I’ve always wanted to be a pastor. When I realized my fastball wasn’t good enough to earn a spot in a major league pitching rotation, my dreams became centered on leading people toward Jesus. Of course, as a child I was privy to the rise of Christian fame. I remember when our church was on TV each Sunday and when TBN was born—and lauded as THE medium for introducing Jesus to the masses. We even got our own brand of rock and roll. I suspected if I prayed enough and faithfully memorized scripture I would surely have my own TV show (or at least a rad hair band) and be a part of what would become the greatest show on earth—the Late Show with Jesus Christ—move over David Letterman.
Then the whole world changed. People hailed as modern-day John the Baptists became frauds before our eyes. The clout once associated with Christianity became a joke almost over night. Our big plan to reach the masses became a stumbling block to multiple generations. It seems the “Jesus First” pins, worn by the moral majority, were melted down and recast as ploughshares.
In the not-too-distant past it seems ministry was associated with popularity over sacrifice. One could become a gigantic fish in a mediocre size pond and drive a Lincoln Towncar. Of course that possibility still exists—we have mega churches and flashy ministries today and many of them are actually quite healthy. But more often than not, when we attempt to live the Great Commission in the 21st century we can expect sacrifice not fame. Everyone who is crazy enough to associate with Christ can forget about things like respect and validation, as far as the world’s standard goes.
Consider Jeremiah—he wrote two books of the Bible, but in truth most people hated Him. He was ignored. If you were a prophet I’d bet the one thing you’d hate the most was to be ignored. I imagine Jeremiah contemplated his book deal after penning chapter one, “Let’s see, God said he personally formed me in the womb, set me apart and appointed me as a prophet to the nations”—let the book-signing begin. God failed to mention the cold shower of corporate rejection that would follow.
I think about Jeremiah when I think about our present culture. How many times did Jeremiah go back and reread the introduction to his book? How many times did he beg God to let him be a banker or a teacher or anyone whom other people would respect? Like Jeremiah, how often do we today see the grand story of Jesus and God’s gift to mankind humiliated, trampled on and worst of all, ignored as passé.
Serving God today is much more difficult than I dreamt it would be. Though I have spent my adult life living my youthful dream, there’s an oddity inside me that begs for validation. It is probably the same passion that fueled the disciples’ argument about who would get the nicest chair in heaven. I suppose that all of us who attempt to serve God, whether we find ourselves in the employment of a church or not, want others to appreciate us. And, this may be the very thing we must sacrifice to avoid a colossal public failure.
In a culture where extremes are esteemed, what if the sacrifice God expects is really quite simple. Think about Christians that everyone believes to be heroes, not the ones with the great shoes and funky-buttoning suits, but the real heroes: Mother Theresa, MLK or Jim Elliot, Nate Saint and their comrades, we would all associate their lives with great sacrifice. But martyrdom and sainthood are gifts few are asked to give, but all should be willing.
Sacrifice is as simple as getting over yourself. Perhaps the sacrifice God expects is as simple as denying ourselves and bearing the cross—in all of its decreasing glory—becoming less than famous.