In a previous post, I mentioned Henri Nouwen’s book In the Name of Jesus, which presents a powerful summary of what it means to be servant leaders. Nouwen used the story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11) to show how we as leaders are tempted, and how we must embrace Christ’s attitude of humility and service to others.
Nouwen describes Jesus’ second temptation as “the temptation to be spectacular.” Satan tempted Jesus to throw himself off the highest point of the temple, making a spectacular scene as angels came to his rescue and accompanied him gently to the ground in the heart of Jerusalem. This would have grabbed people’s attention! It would have put Jesus’ face on every magazine, newspaper, and blog in the ancient world. He might even have had a call from Oprah.
It’s easy to see how we face this temptation. Who doesn’t want to be popular? Who doesn’t want all the glory and attention and spectacular scene that come with success? Even if we know the downsides to popularity, none of us can completely resist its pull. And, wired for worship as we are, we love a popularity contest and a hero.
So what’s wrong with being popular and attracting attention for doing the right things? God has called some Christians to positions of great influence—even in the public eye. I mean, look at Moses—that guy was involved in some pretty spectacular ministry! And while Jesus refused to throw himself off the temple, he did attract quite a bit of attention in other ways. Raising people from the dead is pretty spectacular, and so is telling people you’re God.
I’m not sure the problem is in being popular, or being part of something spectacular. Perhaps the problem comes in seeking popularity and our own glory. Nouwen describes ministry as a “mutual and communal” experience. In contrast to our individualistic tendencies, Christ has called us to community and mutuality. He has called us to be his body and his temple—not individually, but collectively. Not to achieve popularity or fame for ourselves—or even for Christianity—but to serve with humility and love, just as he “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant” (Philippians 2:7). We’re in this together, and that’s a pretty good antidote to “in it for myself.”
So what do you think? When God chooses to use us in spectacular ways, or others grant us popularity for a time, how are we to respond? What does it mean to do humble, “mutual and communal” ministry with others in the context of personal success? How do leaders make sure we’re
serving in unity with others, rather than using them to feed our egos?
This blog post first appeared here on Christianity Today’s GiftedForLeadership.com.
© 2011 Amy Simpson.