Lessons on greatness from a squirrel
Percy wants to tell you a story. As you read it, keep his dream in mind. I mentioned it
in the Intro to St. Wannabe, but I’ll repeat it here as it sheds light on Percy’s story.
Percy was quite content in his small rural parish. But it all changed after a trip to the big city. Now all the sudden, he thinks he’s called by God to turn his little flock into a megachurch. FYI: He’s not. Percy has a gift for making churches smaller. Not bigger.
Not saying he couldn’t. But his little church is in a little town 100 miles from nowhere. Name:? Smally. There’s nothing mega about it. The biggest store is a mini-mart. Even if the whole town came, he’d have to count the real sheep too to reach his goal of 1000.
So what’s behind Percy’s vision? He’ll admit his confidence has been on life support for 20 years. Except Christmas + Easter. His motto was ‘Go big or go home!’. Until he went home. So did he give up his dream? No. He revised it. His new motto: ‘There’s no place like home! Why go big if you can go home? Just make sure that if you do, you ‘Go big!’
Percy’s rules for going big: #1 Don’t make stupid mistakes. #2 But if you do, learn from it. (Batting zero on #1 + #2) So he added two: #3 ‘Measure twice. Cut once’. #4 If you still mess up, buy a new tape measure. Due to setbacks, he cut #5: ‘Avoid setbacks’
And now I’ll let Percy tell you his story.
In my first year of ministry I had one Scripture text I called my ‘launching pad’ verse. This is the verse that would one day launch me into a ministry that shakes the planet.
“Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things;
I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.”
In my Bible I wrote the word ‘big things’ next to ‘many things’. I underlined ‘big’ 9 times, circled it in hot pink and added 14 stars. I even wrote my own paraphrase.
‘Be faithful in the small role and I’ll put you in charge of a far bigger role.
You can leave the little stuff behind and enjoy your well-earned success.
You’ll upgrade from mini to mega and leave small world in Disneyland.’
Percy’s paraphrase of Matthew 25:21
I took this verse to heart my first year as a pastor. I became zealous in my attention to little things. I embraced them with gusto and a cheerful attitude. Which wasn’t easy.
I baptized a German Shepherd, unclogged the disposal at every social, taught a class of 5th grade boys how to find water with a witching stick. (Don’t ask) And I spent an hour every Saturday night in the church attic, hunting squirrels. Nothing is more distracting during a sermon than the pitter patter of little feet above you. And our ceiling echoes.
Time passed. I was in my 3rd year in the same little town. Doing the same little things for the same little flock. With little to show for all the seeds I had sown in obscurity.
My attitude about little things began to sour. But one day on a hike, I fell. Dropping my Bible. (Tripped over Eddy’s witching stick.) Any guess what verse my Bible opened to!
Renewed with purpose and hope, I returned to my priority of serving others like Jesus. I knew if I’d stay faithful in little stuff, one day big stuff would happen. And then it did!
While unclogging a disposal, I got a call from our denomination’s president. He wanted me to come to headquarters the next day. Sounded like he had something big in mind.
My hour had finally come! The destiny I’d always dreamed of (on Sunday afternoons) was now knocking at my door! A door I was ready to answer! I got a new suit, grabbed my best sermons and drove 8 hours to an airport. Watching a sunset from the plane, I said ‘My moment in the sun is here!’ I spent the whole flight envisioning the next day.
As soon as I entered the President’s office, I knew this day was not going to turn out as I imagined it. I also remembered my wife talking about expectations. But I didn’t listen.
Our president was standing in the hall outside his office. Under the attic hatch door. Next to a ladder. Wearing jeans and a T-shirt and holding a flashlight and a BB gun.
I was speechless. Sweating profusely and frantically trying to hide my sermon notes.
Before I could find a restroom to regain my composure, I fainted. I woke up later to the sound of pitter patter over my head. The President said the very words I pictured him saying. “I have a job in mind for you. It’s not easy. But if anyone can do it, it’s you.”
With that, he led me to the ladder in the hall and gave me a grateful pat on the back.
I swallowed my pride and did the job. Since no one followed me into the attic, no one saw me take out my frustration on a dozen squirrels. My witching stick came in handy.
Flying home, I apologized to God for my selfish motives. I wasn’t trying to help others. I was trying to make a name for myself. And I got one alright: ‘Chief Squirrel Catcher’.
I resolved to keep doing little things whether or not they launched me into greatness.
He must have heard me. Because after I got home, I got a chance to keep my promise.
I came home to a list of phone calls to make and people to visit. Alma Peeples said the disposal was clogged again and Butch asked if I’d teach his boy scout troop how to find water. Wilma Bunn’s German Shepherd died. Guess who she asked to do the eulogy?
Well, it’s 20 years later and so far, nothing big has come my way. But that’s ok. Bigger isn’t always better. We’ve grown in other ways. We’re closer than ever. And not quite so focused on doing big things. But doing little things in secret. All for the sake of love.
Wilma Bunn was a master at this. I only know because she passed away and her family asked me to do her eulogy. Many stories came out of her kindness to others. And what she did, she did in secret. Her family gave me a note she wrote me before her death.
“Pastor Percy, thank you for all the little things you do for us. You think no one sees or knows it’s you. But there’s no way the squirrels found a new home without help. And we both know it wasn’t our deacons. You love like Jesus and you make me want to. I know we aren’t a big important church. But I’ll be in heaven soon. Because of you. And that’s pretty big and important to me. Thank you for being my pastor. Wilma Bunn.”
I tucked that note in my suit pocket as I prepared to leave for her funeral. When I did,
I noticed something on my suit sleeve. Squirrel hair. My wife went to brush it off. But I said “No. Leave it.” She thought I was crazy. But I wore it proudly. A medal of honor.
During service, I saw our President in back. I didn’t know he knew Wilma. He said she wrote him a letter. “She wanted to thank us for sending this church a pastor like you. She also listed an odd assortment of little things you’ve done to serve this little flock.”
Then he said something I never expected someone like him to say to someone like me.
“Percy, every pastor needs a reminder of how important the little things are. Will you speak on this topic at our next convention? I can’t think of anyone better for the job.”
My first thought was ‘He must have read my sermon ‘Serve your way to greatness’. (The one I slid under his door at headquarters.) So I asked the question though I knew the answer. “What prompted you to ask me?” “The squirrel hair on your suit” he said.
The memory humbled me. I remember my attitude when helping him out. “I’m not as humble as you think”. I also admitted my doubts about preaching. “Are you sure? I’m not a very good preacher.” “But you’re a good pastor” he replied. “God’s not looking for good preachers. He wants good shepherds who serve His sheep in the little things”.
“Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.”
Speaking of little things, as we left the sanctuary, we both heard it. The pitter patter of little feet. He took off his suitcoat, looked up at the attic hatch and said “Shall we?”