Sometimes God speaks through a careful choreography of life events: conversations, readings, observations, and even the occasional media clip. Suddenly, all the pieces snap together, and we sigh (internally so no one hears us), “Aha!”
This morning, I had one of those moments of clarity. Over the past couple weeks:
- With friends, I pondered why some people and ministries are wildly successful while other people and ministries—equally gifted—struggle for survival;
- I heard a quote by Oswald Chambers: “Is He going to help Himself to your life, or are you taken up with your own conception of what you are doing?”
- I read a passage using the Scripture Meditation Plan: “We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:18)
These three events were preceded by a video I watched that smelled … funny. And the odor lingered. The creator of the video is a famous Christian writer who has morphed his verbal skills into marketing skills, and he wanted to help churches sell themselves.
In his video, a pastor shared the key to his own wildly successful church. I forget the exact words but he essentially said:
“I realized that too many churches make the pastor the hero. I decided to make the congregation the hero, and my church’s attendance exploded.” (Name withheld)
It reminded me of a conversation early in The Lost World movie. Repentant Jurassic Park creator John Hammond cries: “Don’t worry. I’m not making the same mistakes again.”
To which Ian Malcom retorts: “No, you’re making all new ones.”
It’s All About the Hero
The essential distinction between Christianity and all other religions—including secularism—can be boiled down to one question: Who is the hero of your story?
The human race was cursed when Adam and Eve decided to be the heroes in their own story. When they took God’s place in the Garden. All subsequent sins are variations on that theme: we are usurping God’s place.
I agree that our primary heroes ought not be the pastor, priest, or even other great Christian “heroes.” They aren’t celebrated because they were great; they are celebrated because God’s greatness worked in them. (I suspect that the greatest Christian heroes–of all time–will turn out to be thousands of men and women the world never heard of.)
But to actively move the hero-spotlight from the ordained (which I applaud) to the congregation (which I deplore) is to nurture our idolatry: “Hey, let’s just eat Eve’s apple all over again.”
Clergy-worship is sick, but self-worship is suicide.
True Fruit, The True Hero, and God’s Plan
This morning I read, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:8). I’ve always thought—though perhaps subconsciously—something more like, “If I’m successful and bear fruit, it proves that my ideas and plans were right. Possibly brilliant.”
In other words, that I’m the hero of my own story.
But Scripture says that real fruit, the fruit that endures for eternity, is fruit that brings glory to the Father. It makes him the hero; God’s power shown through our weakness. And it’s always been that way:
- God didn’t give Isaac to Abraham and Sarah until it was impossible for them;
- God didn’t make Moses a leader until he was too old to lead;
- God picked cowardly Gideon and then reduced his army from 32,000 to 300.
And the reason God cut Gideon’s army down so dramatically was because he knows the human heart, that Israel “would become boastful, saying, ‘My own power has delivered me’” (Jud. 7:2).
Which is just another way of saying, “I’m the hero in my own story. Worship me.”
It takes a great human heart to be a hero. It takes a greater human heart (tempered with humble honesty) to admit, “I need a hero.”
[For another hero story, see Is Sunday School Destroying Our Kids?]