As I write this post I am lying on a rubber mattress on the floor of a Christian homeless shelter surrounded by Kingswood students. I don’t know how many floors I have slept on in my life, but definitely more than a few. My life can veer wildly between the Hilton and the hood. The newest version of Survivor is: white collar vs blue collar vs no collar. Some days I am all three. Why, at age 56, am I still driving around in vans, sleeping on floors, and seeking out front lines kind of ministry where the “congregation” might cuss you out or be doing drugs in the bathroom during the worship time ? There is a theological answer to this question, even though it sounds like a Sunday school one: Jesus.
In our celebrity-saturated, CEO-ked culture, where Creflo Dollar can seriously ask for donations because he needs a 65M dollar jet to do ministry, even church folks miss the point about Jesus’ style of leadership. He lead “beside” and taught ” as they were going.” When the Romans came to arrest Jesus, someone had to point out who He was. No spotlight. No corner office with trendy furniture. He was the messiah with no messiah complex. He went to the synagogue but did most of His ministry outside of it. We, on the other hand, love the spotlight, compete for the office, have pretty developed messiah complexes, and, like the Pharisees, do most of our ministry to each other in religious buildings.
I dealt with my own messiah complex a number of years ago when I was a youth evangelist, which is kind of the equivalent of being a Christian rock star. The self dies hard, slowly, and often! I have been climbing down the ladder of success ever since. Now I intentionally do the hard stuff, try not to play the leader-card, and lead “beside” people rather than in front of or behind them. As one of my former students recently tweeted: Bosses say “go”; leaders say “let’s go.” My best teaching moments are not in the traditional classroom, but “as we are going” to ministry sites mostly outside of the church sanctuary.
Don’t get me wrong… I love preaching to the choir. It feels good, pays well, and get’s you promoted! The only problem is that when I am facing the choir, my back is to the world. And the world needs me more than the choir, even though they may not realize it. Like everything else in God’s Kingdom, this seems backwards and upside down to us. We are so addicted to feeling good and being comfortable, that we sometimes mistake those things for God’s blessing. Meanwhile, the Holy Spirit, “the One called alongside to help,” wants to teach us the ways of Jesus, not the ways of Donald Trump or whoever has the most followers on social media at the moment.
So take heart. When you find there is no spotlight on your ministry, it doesn’t pay well ( or anything), and you don’t feel “spiritual,” you might be smack dab in the middle of God’s will. Sure, let’s learn Christ’s Word and His Work, but let’s go even deeper and learn His Ways. Let’s lead beside…