Are we Really Called to Greatness?

I saw an article today about how to help your kids grow into leaders that made my hackles rise. It was a Christian article and a second reading of it softened my initial response a bit. The author did say it wasn’t a how-to on chasing fame or money, but on instilling a desire for excellence and dreams in our kids. Good things. And his final step was about teaching kids to serve. Everything about it seemed good and pursuit worthy.

Nevertheless, if I’m honest, when I first read the article something fierce came up within me that I think might be worth sharing. Not because the article was wrong—as I mentioned, a second reading showed me that perhaps I was a bit harsh at first. The point isn’t really that article and whether or not he is right about how to develop leaders (so I’m not referencing it specifically), but this idea of what to instill in our kids.

Here it is: I’m not sure what I think about this idea of training up our kids to be leaders—probably because our idea of leadership is so very American. Of course it’s a good thing, right? We don’t even question it. We have entire departments in our bookstores (Christian and secular) dedicated to this concept. But is it really a Biblical pursuit? A Christian ideal? Or is it an American ideal—one that is so closely connected to our Christian ideal we have never even questioned it?

As there are entire book departments dedicated to this concept, so I’m not going to defend the pursuit of leadership from a Biblical perspective. Certainly, it can be done. And yes, we can make a big impact on the world as a leader. It’s not a bad thing, per se.

But can I just take a minute to maybe add a little different perspective on this? Here is the note I wrote to a friend in response to the article. It’s not thorough nor entirely well-thought out. It’s purely off-the-cuff.

I’m not sure what I think about this article. I think it’s a very “American” mentality—this idea of being “great”. Christ says to be the least. Pick up your cross. He didn’t tell the rich young ruler to be great for God, use his position and his money for good and/or for God… He said to get rid of it all.

I think part of our problem is this pursuit of greatness over a pursuit of obedience. We pursue impacting the world for Christ, which isn’t bad, of course, but in our strength with our methods… Are we willing to be nothing for God? I think of that movie, A Knight’s Tale, where all the knights promise to win their contests for Jocelyn. She challenges William (Heath Ledger) to show her he loves her by being willing to lose for her. By giving up his claim to fame and power and greatness. Then she would know that he loved her more than he loved his self and his ego.

I think Christ asks the same of us. We can be great, but the way to greatness isn’t necessarily a pursuit of it. It’s through the wilderness, through loss, through the cross and dying to self, through sacrifice and service. It’s through obedience.

Do we teach our kids that?? Or only that they should aspire to greatness?

I am not saying greatness, leadership, success, having an impact on the world, etc. are bad things. I do not, for a second, think God intended us, who are made in HIS magnificent, glorious image, to be mediocre, to be anything less than the full expression of who He created us to be. (Certainly, the Bible tells us to do our work as unto the Lord, so that rules out sloppiness, laziness and mediocrity as it calls to excellence in ALL we do!) I think what I am questioning here is, what is it that we are pursuing (and/or teaching our kids to pursue). Should greatness be the pursuit or the by-product of an even higher pursuit?

I believe that if our highest aim is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (which is the first and greatest commandment), then everything else will fall into place. We will live the greatest version of our lives we possibly could. We will probably end up following in Jesus’ path who gave up riches, fame, power, control…and suffered and died…and then rose again and saved the whole world. I would argue that Jesus didn’t actually pursue leadership or greatness. He only pursued the Father. His sole purpose in life was to love the Father and be obedient to do His will. That’s it. Through that, He found his life’s purpose. He could be nothing but excellent, but that leadership and greatness was a by-product of a higher-pursuit.

See how Paul explains Jesus’ journey (and encourages us to follow it) in Philippians 2:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,[a] who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,[b] but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[c] being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Do you see it? Jesus did impact the world, obviously, and He was the greatest of all of us. And yet, His path to save the world wasn’t the expected route. He got there through obedience and humility and death. His exaltation by God came as a result of His pursuit of obedience to the Father. It was a by-product, not a primary focus.  The same “formula,” if you will, is written about it 1 Peter 5:6-11 where we are told, “humble yourselves, therefore, under the might hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you…” (emphasis mine). It goes on to discuss how to handle the interim time, that time of humbling and waiting and struggle and even persecution and attack from the enemy we will almost certainly endure. It then concludes with a clearer understanding of what happens when God exalts us at the proper time, saying, “After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strength and establish you.” Again we see that yes, we are called to God’s glory, but that it’s not something we try to attain for ourselves. It’s something He personally gives us when we are ready for it, and it comes after we have humbled ourselves and suffered.

It’s a matter of primacy. I fear that some of our American ideals about being great, impacting lives, pursuing a purpose, (and so forth), while good things to consider, have become dangerous ideals because, 1. They serve our ego. And 2., they have become primary in our thinking. They have become idols. They have become our primary pursuits when our primary pursuit should be our relationship with the Lord. Period. Not what we do for Him, but just a relationship with Him.

And in the course of that relationship, don’t be too surprised if God asks you to give up your pursuit of greatness and leadership altogether, at least for a time. What if He asked you to show your love for him by putting aside all your ambitions to do big things for Him? (Again, reference A Knight’s Tale.) Oh that stings, just to think about. Do I love God enough to be great for Him? Sure. But do I love Him enough to be nothing for Him? Am I willing to follow Him into obscurity if He should ask me to? To be a person who dedicates her life to prayer and intercession for others behind closed doors, perhaps? That person may be mighty in the Kingdom of God, may have won many significant battles in prayer, but may never know of a single victory, never know the difference she has made…and also may never be known by anyone but her Savior. Is that enough for me, if He calls me to it? Is it enough for you? And what about your children? Not only are we raising a generation for whom that will be enough for them, but will it be enough for us to let them follow the Lord, thus?

This is hard for me to write. I’m sitting here with tears in my eyes because it pricks at my pride. I so desire to make a difference in the world. I was taught to dream big, and that’s a good thing. He wants us to be like those who dream dreams. It’s just that we need to learn to think as a bride. A bride’s first and highest thoughts are relational. She wants to be with her husband, to love him, to know him, and to be known by him. Those are the first and highest things. How sad if, rather than longing to be with her husband and to know him better, all she can think about is how to impress him and do good things in his name. Admiration and love aren’t the same thing. God doesn’t describe himself as a coach (to work hard for and impress so that we get to play in the game and be the MVP) but as a groom, who isn’t looking for a good performance, but a loving relationship. He wants love, not striving.

So, while leadership isn’t a bad thing, is it serving our egos, instead of our relationship with the Lord? Are we teaching our kids the wrong focus? Should we maybe emphasize a relationship and obedience to whatever He asks, rather than leadership, impact and greatness as our primary pursuit? Just something to consider.

“You shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
38 This is the great and first commandment.” Jesus, Matthew 22:37-38

“He must become greater; I must become less.” John the Baptist, John 3:30


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