Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Appreciation Need Not Lead to Adulation

Hello everyone! Today I've been working on a mini-devotional for my Greek class. It's based on one of my favorite passages in Mark. It's Mark 10:35-45. 

As you know, verse 45 is the key verse in Mark's Gospel. And in this passage, Jesus' attitude toward leadership stands in marked contrast with that of James and John. In verse 35 these disciples ask Jesus for the moon. Gimme, gimme, gimme. But in verse 45 Jesus speaks only about serving and giving. These two attitudes are set in unreconciliable contrast to each other! I imagine this must have frustrated Jesus no end. Neither James nor John seemed to have understood, let alone assimilated, the meaning and example of Jesus' teaching. They want to occupy thrones. Jesus dies in weakness and shame.

One of the greatest disappointments of teaching is watching students adopt the attitude of James and John toward leadership. I've seen it far too often. Their attitude is exactly the opposite of what Jesus taught. And none of us is entirely free of this false estimation of Christian leadership. Here Jesus presents us with a choice between lifestyles. It's a decision none of us can avoid. We have to choose between prestige and power and humility and service. 

I think we can see this lust for worldly prestige and power in many places today, not least in pastoral ministry. It's easy to turn a pulpit into a kind of throne. In time, this can lead to an inappropriate imitation of people we admire. Some years ago I began noticing how some of my students had come to respect and idolize a well-known Reformed pastor. The pastor himself was a godly and humble man. But such was his influence that some students were given to excessive adulation. One of them planted a church and promptly named himself, "Pastor of Vision and Preaching." He not only thought like his hero but talked and gestured like him. When this happens, I usually dismiss the situation as a matter of adolescent imitation. But surely we should expect these men to outgrow such infantile hero-worship. Jesus calls us along a different path. Christian leadership is not the robe of the emperor but the apron of the slave. Sadly, conscious adulation of great men is found in the church as easily as in society. It can be really hard for us who know and love a great teacher to move on from slavish imitation!

Does the spirit of James and John live on in our lives -- we who are practically ensconced in an evangelical subculture characterized by affluence and superstardomism? Where is the radical departure from the world that Jesus demands from his followers? Where are the Christians who are prepared to identify with unwavering solidarity with the lowliest among us? Who is prepared to put service above status? What a breach of convention and decorum it would be if we could rid ourselves of all worldly titles and honors. We would become human again.

Well, hope this has been helpful food for thought. It's a topic that's a bit hard to talk about, but maybe what I've said will help us make some long-term changes. This matter of hero worship isn't one that's addressed very often.

Have a wonderful day!