Back in the early 1990s when I started out in pastoral ministry and church leadership there was a popular teaching used to inspire Christians to greater heights of service and vision.
‘There came a man sent by God, and his name was John’ reads John 1:6, speaking of John the Baptist.
We were asked to replace the name ‘John’ with our own to encourage us to believe we too had been called by God to do great things. Just as John the Baptist strode out into the Jordan and Judea in response to the call of God, so to we would make our mark on the world.
Of course there is a fine line between an ultruistic desire to change the world and egotistical need for recognition and I’m not entirely sure which was more developed by this reference.
That is not to say that God does not call people and that we should not have an unaffected, humble and life-changing sense of the purpose of God in our lives. Each one of us is significant beyond our comprehension, in terms of our seen and unseen influence on others but mostly because we matter to God.
But I don’t recall us, as we discussed this verse, following on from this starting point with John the Baptist through to the outcome of his call. John lived in the desert, wore animal skins, ate locusts, languished in prison, watched his finest disciples leave to follow another and was beheaded.
While Jesus called him greater than any Old Testament prophet, his entire ministry was designed to make way for another. One of John’s best known statements was that Jesus should become more, and himself less.
Serving God is ever the selfless act and if we substitute our own ambition for his glory we cross over into something different.
None of us carry off selflessness to perfection – even John the Baptist acknowledged a gradual retreat of his own name and a rising up of Christ’s. And many of us forget selflessness altogether and pursue ministry for selfish gain, cloaked in a spiritual mantle.
The telling will be in our ability to lay it down and celebrate its picking up by another. To be beheaded and satisfied that we have done well is the mark of Christian greatness. Now there’s a line we don’t see too often in leadership classes… PH
PS There might be something in this post for Kevin Rudd??!!