I officiated a wedding this weekend and was reminded of John the Baptist. John the Baptist was essentially the Christian rock star of the 1st century: huge crowds followed him, everyone retweeted him, and he was on the New York Times best seller list every time he wrote a book. In fact, there were murmurs that maybe John was the Messiah the Jewish people had been waiting so long for. Not bad for a dude who wore camel’s hair and ate locusts.
A pastor friend who counsels me has often used John the Baptist as an example to follow for those of us who struggle with giving ourselves glory as opposed to giving Jesus glory. Often our weird Christian subculture subconsciously molds pastors and leaders to want this type of attention. You see pastors’ mug shots highlighting big time conferences, their names on best selling books and people quoting them left and right. It’s easy to think, “Well I’m as smart, if not smarter, than them…” or “I’m a better speaker or writer than them…” The guys in the mug shots aren’t sinning, but I am when I want what they have or compare myself to them. It’s an easy trap to fall into.
I laugh when people who hear me speak at a wedding tell me something like I heard yesterday, “You’re going to go far!” I wonder what the heck that is supposed to mean? In the business world, this would mean I would move from being an employee of a local store to a top executive in the corporation. In the athletic world, it would mean I would move from the toils of single-A minor league baseball to the bright lights of the majors, perennial all-star games, and eventually an invitation to the hall of fame. I guess the equivalent in the church world would be that I am young and currently pastor a small church that I started, but I’ve got the goods to get hired in at a big megachurch and be famous someday.
“You’re going to go far.”
But the church is not the business world.
The gospel is not a business.
Jesus is not a product.
Jesus used different metrics than the world does, thus the Church is to use a different metric than the business world and is to have different priorities than the world does.
John the Baptist uses a wedding ceremony to help us get our heads wrapped around this. Celebrity culture says: You are the star. Do whatever needed get the spotlight. Set yourself up so you can go far.
If it were a wedding analogy, you’d be the groom. It’s your day. Flash bulbs are popping. Compliments and congratulations are everywhere. Pretty girl by your side. The limo is ready.
So John the Baptist, #1 on the Christian Billboard charts, starts being informed by the Christian media that his star is starting to fade. His books aren’t selling as well and his fans are starting to leave. The reason his popularity is being shaken is because his groupies have found a newer act: Jesus of Nazareth. People are leaving John and following Jesus. What’s worse, the prettiest girl in town (the Church) has left John’s side and is now dating Jesus.
In the business world, this is a red alert situation. It’s time for an emergency executive meeting, a new ad campaign and maybe even a smear campaign against this top competitor. Whatever it takes to go far.
John’s response to ministry leadership is quite different:
John 3:28-30 ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.”
John isn’t the groom, Jesus is. John identifies himself as a friend of the groom–one of the groomsmen.
Can you imagine being in the middle of a wedding ceremony where one of the groomsmen tackles the groom, throws his arm around the bride and starts loudly singing her a love song?
Yet this is what so many of us pastors do with Jesus.
The wedding ceremony is about the groom Jesus and his bride, the Church. It’s not about the groomsmen. The groomsmen are simply supposed to be there holding a sign with an arrow on it–the arrow pointing constantly at Jesus.
John the Baptist understood this. If a groomsmen is getting too much attention and the groom isn’t, the groomsmen is doing something severely wrong.
When I’m tempted to compare myself to another pastor or author (which of course I never do because I’m so spiritual and no spiritual pastor would ever do this…), 1 Corinthians 1:11-13 & 3:4-7 are a huge help:
My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you?
For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings?What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.
In other words: Don’t compare yourself to people because you are all the same. You are all broken, fallen, sinful humans. Now watch what happens when you compare yourself to a holy God, Creator of the universe, Savior of the world, the one to whom you are supposed to be pointing people to…
Jesus died for you! No pastor did.
Act like it.
God is something! No pastor is.
Act like it.
Sobering isn’t it?
If we start thinking it’s about us going far, we are in the wrong vocation.
It’s about Jesus going far.
And the more you look at Jesus’ example, you realize Jesus typically chooses the small places to go far. The master becoming the servant. The one on one conversations. The secret acts of sacrifice. And the cup of cold water in his name.
I could care less if I go far. (Or at least I pray that that will be the constant position of my heart)
What I want to care about is that Jesus goes far. That Jesus’ grace is proclaimed in every megachurch, every conference, every best-selling Christian book, not just the ones I want my name to be on. That Jesus’ grace is proclaimed in every church in my city, every denomination and every church plant around. And as he chooses to use me in whatever small part of this huge process, I want to be eternally grateful. Eternally grateful that I get to serve our Savior and God with my vocation; that I get to be a part of something so much bigger than myself.
Let’s not let people point the arrows at us. And when they do, let’s help them reposition their arrows to Jesus.
The bride isn’t there to marry the groomsman, she’s there to marry the groom. Let’s ensure that everybody knows that.