Some blogs are diaries – personal and revealing by making you feel you have been invited into the interior of the author’s life. Others are more like almanacs – filled with useful information and resources by pointing you to other people and places. I’m more like the latter. I want to point you to a wonderful example of the diarist who draws you into the interior of his life.
Such is the case here. This is a short excerpt from David Wayne, a pastor in Baltimore, Maryland wrestling with God and cancer. “I have tried to play the good soldier in my battle with cancer but have secretly nursed a grudge at God and felt that He had given me the short end of the stick.”
So he’s up at 3:45 in the morning writing.
I think it’s time to say goodbye to the Christian industrial complex, the evangelical hype and marketing machine that promises life change every Thursday and promises that you, yes, you, and me, yes, me, can change the world. Hogwash. None of us is required to change the world for Christ. Christ has changed the world permanently and none of us can do anything about it. Everyone wants to change the world, no one wants to do the dishes or take out the trash. I would trade every kid who takes a mission trip to change the world for one who would stay home and clean his room, treat his brother like a human being and help mom around the house without being asked twice. Changing the world is easy, the latter is harder and far more Christlike.”
He’s so right! I’ve put it another way. I believe God is equally as interested in our living out what I call the “Good Commission” as in our fulfilling the “Great Commission” of Matthew. In 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, the apostle Paul says “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” We are awash in messages from books, pulpits, speakers and seminars about being active and purposeful, significant and influential but that is not what Paul is describing here. Even though his own life as a pioneer evangelist was marked by unusual intensity his advice to the churches was not to “get all excited” or even to focus on “winning souls” but to make it their ambition to lead a quiet life that would win the respect of outsiders.
We don’t hear that today do we? No one wants a quiet life or to be content with the work of our hands. We want to “make a difference and change the world.”
Let’s be careful about being drawn toward either constant adventure or navel gazing. Instead let’s focus on what Paul describes in Ephesians as becoming mature and examples of changed lives – even if we don’t change the world.
The Idol of Ambition
Because I have been watching the effects on younger ministry leaders being constantly pressured to build larger and larger platforms for their brand and message, I remembered something Brennan Manning said while addressing a retreat of evangelical pastors of large churches: “The greatest idol I find in leaders is ambition.”
While that was quite a few years ago and his audience was megachurches, he could have been talking about how start-up ministries and nonprofits today are saturated with advice and consulting on how to expand their influence and followers. By now, it’s common knowledge that you need an established platform for sales before a publisher will consider working with you. So this means a great deal of time is spent making the rounds of conferences, retweeting any mentions of something you have said and hoping for the big break.
The temptation of building a platform is, ironically, that it seems a perfect fit for the idol for which it is designed. By the time you’ve built it the ambition required to do so has shaped your soul. Our platforms become the gallows upon which our humility is hanged.
The world does not reward obscurity, does it?
These are not temptations reserved for the young. Even now for the older ministry leaders, the attraction of great places, platforms, and recognition is strongly tempting. In some ways even more so. We feel we have less time remaining to make an impact or leave a legacy. I understand that completely.
But doing the truth quietly without display while aiming for maturity will take us in a different direction from the idolatry of unhealthy ambition. Truly it is a gift to be simple.