The Big Deal of Taking Small Steps to Move Closer to God


By Vashti McKenzie

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THE BIG DEAL… shows how to develop a stronger relationship with God and more effective spiritual lifestyle by taking small steps that lead to big changes.
Been running for Jesus a long time
(I’m not tired yet)

Been singing for Jesus a long time
(I’m not tired yet)

Been running by day and praying by night
(I’m not tired yet)

I’ve gotta get going, it’s a mighty hard fight
(No…I’m not tired yet)

I’ve been serving God a long time
(I’m not tired yet)

I’ve been living for God a long time
(I’m not tired yet)

I’ve been praying to the Lord a long time
(I’m not tired yet)
It’s an uphill journey but all I’ve got to say is
(I’m not tired yet)

The old spiritual song lifts you, but you are tired. Or maybe you’re bored. You’re still going to church. You’re still praying. You’re still serving. You’re still giving. Deep within you, faith remains. But you feel a longing.

You’re not seeking fireworks. You’re not a pew-sitter, safe in some spiritual comfort zone, looking for a thrill from the Lord. Your trust in God is secure. But you feel a longing for something more, deeper, fresher.

If you’ve ignored these innermost feelings thinking they’re no big deal, this basic yet dynamic program that Bishop Vashti McKenzie has implemented in more than two hundred churches with astounding results is for you. Individuals who have had many years of Christian life discovered a renewed sense of calling and purpose. Even new believers were invigorated in their faith-building process.

Bishop McKenzie prescribes very small changes-such as adding a mere thirty seconds of prayer daily-that lead to radical closeness to God. And building an enjoyable, meaningful relationship with the Almighty doesn’t mean striving for perfection. Small steps-but meaningful steps-collectively evolve into intimacy with God. And the big deal result is greater ability to biblically address life challenges. The big deal is that you’re even more available to serve family, church, and community: truly in “no ways tired.” Increasing spirituality is incremental, not monumental. Mustard-seed-like increases in positive actions (and corresponding decreases in negative ones) yield mountain-moving growth!


Take the First Step

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.


Discipleship isn't something you learn just by studying it; at some point you have to do it.


We sent you up there to grow the people, not to kill them off!" my presiding elder, the Reverend Edward P. Wilson, was shouting over the telephone. My baptism into pastoral ministry was not going well.

I had been assigned two churches in Chesapeake City, situated in the northeast corner of Maryland, a few miles away from the Delaware and Pennsylvania state lines. When people asked where I served, I'd say, "In a place where if I sneezed, three states would respond with 'God bless you!'"

One was Ebenezer AME Church, a beautiful yellow church at the entrance of a prestigious horse farm, located between fields of ripening corn. The other was Bethel, a historic white-frame church in the city on the shores of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal (also known to locals as the C and D Canal). On Sundays, passing ships invariably would blow their horns, strategically signaling the 11:00 a.m. worship hour.

There were seven members in my city church and a little more than two dozen in the second one. Three of the seven members at Bethel died within the first ninety days of my pastoral administration, leaving only four. Lord, help!

My presiding elder was eminently correct. I was sent to bring life and grow the people, but it just wasn't happening.

When you grow the people, you grow the church and grow the community. Rather than increase, death met me at the door. How was I going to help people grow when half of one church had already died?

How does one person serve as a channel and a catalyst for growth? It is a question I wrestled with during my season with the two congregations in Cecil County, Maryland, and subsequently at Oak Street and Payne Memorial AME churches in Baltimore. The Lord blessed my ministry in often extraordinary and miraculous ways in all four rural and urban congregations—Payne Memorial grew from my original three hundred members on roll in the early 1980s to more than seventeen hundred members before I became the 117th elected and consecrated bishop of the AME Church in 2000.

Nevertheless, the question is as relevant today as it was with my first seven members in Cecil County. I still wrestle with how to help people to grow in my current assignment as the presiding bishop of the Tenth Episcopal District of the AME Church, encompassing the state of Texas, with 202 churches.

I still hear Reverend Wilson's voice reverberating in the recesses of my memory: "We sent you to grow the people…" What I didn't realize was that as Reverend Wilson was challenging me to grow the people, God was challenging me to grow as a preacher, pastor, and person. As I swam the unfamiliar waters of pastoral leadership, God was cultivating the ground of my discipleship. I began to engage more intense and intentional means of growing closer to Christ to discern his will for me and for the people whom I had been charged to lead, the ones already present and the ones to come.

What began as my less than spectacular entry into pastoral leadership set me on a path that has led to my consistent desire to follow Christ as a servant and as a servant leader. I've taken a lot of small steps along the journey.

I believe the path to following Christ will evolve within each person who intends to experience new life by following the commandments of God and walking henceforth in God's holy ways, drawing near with faith. Once we give our lives to Jesus Christ, we want to be fully grown, mature Christians! We want to be grown enough to rightly handle the word of Truth (see 2 Timothy 2:15) and any circumstances, positive or negative, that come our way. We want to immediately know and understand God's will and purpose for our lives so we can live the abundant life Christ died to give us. We want this without realizing that every living creature grows gradually every day until fully matured, and that includes born-again believers.

Taking small steps becomes a big deal when you take the right steps that lead to major change in your life. A luxury car without an engine may look good on the outside, but it can't take you anywhere. Knowing the order of service and a few "church" words may sound good, but it won't take you very far.

If you've ever used stepping-stones to navigate a path in a garden or a rocky piece of land, then you know they help to make your footsteps certain and sure. Stepping-stones are small, so you can make a single step at a time and not be overwhelmed by the elements around you. Faith steps also can be small and deliberate, just like they are on the stones. And just as a landscaper intentionally places stones in certain places and spaces them accordingly, God orders our steps to keep us on a guided path to the places God intends for us (see Psalms 37:23; 119:133). God will make your feet like hinds' feet to walk on high places. The terrain is more challenging, but with feet like a sure-footed mountain deer, you will get to a new level of living (see Psalm 18:33).

Take a Step Forward

I was concerned about growing the church and growing the members in their discipleship. And, after my conversation with the presiding elder, I was especially concerned about the church growing. I had a talk with God about it, and God revealed to me so much more than I could see with my limited human understanding.

God showed me that what I wanted for my churches was what God wanted for me: Let go of the process and trust God for the change you're praying for. God helped me to understand that change is a process, not an event, and that Jesus is the change agent. Movement from one experience to the next characterizes it.

The call to preach and pastor includes, for me, a responsibility to help draw the best out of others and myself along the way. Every time I'm privileged to preach; or teach a class, workshop, or seminar; or write a blog, podcast, or book, I am positioned to assist in whatever way God acts in the lives of those who hear or read my words.

While I operate in that call, I recognize that I am not stepping into the place of God. Rather, fulfilling my call means honoring the sovereignty of God as God operates in the lives that I touch in their various seasons of growth. Working in partnership with God to help people draw out all that God has placed in them means asking God, "How can I get into the flow of what you're doing so I can help others get to what you have placed in them?" It means I must first get into position through the spiritual disciplines of prayer, Word, worship, study, giving, testimony, service, and healthy living that can lead to more faith in God's power than in my own.

It is exciting to participate in birthing the dreams and visions of other people. "Jesus is just like having a baby," said one of my new members of the Chesapeake City Circuit. My face pushed my eyebrows up into my forehead. I waited for her punch line.

"Babies need love, attention, and a lot of stuff!"

I understood the "love and attention" part—that God loved us enough to give us God's Son, Jesus, and that we are to love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. The "stuff" part puzzled me.

When I asked her about what stuff she was referring to, she responded that babies need a lot—car seats, high chairs, cribs, bottles, formula, day care, and safety gates.

"And Jesus?" I pushed further.

"With Jesus it's a new study Bible, Bible study, new members' class, prayer meeting, discipleship class, small-group ministry, tithes, offerings, and church every Sunday," she said with a bit of shock and awe in her voice. "Jesus gets all my love and the church demands all of my attention."

My new member had grabbed the gospel message with one hand and with the other hand held on to her social training. She believed that her old self was deleted and her new self was uploaded by faith through grace.

God deleted brokenness, pride, avarice, selfishness, low self-esteem, shame, abuse, depression, addiction, and hatred with the push of a button. These hindrances would no longer be a stumbling block. God uploaded boatloads of love, peace, joy, purity, mercy, and grace.

The virus that infected her spiritual computer was gone. Her life purpose was no longer compromised by inferior and evil software. At the same time she also believed that she had to handle the stuff that came along with the salvation package. If she got the right equipment, attended the right program, paid the right amount of money, and participated at the right level, she would live a life pleasing to God.

If she did all these things, she'd take a quantum leap from spiritual infancy to maturity, salvation to sanctification overnight. I prayed she wouldn't panic and go back to her old life. As Paul and Barnabas circled back around to strengthen the churches they had planted, I would have to keep circling back with her to provide opportunities for her to grow and mature in her new life in Jesus Christ (see Acts 14). It takes more than gathering data to replace panic with perseverance!

Follow Christ on Purpose All the Way

Moving closer to God is more than the accumulation of knowledge or participation in a program. We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ not by keeping the Law or doing good works. Discipleship is a faith journey that takes a lifetime. It's a marathon, not a hundred-yard dash to the finish line of sanctification.

Rarely does anything major happen overnight. It may appear that an idea, a concept, an artist, a business, or a fashion arrives suddenly into the cultural spotlight. We tag it as an overnight sensation. Most of the time those things were developing in a place off our radar screen. We just didn't see it until it went viral on the Internet, made the talk show rounds where everyone saw it, or was repeated a nauseating number of times on the local and national news programs.

In our spiritual lives, change seldom happens suddenly. Deep down inside us, God is influencing our decisions or confronting our "dark night of the soul." God begins a conversation way off the radar screen of our consciousness. When we finally respond affirmatively to a life in Jesus Christ, it seems like it just happened overnight. But the process started like drops of rainwater seeping through the walls of an underground cave, causing minerals and other materials to grow into stalagmites from the ground up. God moves incrementally, a drop of love at a time, until we can no longer ignore the growth of grace in our hearts. A new divine reality is emerging. Every day we're given an opportunity to make choices that either enhance the growth of grace or hinder it.

As I prepared to deliver a sermon to hundreds of my peers, ministers of nearly every protestant denomination, at the Hampton Ministers' Conference, I considered the circuitous nature of my own growth in grace. As I waited my time to minister to the audience, I considered that there had been a few encouraging words offered when this city girl was assigned to two rural churches. There were also more than a few discouraging words. Everyone, it seemed, had an opinion about the direction my ministry should take. I should wait until a larger assignment became available, since I was a college graduate in seminary. I should wait for an opportunity closer to my home in Baltimore.

But I had prayed for this opportunity!

Early in my ministry, I had been invited practically every Sunday to be a guest preacher in different churches. But I longed to preach in the same place and partner with God in a ministry of reconciliation and transformation. "Lord," I petitioned, "give me a pastoral ministry that reconciles people to God and to each other, a ministry that transforms people who transform churches and communities."

I knew that changed people change the atmosphere of their environment, whether it is a home, a job, a church, or a community. God answered my prayer. As humble as my first assignment was, I was eager to begin, because I knew that a God-ordained assignment beats a human assignment every day, just like a God idea is always better than your good idea!

Our journey of discipleship is rooted in change. It is the only constant, the fact that nothing stays the same, including us. Since the time when Jesus called his first disciples from their fishing boat business, he has challenged those who would follow him to a higher level of living and relating to others. Those of us who accept that call submit to a spiritual journey that molds and shapes us to love the unlovable, to foster peace among the discordant, to help the helpless, and to seek justice for the oppressed.

Jesus inspired people to move out of their religious comfort zone to discover the power that comes from establishing a direct and personal relationship to God. He tore down barriers and built up the downtrodden. Everyone who encountered Jesus was dealt a faith challenge. Some despised him for it. But many, many more have accepted Christ as Savior and Lord and made the choice to follow him.

Most of us want to grow and experience Christ more deeply and fully. Everywhere I go, there are believers seeking. "I do all of those things, but I still feel like something is missing and I want to know what that is. I'm willing to pursue, investigate, change, grow, put down, pick up, set aside, or do whatever is needed to have the kind of deep and impactful relationship to Christ that he shared with Peter, James, and John." Thank God there are those who are still willing and wanting to strengthen their discipleship walk. Those believers want a path of intentional discipleship.

"I almost didn't make it," said my new member of the Chesapeake City Circuit. Her closest friends had a hard time accepting the fact that she'd made a decision to live a life pleasing to God. They didn't make it easy for her after her conversion. She was excited about Jesus and the stuff that came with the salvation package. Yet her friends kept tempting her to make choices that didn't support her new faith in Christ Jesus. "Sometimes I didn't do the right thing, and was hoping God wouldn't give up on me," she said.

Isn't it powerful to know that God will not give up on us? Jesus went back after his resurrection and called together his disciples, because he knew that even though they looked like a cowardly bunch in the aftermath of the crucifixion, the eleven remaining in his inner circle still had potential.

God sees in us what no one else can, and God patiently and consistently kneads it out of our spirit as we yield in obedience. Yielding is the newlywed husband who starts attending church with his wife simply to keep the honeymoon going. He might start off working the parking lot ministry because he can still stand outside and smoke. As he continues in his service and builds relationships with the pastor and other members, he moves from the parking lot to coaching the boys' Little League team. When the season ends, he gets recruited to serve in the male chorus and the usher board. He becomes convinced about the health hazards of smoking and asks for prayer to help him quit, then he does. Eventually, the man is invested in the life of the church to please Christ rather than his wife. Over time, his consistent service moves the pastor to enlist him for training to become a deacon or steward of the church. That describes the growth process of a believer who eventually decides on a path of intentional followship.

Better, Not Perfect

The commitment to moving closer to God does not mean perfection. The point is not to grow into a perfect follower, because no human being is perfect. But surely you resonate with the desire to be better. Media magnate Oprah Winfrey often credits the late Maya Angelou for teaching her a great lesson: "When you know better, you do better."

You want to do better. You want to understand better. You want to live better. You want to think better. You want to serve God better. You want to avoid temptation better. You want to let go of negative behaviors and increase positive ones. You want to expand your circle of friends living in obedience to Christ and narrow your association with people who drain your energy and emotions. You want to manage your finances better so you can give back to God, save for future and unexpected expenses, and bless your family. It's only human to want these things.

How will we get to a better place in our discipleship without being overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problems? Trying to solve all our issues at once is like auditioning for the role of Super Christian. Walking around with a big C on your chest can be a heavy burden, though, and it would take more strength than you have to hold that weight up on your own. God has not designed us so that we would solve all of our problems at once, then live happily ever after, free of trials and challenges.

We learn to cope with our problems through the experiences life presents to us. This means taking small but meaningful steps that collectively evolve into a big deal. Then, the problems that confront us today don't rattle us like they would have ten years ago, because we've been through enough to know that God will provide, that God will make a way, and that God will hide us in the time of trouble, equip us to get through it, or give us the strength to endure.

Nehemiah wanted to make life better for his kinsmen in his beloved city of Jerusalem (see Nehemiah 1), although the Israelites were living under Persian rule and authority. Nehemiah prayed and then chose to facilitate an incremental change by doing what he could do. Repairing their city's walls was the first priority that eventually led to revival (see Nehemiah 8). Nehemiah couldn't fix all of his people's problems, but he could fix the wall.

Like Nehemiah, even in your manageable steps you will encounter forms of opposition—whether deliberate or vicissitudinous. When living life better becomes the goal rather than living life perfectly, we can strive for improvements in a manner that is reasonable and consistent, and that we actually can accomplish.

Every believer who desires to be transformed can be. Transformation happens, as Paul admonished, "by the renewing of your mind" (Rom. 12:2 NIV). Change your mind; change your life.

The process of change is seldom immediate; rather, it is most often a protracted process of growth. At one season of life, we may grow most in Bible study. At other times, we are growing in our prayer life, and then in our giving. Through Bible study and prayer we may become convinced to give greater service and to take better care of ourselves.

Transformation comes through progression, which inspired the premise behind a small-step approach.

The call of discipleship in Jesus Christ is high and unwavering. Methodist icon Charles Wesley was so deeply moved regarding the immense command to be a follower of Jesus, he was inspired to write "A Charge to Keep I Have," which has been a core hymn of the church since the 1700s. Those of us who grew up in the Methodist tradition heard it time and again, whether or not we understood its meaning.

The second verse addresses our call to serve others:

To serve the present age,

My calling to fulfill:

O may it all my powers engage

To do my Master's will!

Over three hundred years ago, Wesley penned these words, having been inspired by the writings a century prior of theologian Matthew Henry:

We have every one of us a charge to keep, an eternal God to glorify, an immortal soul to provide for, needful duty to be done, our generation to serve; and it must be our daily care to keep this charge, for it is the charge of the Lord our Master, who will shortly call us to an account about it.

Our Savior has given us a job to do. And, as Henry asserted, God desires that we give our call everything that we can.

Yes, but How?

"I know what I want but I don't know how to get it," said Derrick while holding tightly to his wife's hand.

"And if it requires time or money, we can't afford it!" his wife, Kimlah, chimed in.

They were longtime members of one of the congregations I pastored in Baltimore. They'd been in church since children; however, they were churched but not changed.

Derrick was excited about a renewed relationship with Jesus Christ, but Kimlah couldn't see how they could add another thing to an already overloaded life. They each had two jobs to support their two children, two private schools with tuition and tons of extracurricular activities for both, two cars, one dog, and the big house of their dreams.

It was a Garden of Gethsemane moment (see Matthew 26:36–46). Jesus was amazed that his disciples couldn't pray with him for one hour. I was amazed at two people who'd invested so much time, talent, and energy in their children and material possessions and couldn't spare time to invest in a relationship with the Salvation of the World!

They were a great couple, very focused on taking the right steps toward having a good life for their family. Yet they seemed disinterested in taking steps to enhance the spiritual growth and development of that family. It's wonderful when we can provide the best life has to offer for our children and ourselves. Life doesn't stop there. God calls us to be courageous and put this life in perspective. Their focus reminded me of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also… But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matt. 6:19–21, 33 NIV)

We desire to honor the responsibility of our call and are eager to please God with our Christian service. We may not know where to begin or how to find the time to do it. We need a strategy for obedience to God and emulating Christ on purpose rather than by merely stumbling upon a strong faith.

How can you give God your all when most of the time it seems like you don't have anything left to give?

In your quest to follow Christ and respond to the high call of your faith, the temptation is to try and confront every challenge and serve every need at the same time, but such attempts will only leave you exhausted and exasperated.

The challenge to serve can feel overwhelming at times. Jesus' twelve disciples had their own experience with the stress of life. They felt they had demonstrated their concern by reminding Jesus that it was time to take a break so the people could go and eat. Jesus would not allow them to dismiss the crowd's hunger. Imagine their shock at Jesus' command: "You give them something to eat" (Mark 6:37 NIV, emphasis added).

"What?!" Surely Peter, if not the others, must have thought, "He must be insane! How are we going to feed all of those people? We don't have that kind of money!" In addition to any logistical concerns they may have had, they informed Jesus it would take eight months' worth of their wages to feed all of those people. These men were overwhelmed by the task they were given in their call to follow Christ.

You may feel crushed by the weight of life's demands, including the "stuff" that comes with discipleship. Situations seem far too great for you to resolve. Thinking in human terms, thirteen men of ordinary means could not possibly have fed more than five thousand people. The Twelve did not see a way to feed all of those people, so they wanted to send them away, literally, every man for himself and his family. They wanted to shut down the challenge by dismissing the crowd rather than to take it on.

God may give you a task that causes your heart to flutter and your mind to respond, "Lord, do you know what you're asking me to do?" You may try to shut the call down if it seems too consuming. You may even try to reason with God: "Lord, how can I start a women's ministry when I'm raising our two children and my husband is stationed overseas for the next eighteen months?"

God's call always demands more of us than we think possible. Moses was overwhelmed by God's call (see Exodus 3) and gave excuses to the Lord at the burning bush. God's angel called to Gideon as the ironic "mighty man of valor" (Judg. 6:12 ESV) while he hid from the Midianites. Elijah hid in a cave after performing the greatest miracle of his ministry, because he was overwhelmed by Jezebel's threat to do him in (see 1 Kings 19:1–10). Jonah contemplated his fate in the belly of a big fish, overwhelmed by God's call to minister to a group of people he thought beneath him (see Jonah 1–2). Peter was overwhelmed by the accusation of being a Jesus follower and cursed at the Roman soldier to assert his innocence (see John 18:15–27).

The call to follow Christ and to serve usually comes in a way we have not conceived. God calls us out of our comfort zone. And even when we have a sincere desire to honor that divine summons, we may feel hindered by the real-world responsibilities of family, job, bills, and other obligations.

You want to obey God, but where do you start? The demands of living, breathing, and working, discovering your divine purpose, and finding your covenant partner are sometimes overwhelming. The job you thought was an answer to all your economic problems is creating more of them. Fear is killing your relationships. Temptation has you on speed dial. Shame is the name of the game, and you've scored a lot of points. Self-sabotage sends you back to a detrimental past, and you keep tripping over the same sins and negative people.

Daily pressures stress out our faith and bog down our minds. Anxiety sneaks up on us, and the energy needed to triumph is depleted far too quickly.

Your faith challenges you to care about those beyond your individual needs and beyond your circle of comfort. The youth ministry needs tutors. The children's ministry needs someone to form a praise dance troupe. Elderly church members need someone to check on them. There are many ways you can be a blessing to those closest to you and those you do not know who are members of your church or community. Jesus not only challenges you to care about the anonymous "them," but also to do something about the problems they face.

So, how do you follow Christ and serve humanity without feeling perpetually overwhelmed? After all, Jesus said in Matthew 11:28, "Come unto me,… and I will give you rest" (KJV), not "I will give you stress"!

You have the call to complete your God-assigned tasks, those special tasks that God calls you to—you know, the ones that God created for you and only you to do. And God equips and empowers you for these assignments. There are also spiritual disciplines that enhance and strengthen discipleship every day, practices available to every follower of Christ for any task: prayer, worship, praise, study, giving, service, sharing, learning, teaching. We're always looking for a new revelation when we haven't been doing what we're already empowered to do.

It seems like a lot when you try to blend your Christian duties into the recipe of your daily living. Growing in grace through the practice of discipleship means being consistent in taking the small steps of faith that lead to big changes in your life. Small steps keep your devotion and service to Christ fresh without being overwhelmed.


On Sale
May 16, 2017
Page Count
304 pages

Vashti McKenzie

About the Author

Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie serves as bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. She is the national chaplain for Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Ebony Magazine included her in its Honor Roll of Great African American Preachers and The Huffington Post honored her as one of 50 Powerful Women Religious Leaders. Described as an “electrifying preacher” she is the author of five books. She has been married for more than forty years to former NBA player, Stan McKenzie. They are the parents of three adult children and have one grandchild.

Learn more about this author