My very first ministry position would have been the envy of most pastors. At 23, I was hired to be a part of a growing megachurch known for cool and innovative strategies and skilled at bringing in hundreds who had no interest in church or Jesus. It was an exciting, high-energy, and very comfortable culture to be in. I loved it. Then at age 26, Jesus told me to resign from my position.There were many factors that lead to that happening, but the greatest was this:
It was an easy practice to fall into. I was rewarded for my creativity, lauded when I could make a room laugh, and affirmed when I dropped shocking truth bombs from the stage— all in the name of Jesus. The problem was there was very little Jesus involved, despite what I told myself. I was serving my ego while calling it ministry. And nobody noticed.
Young church leaders often live with a tension of two competing desires. We want to humbly and faithfully serve Jesus, but we also want others to notice our humility and faithfulness. We likely have dreams of our influence and authority growing. We long for the day when we’re a few more rungs up the ladder. The truth is we all have an ego that wants feeding, so…
We say something humble around someone who carries a lot of influence.
We fish for compliments from our volunteers.
We encourage our boss knowing they’ll think of us as encouraging in return.
We know how to manipulate a situation or conversation all while coming off as the model servant. Simply put, we all know how to perform.
Jesus had many chances to be a performer—to give the people exactly what they thought they wanted. In fact, not long after performing his first miracle in John 2, it says that many came to trust in him because of the signs he was performing. However, Jesus wasn’t going to fall into the performance trap:
24 But Jesus didn’t trust them, because he knew all about people. 25 No one needed to tell him about human nature, for he knew what was in each person’s heart. (John 2:24-25, NLT)
Jesus himself was concerned with the heart of men. In dealing with skeptics, Pharisees, Gentiles, and even his own disciples he never looked at outward appearances, he always looked at the heart. That’s all Jesus ever sees or is concerned about. If ever I find myself in a habit of performing and I feel like I need to be reminded that I am a servant of Jesus before all else, then I reflect on one question I ask myself:
“Do I think Jesus is impressed by me?”
The answer is always an immediate ‘no.’ I can impress my students, my volunteers, my boss, and my elders if that’s really where I want to place my energy. I’m good at performing and so are you, but I won’t ever impress Jesus.
I know Jesus loves me. I know Jesus is proud of me. I know Jesus wants me to succeed. I know Jesus wants to bless and change lives through me, his servant. But I also know that I’m never going to surprise Jesus with my humility and attempts at holiness.
Jesus is never going to be taken aback by our awesomeness.
I think of Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Luke:
Students are not greater than their teacher. But the student who is fully trained will become like the teacher. (Luke 6:40, NLT)
When we genuinely embrace the servant role, the focus will always be on Jesus. When we embody the performer role, the spotlight is in a place it was never intended. The best and most long-lasting fruit comes from imitating Jesus, who came not to be served, but to serve. Let’s continue being students to the teaching of Jesus. The Kingdom of God is too important for our own egos to be placed in charge.