“He must increase, I must decrease.” These words were the climax of the ministry of John the Baptist. They are words that preach really well because they tap into our popular slogans like “it’s all about Jesus”, “Jesus is the answer” or “Jesus is all I need.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not making fun of these slogans. Tomorrow night I will be training a bunch of small group leaders about the importance of making Jesus the center of a small group.
But let’s get real. We like to say these words, but they are a lot harder to actually embrace. Nobody really says what we are thinking: “I want to lift up Jesus all the while “I” also become somebody along the way.” I know I’m not the only one who struggles with this. It’s the way of celebrity church life today. There are so many personalities, promotional stunts and pretty faces leading the charge within the church. It’s almost impossible today not to gather around certain names, those with whom we align. Just pick your favorite from John Piper on conservative end of the spectrum to Brian McLaren on the emergent end.
Quite honestly, (can I be honest?) I found myself getting caught up in this as I try to get this new ministry going. As much as I try not to, I feel the pressue to “carve out my nich”, to “create a brand”, to “portray an image in the social network.”
But this morning the words, “He much increase, I must decrease” ring in my head. Wow! Not exactly a great way to build a ministry or raise funds! I wonder how this will go over as I try to pay bills and buy a new computer as this one goes on the skids.
As I reflected on these words, I put myself in the sandals of John the Baptist. He was a man who was told he was special from the very beginning. And it was true. He was a miracle baby. His parents were ancient and an angel slapped his dad mute for nine months when he did not believe that his 90 year old wife was pregnant. Jesus called him the greatest of all the prophets. Yet his ministry was all about pointing away from himself, stepping into the background by going to jail and getting his head chopped off. Not exactly how we define a great Christian leader today.
I’m not sure how many of the great celebrity leaders we have in the church today can say that they were a miracle baby and that the call on their life was a clear as this. Because my parents were told that they could not have children and then after ten years of marriage I showed up, I thought I might have a special call on my life. But no angel showed up to my dad and announced my coming. My mom didn’t have a pregnant teenage virgin cousin come visit her. So there was no leaping in my mother’s womb.
Whatever vocation I’m in—whether it’s writing and preaching, or training churches in how to develop small groups and missional communities, or working at the local grocery store, or staying at home to take care of the kids—my calling is “he must increase, I must decrease.” Maybe that’s exactly the calling I need to embrace.
Whether we are a leader of a church, a small group or a missional community, our success needs to be measured this this standard and no other: Does our life and leadership really point to Jesus? Do we offer them Jesus or do we connect people directly to ourselves? Do we give away nice platitudes that make people feel better or are we inviting them to listen to what Jesus might tell them?
He must increase. I must decrease. I’m not sure that there are any more counter-cultural words found in the Bible. Will we heed them?