souls in a megachurch seems like a fool’s errand, while shepherding a small flock of 50 seems much more doable (and biblical, I might add).
- Jesus delegates and includes his disciples in the distribution. Likewise with us, Jesus stands ready to heal hearts and satisfy souls, but usually uses you and me to be the conduit. What a remarkable responsibility!
- As a pastor, its typical to see people coming on Sundays to “get fed” by a nourishing sermon. There’s some truth to this image, and I certainly view the sermon as spiritual food to enrich the heart, mind and soul. But I read this story and like to view these groups of 50 as little spiritual communities capable of learning to care for and feed one another whether I’m present or not. Even if the pastor’s sermon is viewed as the main course at the weekly family feast, I’d much prefer to see my congregation of 50 forming into even smaller units that gather regularly to snack together on God’s truth and care for one another’s needs. Our church calls these groups of 3-4 “Huddles”. I’m very excited about this part of our ministry.
So, I’m learning to not look at the world and all its needs as a whole (and get overwhelmed), but rather learning to focus my attention on serving, caring for and loving the 50 people Jesus has placed me with at this time and place.
How about you? Are you guilty of worrying about too many people at once? Do you have a little supportive community in your life? How are you investing yourself in helping feed those within your group?
If you are reading this and feeling overwhelmed, hungry, suffering, lonely, lost or at the end of your rope, let me invite you to join our little MainStreet community of 50 this Sunday at 10AM. We have a place waiting for you!
Grace and peace,