A guest post by Ashley Hibbard
There are many unhealthy aspects of the Christian “celebrity culture” that has infiltrated almost every corner of the church, but one of the most deadly may be one of the least addressed: the need to be noticed. It seems to me that all too often, the need to be noticed masquerades as leadership.
I once heard an individual go a struggling church leader and offer help if he needed “someone to lead things or run things.” I knew of another, more mature individual who offered his help as “anything you need; anything at all.” While this is only one incident, I have seen evidence of or heard tell of many others like it. And it makes me wonder if we have come to a place where “leaders” have replaced servants, and service has been detached from real, Christ-like leadership.
There’s a couple at a little country church where my Dad does regular pulpit supply. They’re roughly eighty, though they certainly don’t seem like it. She was a school teacher; he worked in some capacity for city public works. I found out on our most recent visit that they have been faithful members of that congregation for fifty-five years. In the absence of a regular minister the last several years, they have in large part been the main contact for the church: their number as the contact number, their email that receives congregational news and information and inquiries, their effort that brings together the worship schedule and updates and announcements, and (I’m sure) a dozen other tasks that help to keep this church spinning. And nearly every week they invite back to their home or out for lunch whoever is guest preaching for them that Sunday. They do it for free. They do it unapplauded. They do it joyfully. They do it faithfully.
The good folks from that little country church have never written a book, and I don’t imagine it would ever enter their minds to do so. No one has ever written a book about them, and I don’t imagine anyone ever will. They would be surprised and probably even a little confused to find someone writing about them in a blog post. But maybe they’re exactly who we need on the big celebrity speaking circuit. Because I don’t see a lot of Jesus-style servant-leaders. I see a lot of people, especially young people, who want to be noticed, who want to do big church growth and write about it, who want to be in charge and preach and teach, but who seem much less interested in welcoming difficult newcomers, journeying with people through pain, and pitching in with Sunday School. Perhaps I’m wrong. I’d love to be wrong. I’d love to learn that these people would be more than content to labour in obscurity if, like 98% of church workers out there, that’s where God called them. But I’m afraid that I’m not wrong.
I’m afraid that celebrity culture has such a pervasive place in society that our young people are coming to believe that ministry is a great opportunity to get noticed rather than to serve. And whether our place is preaching, or teaching, or evangelism, or administration, or dishwashing, first and foremost we are called to be servants who help people to see God more clearly, rather than helping people to see us.
When the people ask Moses to speak to them instead of God, he tells them they’d do better hearing from God (Exodus 20:19).
When the prophets speak it is always, “Thus says Yahweh,” not “Listen to me, folks.”
John the Baptist, whom Jesus would call the greatest Jew ever (Luke 7:28), said that Jesus’ fame had to increase, and his had to decrease (John 3:30)
When Paul sends greetings to the Roman church he first commends the generous (16:10), the selfless and courageous (16:4-5), and the hard-working (16:6).
When an imprisoned Paul reflects on rivals taking advantage of his imprisonment to do more preaching of their own, he is only glad to see the truth spoken (Philippians 1:15-18).
When Paul writes to Philemon, he thanks him for his “refreshing” of the saints (Philemon 7).
I’m not sure that there’s one place where God’s servants are commended for doing a good job of leading things and running things and being in charge. God’s servants who lead in the church are called to patient guidance (1 Peter 5:2), to diffusing controversy (2 Timothy 2:23), to discernment (1 Timothy 5:19-20), to prayer (Acts 6:4), and to teaching (1 Timothy 4:13). Most of the time, if all goes well, only one of those five things will actually be obvious to people in a public “get noticed” sort of setting.
“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45).
The question that we have to ask, and that we have to teach our people to ask, is not “How can I lead?” but “How can I serve?” For as someone once said, everything rises and falls on servantship.
Ashley Hibbard is currently adjunct faculty at Emmanuel Bible College in Kitchener, Ontario. She has a BRE from Great Lakes Bible College (2010), and an M.Div. from Heritage Theological Seminary (2014). She submitted her PhD dissertation, “Deep Calls to Deep: an investigation into a chain of intertextualities between some Genesis narratives and Deuteronomic laws” in August 2019, and is expected to complete her PhD with Trinity College Bristol/ University of Aberdeen in early 2020.