As I was assisting with unpacking this new church’s first sound system, the young pastor asked me something I thought strange in the moment: “Rich, shouldn’t you have a couple of books out by now?” The conversation centered around his view that my ministry career should be at a certain level of achievement given my supposed status. He mentioned his path was to start this new church, and as it grew he would write a book, and then there was the platform that was needed in all of that. At that moment, I was in a big church and yet taking time as a friend to help set up audio gear in his large suburban, three-bay garage. His church had not even held its first public service, but his personal platform and achievement was center of what he wanted to talk about.
For me, my ministry platform ended me up in his muggy garage instead of doing something else in the summer heat—like drinking an iced coffee inside an air conditioned and Wifi-equipped cafe. I could have been writing that first book that day. But years later my first little book would be written—almost by accident, honestly. This question of platform-building requires us in ministry leadership to wonder about what we build platforms on and what really makes a platform. For me, it is clear that some build platforms on people. Others build platforms for people. Is this a step-or-be-stepped-on thing? What is a ministry platform? It is not a matter of whether you need one or have one. You have a platform—of some kind. What kind of platform do you have? Now, that is the question.
A ministry platform is about how I have been useful, helpful and available to others. In my case, it is about the unique group of creative leaders that I can speak into because I have been with them through a slice of their lives. The times I have been available to help wire a sound system, answer a question to a younger worship leader or be an ear to a pastor are the work of platform building. The platform of leadership is not how others keep me up. It is how I hold others up. My service—whether small things or big—is the structure and strength of my platform. Name recognition should then be about your name or mine coming up because we can build something that actually influences the work of others more than ours. My book or writings, for instance, get me noticed only because it helps some. Do I have to care too much about my name in it all?
One job I had in my past ministry career had more to do with my online fame than what I really had to offer that church. Leaders who are mesmerized by the fame, recognition or supposed power of having a platform miss the point. They see the influence as power and status. Influence, in the metric applied by ministry, is about helping others achieve their mission and purpose. That is the purpose of leadership—to equip and empower others, not to horde and hinder. As a worship leader, is the music I write about the perks for me or about being helpful to the worshiper in my church? As a pastor, do the offering or butts in seats dictate my self-worth, or is my work to serve the community—even if they reject Jesus and church? Do I write on my blog to offer something of value, or just for the visits and clicks? Am I willing to give when I see no return, directly?
With the recent and sad events of Mark Driscoll’s ousting and the disintegration of his Seattle giga-church, Mars Hill, we see that no platform is too big to fail. The usefulness that gets us there is what has to keep us there. Serving the machine of a platform only leads to power, and power corrupts. Empowering others, however, does not have to look like that. We can continue to give, and as the popularity of our name or brand comes and goes, we still do what we do. We serve others.
There are so many unknown platform people. Their “small” platform is strong, built with the efforts of giving to others. Here is one myth to debunk. Fame or popularity do not always indicate the effectiveness of a platform! I have had many ask me how to get more followers or get speaking engagements. Me? Some of these I had to shake my head as they had greater platforms of influence and importance. Their insecurity was about having more of the outward signs of influence. This comes from our achievement culture. Really, it is not about a list of exterior markers that makes a platform work. It is about the heart, consistency and value a person expresses diligently to others.
Write that book. Imprint that hip worship recording on vinyl. Get yourself in front of many others to speak. But build your platform for people, not on them. It may cost you some couch surfing, financial sacrifice and days of depression. If it is only for the perks, you won’t enjoy it too much. It’s thankless about 90 percent of the time, by the way. But if you are useful, helpful and available to people, it will be a great ride along the way!