24 Now when the other ten disciples heard about this, they became angry with the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them over and said, “You know that those who rule the Gentiles show off their authority over them and their high-ranking officials order them around. 26 But that’s not the way it will be with you. Whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant. 27 Whoever wants to be first among you will be your slave— 28 just as the Human One didn’t come to be served but rather to serve and to give his life to liberate many people.” Matthew 20:20-28, CEB
Warning: I’m going to be brutally honest today. If today’s not a good day for that for you, skip this!
I was having a conversation recently with a friend who has grown weary with his experience of his church. He feels that it is mostly being run behind the scenes by people who want to be “big shots”. My friend told me that this seems like a fairly obvious misunderstanding of what it means to follow God. I tend to agree. I also tend to think it’s unfair to label this a “church problem”, I think it is a human problem. We are inherently competitive and ambitious and a huge part of receiving a new self from God is learning to tame our desire to be in control of other people.
This problem is common in the church the same way it is common everywhere. I’m reminded of the Mel Brooks line in History of the World Part I, “It’s good to be the king.” If you haven’t seen that movie, the king is doing some, let’s say, misbehaving. He’s enjoying the misbehaving because it feels good, but probably no one else is. Because he’s the king, he can do whatever he wants with no consequences…and that feels good!
It often feels good to take charge, to get other people to help make our ideas realities, and to get credit for the final result. Are there ways of doing this well? I’m sure there are. But I think we’re (we = humans) much more likely to do this poorly through being overly assertive and manipulative in ways that weigh other people down rather than lift them up.
In order to get over this, we have to be willing to be people who accomplish nothing at all. Our life is not actually about creating a legacy for ourselves. It is about being useful to God and others in ways that point to God’s grace (or in ways that help other people thrive because God’s grace is working through us). We cannot be useful until we’ve accepted the reality that we might get nothing done and, somehow, become okay with that possibility.
Can you live with the idea that you might not get to be the king?