Remember the story when James and John asked Jesus if they could sit next to him on the throne in heaven? They had an opportunity to follow Jesus in person and witness his life and ministry and their concern was to jockey for position in the afterlife. We roll our eyes and shake our heads at that story, but as we look in the mirror at ourselves we need to think about how we can have similar pride or ambition and often miss the point.
Matthew 20:16: “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Several years ago my wife and I attended a ministry meeting for a new program at Saddleback Church where Rick Warren is the pastor. A guy at the meeting kept name-dropping the pastor’s wife Kay Warren every time he spoke (which was a lot more than anyone else). It was unneccessary and had nothing to do with the meeting at hand, but he would begin with “I was just talking to Kay last month at a meeting…” or “This reminds me of when I had lunch with Kay one time and…”
Whether your pastor is known all over the world or just in your local community there are people in our congregations who like to cozy up to the pastor for recognition and attention. I’ve experienced this both as a pastor and observing others. Pastors get hounded and approached pretty often by people with self-promoting or self-serving ideas. People generally like to name drop and feel important if they had lunch with the pastor or ran into them at the grocery store and made brief small talk.
Some church people also like to pretend they are associated with a person or ministry whether they really are or not. They talk about how they “sat under” someone’s teaching which makes it sound like they had individual or small group mentoring and training, but really they just attended the church on Sundays like everyone else. Some people only like to volunteer in areas where they will get attention or recognition.
Romans 2:11: “For God does not show favoritism.”
Pastors and leaders can let these things go to their heads as well. TV and internet ministries, leading a congregation of people looking up to you and applying leadership principles from the corporate world a little bit more than Jesus’ servant model can lead to big heads (and often bigger falls). Leadership can also fail by choosing people for leadership positions based on popularity or material factors like money or connections. Churches that have have cameras recording their services often only let people of their choosing sit in prominent seats. Yet throughout the Bible, God continually chooses the humble and broken and least likely people to lead and do great things.
1 Samuel 16:7: “But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Have no regard for his appearance or stature, because I haven’t selected him. God doesn’t look at things like humans do. Humans see only what is visible to the eyes, but the LORD sees into the heart.'”
It’s important for all Christians to follow the example of Christ, “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant…” (Philippians 2:6-7). The night before He died, Jesus showed his disciples how to lead: by serving (washing their feet). Ultimately, he laid down his life for the Church. (And the same people who wanted to be at his side in heaven, were nowhere to be found when he was suffering and dying.)
We’re all a part of God’s family. We should practice humility and realize we’re all on the same team. That goes for pastors, elders, leaders, deacons, teachers, volunteers, members, regulars, visitors and seekers as well. God doesn’t play favorites; we’re all His favorite.
Luke 14:7-11: “When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place.
But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”