The other day, pastor Ray Ortlund posted a gentle thought on Twitter that resonated with a deep longing in my soul:
Wise pastors lead people not by being impressive, with the people thinking, “Wow, he’s impressive,” but by being unimpressive, bringing real Christianity within reach of the people, so that they start thinking, “Wow, even I could do that, by God’s grace.”— Ray Ortlund (@rayortlund) February 8, 2019
How I want to be unimpressive like that! I’m weary of straining to impress, of carrying the weight of people’s expectations, of trying harder to look humble than to actually be humble. Being a pastor is a constant tug of war between the necessity of private servanthood and the siren call of public accolade. I’m tired of being pulled in two directions. I want to climb off the pedestal, surrender the spotlight, and be content to just be a servant. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Now, there are some people who are always quick to remind me that they don’t actually find me all that impressive. Yes, those people are demoralizing. But I wish my heart responded differently to their critiques. I wish I loved people like them. I wish I gathered them around me and sought out their petty annoyances as an antidote to my addiction to praise. Their criticism exposes how little I love lowliness, and how much I still reflexively grasp for the hollow greatness of human praise.
But oh, to really be like Jesus, who described himself as “gentle and lowly in heart” and actually meant it, not as a spiritual humble-brag but as a genuine invitation into his heart. Into the sweet rest of meekness. Into the wonderful release of laying down the impossible weight of self-importance and taking up the easy yoke of self-forgetfulness. There are many days when, drained by the endless effort of having it all together, I long to just be a mess at Jesus’ feet. Isn’t that what the gospel is all about? And more to the point: shouldn’t that be what Christian leadership is all about?
I want the greatest ambition of my life to be lowliness. It’s not, of course– I still crave the sugar rush of significance. But what if Jesus is right, and true significance isn’t found in the exhausting pursuit of the spotlight, but in laying aside your rights and stooping to serve? “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be the slave of all,” he said. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43-45). If even Jesus himself was a servant, what am I doing, running around like I own the place?
Pastor and theologian John MacArthur wrote, “It’s hard to think much of yourself when you’re a slave to the Servant of all.” I need that self-conception to soak like water into my hard, stubborn heart. The apostle Paul started most of his epistles with that claim: “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus…” And let’s be honest: I’m no Paul. If the greatest mind of the Church was so quick to identify himself as a servant, why do I still think so highly of myself? Humility befits someone of my debased station.
“Oh! to be little in our own eyes!” John Newton once wrote to a friend. “This is the ground-work of every grace.” I’m so tired of trying to inflate my ego. Oh, to be little!
So I’m going to stop trying to aim high, build my platform, attract a following, stand out from the crowd, rise to the top, achieve my dreams, get it together, or any of the other half-baked self-help clichés I’m supposed to pursue. Instead, I want to turn all that advice on its head: aim low, surrender my platform, act faithfully, avoid the spotlight, stoop to the bottom, crucify my dreams, fall apart, and be a slave of the Servant of all.
It won’t look impressive. But it will look a whole lot more like Jesus. And, to me, that sounds like freedom.