So, you want to be great?

“I aspire greatness with my life.”

When I say that, almost universally people’s head will cock just a little bit to the side. American society, especially American Christian society, is so self-deprecating that you almost never hear a grown man say that.

The truth is I am shocked how few people aspire greatness with their lives. If you don’t read anything else in this post, read this… “God wants you to aspire to greatness!

I believe aspiring to greatness is completely biblical. Check out how Jesus responds to his disciples. When his disciples ask him  he doesn’t shut them down. He simply tells them how to be great in the Kingdom! “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Mathew 18:1) “”What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.” (Mark 9:33b-34)

In fact, Jesus makes it clear in his response that there is a path to greatness in this life!

Aspiring greatness is good and important. The church needs more men and women aspiring greatness.

Jesus doesn’t shut it down. Greatness isn’t bad. The thing is… Jesus cares most about how you aspire to greatness.

Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:4)

If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Matthew 9:35)

Jesus makes it clear. The path to greatness is paved in child-like faith and servanthood. These are just two examples I’ve pulled from the Gospel narrative. There are lots and lots more!

See, I’m stupid enough to believe that Jesus was telling the truth! Not only can I aspire  greatness in my life, I should aspire to greatness. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)

Here’s the thing that shocks me. Most people get this wrong. I read a lot of church leadership blogs and I follow the ministries of a lot of “famous” preachers in the country. People who are labeled by the evangelical community as “great.” And the shocking truth is that a lot of leaders labeled as “great” are feeding people a lot of lies.

  • There are a lot of church leaders out there who think that they can make themselves great by creating structures and organizations which ultimately serve them. I’m just going to say it… you see this most in the baptistic tradition church planting and megachurch movement. The polity lifts up organizational leaders as great.
  • There are others who believe that being a talented preacher makes them great. Trust me, this doesn’t happen to me. But you can see it happen over and over again as a new preacher emerges and everyone wants to listen to them. Next thing you know, that person’s head gets about 10 times its original size and they start to believe that their speaking ability makes them great by default.
  • What is doubly shocking is just how unapproachable some “great leaders” are. You couldn’t touch them with a 10 foot pole. In some cases, their staff can’t even touch them with a 10 foot pole! They are off limits. They have body guards. You can’t make an appointment to meet them. You’ll never get to have them in your home. You can’t email them a question. You can’t leave a message on their voice mail. You might not even be able to leave a comment on their blog! Some of the “great leaders” that we lift up today in evangelicalism simply believe they are better than you and me.

They may be great organizational leaders, they may be great preachers, but they aren’t better leaders than you can be if you just obey Jesus’ path to greatness. Honestly, some of those “great leaders” often jerks who twist scripture to elevate themselves above you and me. A man who does fancy stuff just to draw a crowd but twists Scripture to make others serve him isn’t a great Christian leader, he is a false prophet! People who veil great preaching as a way to push book sales or seminar registrations or big offerings aren’t great preachers… they are fancy talkers. The Gospels and pastoral epistles are full of advice on how to treat fancy talkers and hypocritical false prophet jerks.

You think I’m rude for calling them names? That’s nothing compared to the words of Jesus in Matthew 23. Hypocrites. Blind guides. Fools. Greedy. Self-indulgant. Snakes. Brood of vipers.

You want to be great? Jesus makes this perfectly clear, all you have to do is serve the needs of others.

The first disciples, Paul, and  the early church all turned the religious community of the day upside down... they were great leaders even though the had no right to become great leaders. They ruffled the feathers of “the religious” by showing the God could turn “just anyone” into a great leader. It wasn’t Levites or even Bible scholars who turned the world on its head, it was ordinary people serving their way to greatness.

It is upside down to aspire greatness by serving. And it angers me to see the evangelical religious community lift up people as great when, in fact, they are old-style leaders and not servant leaders. When I hear stuff like, “You need to be born to a good family to be a great leader.” Or “You need to be a part of a big-fancy megachurch if you want to be successful in ministry.” That stuff is clearly not from God. It is completely devoid of fact. And yet I watch as people lay their loyalty/money/attention at these people’s feet while ignoring the truly great God has probably put right in their local church already.

You want to know if a church leader is a great person? Watch him/her. Is he serving others day-by-day or are others serving him? Greatness comes meekly. It comes to those who serve. Jerks and false prophets… They are not great leaders in God’s eyes. Again, the New Testament makes it perfectly clear how to deal with them.

Back to you.

You want to be great? Serve the needs of others. Have faith that is so child-like you are called immature for zealously obeying the Bible.


2 responses to “So, you want to be great?”

  1. Peter Marin Avatar
    Peter Marin

    Wow, Adam, such a truth … Preach It! (to quote my son)
    I noticed how Jesus called those who were faking leadership
    as a Fox and Wolves In Sheep-Clothing within Den/Cave of Thieves!
    It’s hard to get close to these type of leaders as they tend to
    hunt in packs for their prey. And yet, if asked, they would say
    they are extremely hard-pressed under such daily responsibilities
    for straightforward, honest and well-connected communications
    (aka, finding the right ‘spin’ to polish their ‘effectiveness’ ie, control).
    You have the courage of your convictions to perceive through the
    veil of self-serving egos regardless of the power their organizations
    and their defense barriers of Bureaucratic-Nonsence-RedTape.
    I have noticed that when I watch how the church secretary is
    treated by the pastors, then I see a very clear idea of what
    sort of animal is involved. Just as an aside, check out the following
    and overlay it with modern mega-churches in America … (just saying)
    reference link==>>
    “The Indian caste system (English pronunciation: /kæst, k??st/)
    describes the social stratification and social restrictions in the
    Indian subcontinent, in which social classes are defined by thousands
    of endogamous hereditary groups, often termed as j?tis or castes.”

  2. adam mclane Avatar

    Peter- yes, yes, and YES. I don’t want to lift up Andy because those who don’t know him might just think I’m blowing smoke. But your son really is a servant leader, almost to a fault! I’ve seen him work so hard he almost falls asleep while talking to someone because he just “leaves it all on the field.”

    But I suppose if you were going to be at fault on one side, it better be to being a servant than towards being a jerk.

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