It is tempting for people to elevate a pastor above a messenger. It is tempting for a pastor to desire such status. It happens more frequently in large churches, but small churches aren’t immune.
You know a church or pastor is upholding this phenomenon when the main attraction is a single human leader. People become followers of a person and not Jesus Christ. Some indicators are: an unwillingness to support a guest speaker (in a former church where I worked, people would call in each week to ask if the senior pastor was preaching in order to determine whether they would attend), attendance without a commitment to serve, and leaving the church when the current pastor retires or resigns.
I am fortunate to be on staff at a church that doesn’t breed this culture. Our lead pastor, Brett Rickey, is a humble servant who honors God with all of the praise. He isn’t seeking to build an empire for himself. His passion is to reach the lost with God’s love.
It is relevant for me to learn that I am just a messenger because of the role I serve as a communicator. As one who delivers a message to one of our worship services each weekend, the temptation is real. I want to communicate effectively. I want to keep people awake. I want the audience to laugh and respond positively. I want people to moved by what I say. I want people to return the next week. I want to know that what I am saying is making a difference.
If I am not careful, I can confuse myself as well as other people. I cannot become an idol to myself or anyone else. However good or bad I deliver a talk, it isn’t about me. It’s about the message. What’s important isn’t that others believe in me as a preacher. Most important is that people come to believe in and trust God. It is up to me to be faithful to the message in such a way that people can clearly distinguish between it and me.
I am reminded of this lesson from the experience of Paul and Barnabas.
Paul and Barnabas fled to Lystra. While in the city, they meet a man who is paralyzed from the waist down. He’s never been able to walk. The man listened carefully and with much interest as Paul was speaking. Upon looking at the man, Paul felt a sense of deep faith emanating from the man’s heart. In a loud voice, Paul instructs the man to stand to his feet and walk.
The man jumped to his feet and walked. Amazed by what they witnessed, the bystanders immediately spread the word of the miracle. But, they were confused. They assigned the glory to Paul and Barnabas. Based on their religious experience, the people of Lystra mistakenly perceived the miracle to be the work of the gods Zeus and Hermes. They believed Paul and Barnabas to be the human form of these gods.
Within a short period of time, the priest of Zeus was preparing a sacrifice. He ordered the oxen and garlands to be brought to the outer gate. Crowds of people gathered there with him.
When Paul and Barnabas heard of it, they rushed into the middle of the crowd, shouting, “Friends, why are you doing this? We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them” (Acts 14:15 NRSV).
Paul and Barnabas could take advantage of this moment for their own glory. I mean, who gets a chance to be named a god? Seriously, they want to crown them Zeus and Hermes. Zeus! It doesn’t get much better than Zeus. These two could setup an empire. Their influence would flood into all the surrounding areas.
Instead, Paul and Barnabas declare: I am just a messenger sent by God to bring you the good news of the one true message. The result wasn’t simple. It took much convincing to restrain the people from offering a sacrifice. Later that day, the people were influenced by the Jews from Antioch to stone Paul.
I am learning to realize that I also am just a messenger. My desire is to be faithful to humbly admit this truth with courage.