I have just returned to the US in time to preach at a particularly interesting ordination service for the Rev (new today!) Caleb Smith, at Christ Community Church, Wheaton. It was interesting because, as adviser to Caleb over his years at Northern Seminary, I had an especially close hands-on relationship which helped lead to his call to this small community church. It is wonderful to see a gifted young pastor (with an equally gifted wife) so fully committed to this extraordinarily multi-cultural fellowship.
I warned him that I had been recently grabbed by a text and story in John 3:22-36 that I had never preached on before, and that I was going to prepare a new sermon. When John the Baptist is provoked by his disciples' telling him that Jesus is now more important than him (everyone is going to Jesus!) John resists any small-minded response out of bruised pride. Rather he states an extraordinary principle: "He must become greater and I must become less" (verse 33).
My message to Caleb was: "You are important, but not that important!" as I engaged with some of the ways in which by practical worship, robust faith and bold witness he could be sustained in a relationship, giving more glory to Christ. Afterwards someone said to me: 'You know that challenge that "you are not that important" should really be given to all the members of the church'. Yes, sadly, too often Christians do assert self-importance and obscure Christ and his kingdom. Actually, this summer I have heard of two local churches where members' strong personalities so asserted agendas, likes and dislikes that they destroyed fellowship unity. Oh what damage is done when we forget the One who is really important. Yes, I think this theme has wider application than just at an ordination service!
At one point I mentioned some advice from E. Stanley Jones that I jotted down in my prayer journal many years ago. He listed some guidelines for Christian leadership which, I think, keep us from inflated self-importance:
- Be willing to take criticism yourself
- Be on guard that you do not become petty
- Be willing to give way in small things that do not involve principles
- Refuse to look for slight regarding yourself
- Keep the power of laughing at yourself
- Keep up the prayer life and underneath keep a surrendered heart.
It's been good to be reminded. Do you agree?