In the two most recent episodes of The iDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls, the focus shifts back to the main trio of Uzuki, Rin, and Mio as they work on their CD debut and prepare for a mini-concert to promote their new CD. Mio is particularly excited about their upcoming concert: she invites all her friends at school and tells them that they should get to the concert site early so they can get good spots. When the concert site turns out to be a stage at a shopping mall, she is worried that all the noise from their concert would disrupt the nearby stores.
Then the actual performance happens, and it turns out to really be just a mall performance: the type of relatively small-scale performance that catches the attention of passersby but does not draw huge crowds or large cheers. And after the concert, there seems to be a look of disappointment on her face, even though as far as we could tell, her performance went off smoothly. (The fact that all her friends were there to cheer for her only made things worse.) As it turns out, she was expecting a major concert, similar to the one she participated in as a backup dancer with established idol Mika earlier in the series. Faced with the reality of her modest debut, compounded with the embarrassment of knowing her friends had been there, she says she wants to quit being an idol.
As much as Mio’s expectations and disappointment are just typical teenager naïvete, I can relate to her feelings, particularly from a perspective of Christian evangelism. Several Christians hear about how God is all-powerful and ready to bring about a great revival, inspiring us to have faith in God to do big things. However, even though God can do big things, reality is oftentimes a lot more modest than we might otherwise expect. In my case, I help out with my church’s young adult ministry. As our church is relatively new–the young adult ministry even more so–we decided to start up a special monthly service on a university campus. Our goal was to reach out to as many of the students there as we could; a group of us even went the day before to hand out flyers. We handed out over a hundred flyers, in the hopes that a decent portion of those people would stop by for a look.
The next day, the people at the service consisted mostly of existing members of the young adult group, with the number of new people from the university around five or so.
This can definitely seem like a disappointing result; at the very least, it certainly was not the great revival we are told God is capable of. This is just one example of a situation that many Christians can find themselves in when evangelizing, expecting something great but finding results far below our expectations. And while one solution is to simply lower our expectations, for Christians, lowering expectations can feel like saying that God is not capable of great things, when we know He certainly is. So how can we deal with this disappointment?
Don’t Take It Personally
One of the reasons Mio wanted to quit after their modest debut concert was because she felt that it was her fault that the concert did not turn out big. (The producer’s poor choice of words, saying the results were “only natural”, didn’t help.) She felt that she had failed as the group’s leader, and as a result she holes up in her house, not wanting to talk to the producer when he tries to get her to come back because it made her only feel worse about her failings.
In evangelism situations where reality falls short of our expectations, a common reaction is wondering if it is somehow our fault–maybe we said something we should not have, or maybe we did not say something we should have. In the case of the university service I mentioned above, it is easy to think, “did we not pray hard enough” or “did we not have enough faith” or the like. Certainly, there is room for considering what changes can be made to make evangelism more successful, but when we take such results personally, when we think that the success or failure of God’s will is based on how good of a performance we turn in, we end up in that legalistic, works-based faith that I warned about in my last Cinderella Girls post.
I think the Parable of the Sower is a good parable to apply here. In that parable, a sower spreads seeds all over a field; some end up on the path and are quickly eaten up by birds, some end up in shallow soil that allows them to sprout quickly but wither soon afterwards, and some end up in thorny soil where their growth is hindered by the thorns around them; only some of the seeds end up in good soil, though those seeds eventually grow into healthy, plentiful grain. The focus of this parable is usually on the seeds as a metaphor of responses to the Gospel: those who hear it and quickly forget about it, those who start out passionate but burn out quickly, those whose worldly desires and worries choke out their growth, and those who grow to be truly fruitful.
However, it’s worth looking at the sower for a bit, and note how he is not criticized at all for what is perhaps a 25% success rate. Jesus never makes any implication that the sower should have only sowed in good soil instead of throwing his seeds out all around, and I think that is significant. As Christians, we are only called to be obedient to God’s command to spread the Gospel and make disciples; we are not responsible for the response of those whom we tell the Gospel to. So as long as we are diligently sowing seeds, we can leave the rest in God’s hands.
Celebrate the Small Successes
The producer was able to convince Mio to return in part by showing her that the event really was a success, even though it was not like the high-energy, large-crowd concert she was expecting. Rather, he simply shows her that the girls were able to bring smiles to the people that were there, which is the most important thing for an aspiring performer.
For Christians, as much as we want God to spark a great revival, we should also celebrate the small victories. We might have only had about five people attend our university service, but those are five people that might not have had a chance to hear the Gospel otherwise. Even if some of those people might have already been Christians, bringing them to the service could be a part of “making disciples”, allowing them to grow and lead more people to Christ in the future. There’s also no saying how many of the 100+ people we handed flyers to might choose to look into Christ later because of our reaching out to them.
Remember that “there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10, ESV). If our evangelism brings even one more person to Christ, that is cause for a heaven-wide celebration. Even if we are not successful in our own direct efforts, we may have simply planted a seed that may sprout somewhere down the line. And in all of this, let’s not forget how evangelism is helping our own growth as Christians.
Keep Believing in a Great God
As a closing note, while Mio probably should not have had such lofty expectations of her first concert, Christians should definitely continue to have faith that God will do great things. After all, our God is a great God, and His will is being done even if the results of our evangelism efforts might suggest otherwise. If we are out and faithfully spreading the word of God to others, but find our results more modest than we would like, my encouragement is to have faith that God is working in the hearts of those we reach out to, celebrate the small victories we get, and otherwise just keep faithfully telling others about Christ.
I should mention here that it’s even more important to note that the Producer is not a God-figure in this parallel, as his humanity is even more clear in these recent episodes. Thankfully, he gets some good development in episode 7… which will be the subject of my next post about this show. In fact, I will dedicate another entire post to episode 7, because that episode was just that amazing. (That, plus episode 8 is delayed one week, so I have time to write it the next episode airs.)