Zero-Budget Disciples

Written by Robbie Cansler
From her column Kingdom Come

Big-Picture_articleI serve as pastor of a small urban congregation. We face many of the challenges encountered by other churches of similar size—building maintenance, limited budgets, and tight time frames. With such limitations, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking Kingdom work is impossible here.

The jealousy monster often threatens to consume us. We see larger churches with larger budgets and the good work they are able to do, and, if not careful, we start to fall into the trap. It’s easy to think we need to implement the newest program or hire a great worship leader (whom we can’t afford) to make an impact on our community. Sometimes we consider the big, extravagant vision God has given us for our congregation, but are stricken with fear at trying to carry it out with our limited finances.

Time and again in various studies, I’ve read that the majority of churches in the United States are small, with less than 100 worshipers. So, I am not alone. I speak with other pastors and learn that the challenges I face are not unique. Discouragement always seems a few steps away.

However, making disciples has never been dependent on having the most resources, so this year I set out to challenge our church to host a zero-budget Vacation Bible School. I know that sounds crazy, but I’m learning more and more, that we don’t need to spend thousands, or even hundreds of dollars to communicate the love of God for people.

It was a bit surprising, but everyone loved it. Our games were simple, yet the kids asked to play them again and again. Our decor was homemade, but everyone loved the simplicity (and that they didn’t need to spend three days setting up and tearing down). Our crafts were made from things we had on hand, and the children who missed some nights came back and asked for the extras.

Making disciples has never been dependent on having the most resources.

The big win, however, was not in the fact we were able to host a five-day event without spending any money, but rather that the children were excited to learn about Jesus. One of our activities was making a prayer journal. Another night, they made canvas bags to hold their Bibles. Parents sent me reports all week about how their children were writing in their journals, and were excited to read their Bibles. We also challenged the kids to memorize a Bible verse for the week. They did it with so much excitement, that the adults chose to memorize the verse too.

Discipleship doesn’t have to be expensive. It’s not about having the best praise band, or the best curriculum. While these can be great tools, we have to remember that when Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations,” He was talking to persons who faced some of the very same issues we have. Probably most of those who heard His words were peasants, without power, without influence, and without money, and they certainly didn’t have access to the resources we have at our fingertips today. Many weren’t even able to read, and yet Jesus trusted them with the weighty responsibility to go and make disciples, despite their limitations. That same call is extended to us, to join in the work of the Holy Spirit to make disciples in all nations, starting in our own communities.

Disciple-making sounds big and daunting, but it’s often as simple as just caring for those around us. It can be teaching the children in our midst about simple things like scripture memorization and reading the Bible or taking time to listen closely to the needs of those around us, and trying to meet those needs.

The chasm of comparison with others who have more can be deep, but the grace of God is deeper. The Holy Spirit is at work in our communities and churches, and we are being called even now to join that work—to make disciples wherever we are, with whatever resources we may have. Even if our resources are small, God can turn them into big things for His Kingdom.

Whatever you have, however limited it may seem, submit it to God, then be amazed at how He transforms what you offer into mighty things for His Kingdom.

Rev. Robbie Cansler is an urban church planter/substitute public school teacher who serves the Mission Church of the Nazarene in Hammond, Indiana.