How We See Success In the Kingdom

lens-1webI’m about to do something brave.  I mean really brave.  At least for a conflict-averse, fairly-extreme introvert who loves to be nestled in her studio illustrating in watercolor or working on a list of writing projects, it feels really brave.

When Up for Debate on Moody radio contacted me some time ago and asked me to be a part of a show discussing whether or not it is OK for pastors to be celebrities, the name of the program was enough for me to want to say no.  I just do not do debate.  Debate is for politicians and apologists, of which I am neither. I explained this.  They still wanted me on and I might just be the most reluctant radio guest they have ever had.  Still.

The program is tomorrow and I am sorting my thoughts.  So I thought we could sort them together, you and I.  My counterpart in the conversation has a speaker’s bureau and reportedly will be sharing the point of view that a large platform is fine because it is simply a place of influence.  I have absolutely no argument with that.  At all. *Sigh*  It might be a less than thrilling debate.

To me platform size is irrelevant. Biblically and historically, every generation has had its well-known leaders and voices, some of which that are still heard today.  Of course God raises up leaders to carry His heart and become the message they are called to bring and in so doing reach and influence many.

The problem isn’t having a platform.  The problem comes when that platform becomes our focus and when its size becomes the defining measure of our success.  A platform that comes as the by-product of a love-based, faithful journey lived focused on Jesus is a beautiful thing.  But in our social media savvy, hyper-connected world it is possible for someone to wind up virtually overnight with a massive platform he/she doesn’t have the wisdom,  maturity or even calling to steward.  Gifts can take you where character can’t keep you.

There is a celebrity subculture that has crept in at the edges in many places in the Church that is deeply concerning.  Here leaders often find themselves balancing on pedestals {in many cases not of their own making} instead of standing on platforms.  And that is a very perilous place.  Platforms are places of influence.  Pedestals are places of idolatry.

Anyone who knows me, knows I’m a certified green room escape artist.  Green rooms can be wonderful places to regroup. But when the business cards start swapping and the elbows rubbing, I duck and run.  I want to hang out with the folks I came to serve.  To be honest, often the most fruitful times of ministry happen over cups of coffee far away from the podium and stage.

The celebrity mentality and the oft ensuing dance of pedestals can cripple the Church.  To the degree we feel it necessary to run after our 5 or 10 favorite speakers or the next major event in order to find what we need in the Kingdom, we are in danger of missing the point.  Can we receive valuable input from speakers and events and truly encounter God?  Absolutely.  But if we make the primary context of meeting Him so-&-so’s ministry or the next conference we can attend, we risk missing the daily invitation to forge our own history with God.

I am grateful for every person, event and place that have played parts in my growth deeper in Jesus. But I am who I am not because a famous speaker prayed for me in a ministry line or because of an event I attended.  I am who I am in Jesus because of what He has done in my life in the hidden seasons and the secret places of meeting Him, as well as the authentic relationships and the community of faith that surround my life and journey.

There is a crucial difference between fame that’s a by-product of following Jesus and fame that comes from pursuing it as our focal point.  We create the benchmark of success for the next generation by what we celebrate in our own.  The goal isn’t to be well known, build a larger social media empire or climb the religious corporate ladder but rather scandalous abandoned love poured out on the feet of Jesus. He is our focus and the rest is simply the overflow of a growing relationship with Him.

What we understand the definition of ministry success to be in this upside down inside out Kingdom becomes the lens that colors our journey.