Recent comments by presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann have stirred up the discussion about gay marriage once again. While speaking to a group of high school…
You reminded me of Joyce Meyer, she said.
I didn’t wince.
I would have, once, though. I don’t agree with everything Joyce Meyer says. Some of it is great. And other parts…well, other parts are maybe not as great.
But I have come to respect this lady’s immense skill at delivering her message when preaching. Irrespective of some occasional question marks over some of her content, she knows how to connect with a congregation; she understands the importance of truth through personality when preaching.
So I took this statement from an African-origin lady as a massive compliment in respect of my preaching in the Bible college chapel that week. An over-generous one, for sure. But definitely a compliment for an introverted white-girl preacher from England whose default setting would be to preach like a quiet English girl. To be compared with Joyce Meyer is a pretty awesome comparison, in fact.
But it was what came next that threw me.
Do you have a ministry, she said. You should have a bigger ministry, a travelling one. Not just the church you lead.
And when I demurred, taking it perhaps as lack of faith, she said, Pray about it.
This time, I did wince.
I know she meant it well. She was paying me a high compliment, one which I consider to have been loftier than the true assessment of my preach. And I was honoured. Of course I was.
But it made me start to think.
Why do we assume that success in Christian ministry means bigger platforms, larger crowds, more adoring listeners? Why do we suppose that a certain degree of gifting demands a stage of equivalent size? Why do we find it hard to conceive that to pastor one little church for all of our days might well be God’s true will for our lives, his determination of the appropriate use of the gifts which he has given to us?
I am not immune; I do this too.
I claim that I must focus on the roots of my tree, deepening them ever-more in a search for the water of life. I even go public on my blog about it. A statement that spiritual depth is what matters. A declaration that if the branches of the tree which is my life grow wider and higher in their reach, then that is up to God; I will not promote myself because promotion comes only from the Lord.
And yet within four weeks or so, I have already got myself confused about this. I start to focus on growing my reach. I don’t forget the roots, but they become one priority among many. I begin to succumb to the cult of Christian ministry. I too assume that success means a platform.
Until God whispers in my heart one day.
Until the next day when he sends another to discern my heart and ask me what I think I’m doing.
And I remember the truth I have always known. The truth that to be a minister is to labour in the field which God gives us, not the one we think should be ours. That the work of God is often hidden to the world, though our Father in heaven sees it. And that the cross redefines the way of success every time.
I need this to be the theme of my life. A life which chooses the way of the cross over a platform. A life which can look at the gifts which God has bestowed and yet be willing to use them wherever he decides, rather than to seek my own ‘bigger ministry’ wherever I decide.
I am grateful for the kindness of those who honour me with compliments too big for me. There is a ministry of encouragement in such things.
But I need others in my life too.
The ones who will remind me with just one look that
to be a minister is to walk in the way of the cross.
The ones who are not impressed by me
but can ask the right questions, bring the needed rebukes.
The ones who, even as they celebrate my joys in ministry,
will perceive the state of my heart and hold it to its true call.
And so, lovely as the compliments from others are, these are the ones whose words matter most to me. These are the ones with whom I can trust my heart.
But, enough of me; what about you? Do you have those who will remind you of the true call in your life, a call which leads us downwards, a call away from the glory of the flesh and towards the glory of the One who became flesh? And, if not, how could you start to become open to receiving – and, indeed, offering – such friendship?