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Ambition, Fame and Our Obsession With Numbers

“If your life is motivated by your ambition to leave a legacy, what you’ll probably leave as a legacy is ambition.” — Rich Mullins

For most of my life, I’ve been surrounded by ambitious people, but never as much as since I’ve been in full-time ministry. 

It seems everybody wants to do, have and be more … regardless of how much they’ve already done. Start their own ministry, or plant a church. Write a book. Get another degree. Develop a successful blog. Increase their Twitter or social media followers. Have another kid.

Yes, even that.

And I’ve wrestled with my own drive, and desire to do something worthwhile in this world. I’ve questioned my motives and character along the way. 

What strikes me is how easy it is for those of us who are Christians or ministers to overlook some of the messages and warnings of Jesus, as if they didn’t apply to us in this day and age

So here’s what I’ve been reminded of from the Scriptures, as I see the relentless quest for more recognition and influence all around:

1. We ministers too easily forget that it’s not our place to pursue fame or glory. 

“The [seats of glory] belong to those for whom they have been prepared by My Father.” (Matthew 20:23)

Two of Jesus’ disciples (James and John) wanted to sit at Jesus’ left and right hands in heaven. But He reminded them that the places of honor are not for us to decide; that is for God to grant. And we might be surprised by who occupies those seats when we pass into the next life. There will be far more poor and “nameless” people there, who have consistently taken the seat of lowest honor in this world (Luke 14:7-11).

There is nothing wrong with the desire to be known, respected and loved. It’s human, and built into our relational nature by God Himself. But I have a problem with the notion that it’s our place to pursue fame or recognition. I think we are called to be faithful to do what we’re doing, and to leave the results to Him.

That’s challenging in these days, where people see opportunities everywhere to market themselves and make themselves “known,” whether through social media, blogs, Youtube videos and so on.

There’s no problem with sharing our writing or ideas with others, or taking pleasure that others are benefiting from our work or ministry. But if our motives and heart are to gain glory or “greatness,” that’s dangerous territory. Jesus repeatedly rebukes those who ask for glory, or desire greatness (Luke 9:46-48; 22:24-26).

2. We ministers too easily forget that recognition comes at a price.

Influence and power are things to steward with a respectful “fear and trembling.”

“Do you know what you are asking for? Can you drink the cup I am going to drink (Mark 10:38)?

To those who asked for places of greater honor, Jesus reminded them that it’s not something to be taken lightly. And I wonder if we truly grasp the responsibility and sobriety that comes with greater platform and influence.