I Am Not Important

This Sunday I am preaching from John 3:22-36.  Following on the heels of one of the most popular texts in the Bible, this story often gets neglected but serves as one of the clearest ministry models in the New Testament. Let me put it in context for you.

John the Baptizer hits the preaching circuit in full force. He is provocative, confrontational, inflammatory, and offensive. His message stands in stark contrast to the religious world of his day and the commoners love him.  They flock to hear him.  He is baptizing people by the droves. Reporters are itching to get an interview with this crazy desert dweller turned evangelist.  He rocks the establishment.

He even has disciples ... students ... loyal followers who have been transformed by his message of repentance.  John has a devoted team and his ministry is busting at the seams. Outreach Magazine is calling ... "let's get you on that fastest-growing list Johnny."

And then Jesus shows up. Another ministry moves into town ... one that attracts more attendees, baptizes more people, draws more attention.  Suddenly The Baptizer's numbers posts on social media are not quite as impressive as the ministry down river.  And John's disciples take notice. 

Resentment ensues. Jealousy surfaces. And Simultaneous Ministry Success Syndrome takes over. "Have you heard John? That Teacher who we thought was on our team ... the One you raved about ... His numbers are outpacing ours! Everyone is going to Him! Call an emergency staff meeting! What are we going to do? Our attendance is dropping!"

John's response should be framed and posted in every church building and office.  It should be the mantra of every group of Jesus followers on the planet ... and yet.

The Baptizer's reaction? Ministry success is not found where you think it is ... in numbers - baptisms, attendance, money, programs, recognition.  Ministry success is determined by one standard: are we making much of Jesus?

Here is how John articulates it: Jesus must increase but I must decrease.

No seven words in the New Testament challenge me more.  Jesus is important. I am not. The success of a ministry is gauged by how important Jesus is and how unimportant the leaders are. 

To be honest, I am not sure how well this truth fits in the modern evangelical landscape.  We tend to measure success with the yardstick of John's disciples.  We tend to highlight the biggest and fastest-growing. We tend to transform pastors into rock stars.  And we pastors tend to like it.

What would John the Baptizer think about the modern evangelical terrain?  What would he think of our social media driven achievements & our large buildings & our cool appearance & our rock concert style experiences & our measuring rod criterion of success & the pathetic cliches we employ to justify our self-promotion?

I find it interesting that the final words of the forerunner in the Gospel of John remind us that we are not that important but Jesus is. His last spoken words remind us Jesus is Superior. Greater. Better. Grander.  It is all about making Jesus famous.  He must increase and we must decrease.

Jesus can't increase if I am increasing.  I can't make Jesus more important if I am consumed with my own importance.  Jesus can't be in the spotlight if I am standing there.

Confession: I have spent a lot of my life both inside and outside of ministry striving to be important. It is exhausting.  And if we are being frank, there is no finish line.  There's always more people, bigger goals, more money, bigger opportunities, more campuses, more recognition, more followers, more, more, more, bigger, bigger, bigger.  Stop the madness!

He must increase and I must decrease. Period.  Anything less (notice I chose the word less and not more). Anything less is misguided. Foolish. And yes - idolatrous.

Go read John 3:22-36 and let it soak in. And then pray that it becomes our heartbeat - for life, for ministry, for everything.  More about Jesus - Less about me.

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