The Importance of Being Unimportant

Everybody likes to be important. Nobody wants to be expendable. The desire to be great and important is a part of who we are. People don’t like to be meaningless.

To a degree, I think that’s healthy. The desire to be meaningful gives people the motivation to do important things. But sometimes, particularly in church, I think we overstep those bounds.

One thing I’ve noticed while doing ministry is that ministers tend to feel like we’re very important. We work to help people feel affirmed and connected to the Church, and to build a relationship with the Christ and his Church that will last for the rest of their lives, so naturally we feel like we have an important job in the world.

So, in my own experience as a youth minister, when you gather any group of youth ministers together to talk about how their ministry is going, we often tend to express frustration about the kids that don’t show up. One guy will talk about how he recently planned a retreat, and some kids chose to go to a sporting event that weekend instead. Or to a band competition. And then everyone else will echo that frustration. We’ve been there. We’ve all experienced that. We bemoan the lack of commitment that the kids have because they didn’t show up to our activity. We sincerely believe that what we’re offering the absolute best thing for our students that weekend and anything else they do is a lack of commitment to Christ.

But it’s not. What we do in youth group is not necessarily the best way students can serve God. We just sometimes get this sense of importance, without keeping the overall picture in mind. God may do something through a sporting event, or band competition, or a weekend with family, or even an event at another church that those students need. The important thing is that they grow in their relationship with God. Not that they depend on us for that growth.

I absolutely affirm the necessity of being plugged into a church body. I think it’s impossible to come into a good relationship with God without a connection to his Church. But I categorically reject the idea that commitment to Christ and his Church means coming on my youth retreat. Or showing up to the service project I planned.

And this is a reminder that I think some church leaders might need.

We serve Christ’s Church. We may use gifts that God gave us to effectively minister to people, but we’re servants in Christ’s Church. The work that God does is purely because of God’s providence, and not because of our own ability to save.

So when the church make people feel like commitment means coming every time the doors are open, we may have an inflated view of our own importance. When churches advertise the name of the preacher/pastor in bigger letters than the name of the church, I think we’ve claimed ownership of something that we’re only supposed to be servants in. If the church or ministry can’t survive without the work of a particular pastor/minister, then it has supplanted Christ’s church with the Church of Self.

In John 3, John the Baptist’s followers come to John to tell him that Jesus is taking their potential followers. He’s baptizing people and becoming more important than they are. John could get angry or upset, but his response instead is, “He must increase, I must decrease.”

John is a guy who recognized that he wasn’t here for himself. He’s a guy who knew that he was doing more than just tooting his own horn. He was there to point the way to Christ.

And that’s what the Church is supposed to do, too. Not to make itself great and large. Not to make a name for itself. Not to make its pastors rich and influential. The Church is supposed to point to Christ and redirect the glory to him. We must decrease ourselves and make ourselves less. We must make room for Christ who is the only one capable of working any real change in the lives of the people we minister with. If we aren’t pointing to Christ, we aren’t serving his Church, we’re serving ourselves.

May we follow the example of John the Baptist, and decrease our own importance so that Christ can increase. May we point the way to Christ without trying to replace him. May we serve God to the best of our ability, do a lot of good in his Kingdom, and get out of the way.

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