Have you ever lain in bed at night wondering how you could make a greater impact for Christ? My thoughts are usually unrealistic. I imagine that something I write will spread virally and lead to revival or global transformation. I remember when President Ronald Reagan held up a copy of Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October on national television and said it was a good read. Maybe something like that could happen to my book. Why not? Then I come back to reality.
I share this because the first ideas typically reveal how I am a product of my American culture. My first impulse is to launch a large campaign. If I had unlimited funds, I could really get the word out. We need good branding and would use the latest technology. Or I think about ways of expanding my ministry and opening up new opportunities. We’d need to raise funds and get the right endorsements. The more successful the campaign, the more likely people will be to invest. That’s how we get the big numbers, right? But are these ideas where we should begin? To be clear, all have their place at times, and there is certainly nothing wrong with using tools or raising funds. The problem is in mistaking a million-dollar donation or a viral video on Facebook for true success.
What did Jesus do?
He did what was counter-intuitive. He resisted Satan’s temptations in the wilderness, saying no to fame and the shortcuts to success (Matt. 4:8–10). He told people not to talk about his miracles (Matt. 14:22–23; Mark 1:40–45; Luke 5:15–16; John 6:14–15). At times he avoided the crowds. Just when Jesus was picking up some momentum and gaining popularity, he would withdraw to an isolated lace. When his disciples said he should go to Jerusalem, he didn’t.
Jesus didn’t seem to care how influential or powerful a person might be, even though knowing powerful people who can make things happen is typically seen as an advantage to one’s career. Again, to be clear, I believe that fame can be used of God, but it can also detract from or even destroy what God wants done. Far too often, Christian leaders and pastors turn to celebrity influence to accomplish the work that only God’s Spirit can do.
Eugene Peterson and U2
Eugene Peterson was once invited to spend time with the world-renowned rock group U2. The band had been reading some of Peterson’s work, and they wanted to talk with him about it. But Peterson turned down the band’s invitation—for a good reason. He was busy finishing up work on the Old Testament translation of The Message. Someone pressed Peterson about declining the invitation, “Come on Eugene, it was Bono,” they said.
“No,” Peterson answered, “it was Isaiah.” At that moment, Peterson knew what he needed to do, what was most important, and he made it a priority over celebrity influence.
It’s difficult to resist the powerful pull of fame and success. Again, resisting it is not always necessary, but we need wisdom to discern when and how to use it. The world says that if we want to gain life, we must take control and make it happen. But Jesus said we will gain life by giving it up. If we want joy and happiness, the world says, live in this city, wear these clothes, look this way, and have these friends. But Jesus says we should serve others. He showed us that if we want to change the world, go small, not big. Take the last place, not the first.
Like Jesus, Christian leaders must learn to think in ways that are counter to the ways of the world. When the spirit of the age tells them to substitute numerical growth for spiritual maturity, to be hip rather than holy, disciple-making pastors should follow Jesus.
This excerpt has been adapted from Conversion and Discipleship.
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