Not the Greatest, Not Champion, Just Servant
A song titled, “Hall of Fame” by The Script (feat. Will.I.Am) has a chorus that rings:
“You can be the greatest,
You can be the best,
You can be the King Kong banging on your chest,
You can throw your hands up,
You can beat the clock,
You can move a mountain,
You can break rocks,
You can be a master,
Don’t wait for luck,
Dedicate yourself and you gon’ find yourself,
Standing in the hall of fame (yeah),
And the world’s gonna know your name (yeah),
‘Cause you burn with the brightest flame (yeah),
And the world’s gonna know your name (yeah),
And you’ll be on the walls of the hall of fame.”
Sports have always been an intricate, seemingly indispensable, part of my life. As far back as I can remember I was running, jumping, catching, and throwing balls. Sports made a name for me in high school and guaranteed my admittance into college. Like most boys on the playing field, I wanted to be the best. I wanted everyone to know my name. I wasn’t afraid of the competition. I relished it. Unfortunately, that desire for greatness didn’t die when I entered the gospel ministry. It only changed playing fields.
Instead of jumping and shooting, catching and throwing, now I am preaching and writing, teaching and pastoring. The drive to be the best, the desire for everyone to know my name, is still there. Before I reveled in it. Now I have to fight against it. And I know I am not alone in this.
The recent fall and failures of some prominent preachers (here and here) has me and others asking the question again, “Why do I do what I do? What is my motivation?” Whatever the particulars of these men’s indiscretions, it is safe to assume that the trappings of prominence played a role. Consequently, as I lament the failures of these men and others, I am left asking myself, “Am I any different?”
Sports breed competition – winners and losers, achievers and failures. The gospel ministry does, too. Where I grew up, the area churches would at times have what was called “preach offs.” These were essentially preaching competitions between the young preachers in the area – a kind of a bootleg Sunday’s Best for preachers. It was really the worst. It cultivated the covetous heart that lay in us already. Yet, if we are honest, these preach offs continue today, if nowhere else but in our hearts. Too many of us want to be known, have a book on the best seller list, a song on the top of the charts, a church filled to overflowing, a blog read and referenced by thousands. We want to be invited to the largest conferences and given a plenary voice. We all want to win. Paul Miller in his book A Praying Life writes:
“Everyone wants to be a winner. In contrast, Jesus never used his power to show off. He used his power for love. So he wasn’t immediately noticeable. Humility makes you disappear, which is why we avoid it.”
Sports and the ministry are wrought with the prideful. Being in the Hall of Fame and all the world knowing your name may work in the athletic arena, but as we have seen, are disastrous in the kingdom of God.
At times, I’m asked why I don’t speak at more conferences. It’s not because there is something inherently wrong with conferences. Rather, there is something wrong with me. I know I want notoriety. I know I want people to mention my name with others they respect and admire. Therefore, I also know I must guard my heart or I may find my name mentioned amongst those others deem disqualified. The path to the hall of fame often leads to the hall of shame.
In all honesty, the temptation for the pastor today is to want to pastor the world. Multi-campus, multi-site, multi-media have us striving for more, which often times means less – less integrity, less oversight, and less accountability. However, I am slowly learning that if I can faithfully pastor East Point Church (which is challenging enough), why must I look for more? If my name is great in my own home, why must I strive for it to be great in yours? Peter’s inspired words are challenging to me when he said, “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you…” (). No one is called to be pastor to the world, only the flock in your midst.
Brothers, the Apostle Paul reminds us that there is a race to be won (). However, it is not the race that leads to the hall of fame, but the race that leads to the Master’s feet. It is not where everyone will know my name, but where the Master says, “Well done, good and faithful servant” – not the greatest, not champion, just servant.
2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; (ESV)
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. (ESV)