Few would argue with the view that mission workers are sacrificially serving God. They move far from their homes, often to work in uncomfortable, unstable or unhealthy places. They risk health, career, family and wealth to follow their call into world mission. Thousands of mission workers worldwide work selflessly for the God they love and the people God has sent them to.
Or is it selflessly?
On the surface, it certainly looks that way. But start to dig a bit deeper and in some cases we find that the altruism is not pure and unadulterated. There may well be an element of self-seeking underlying the sacrifice, maybe the desire to prove that we are the better Christian by making the greater sacrifice. But for some among us, ministry is more therapy than service. It may well have our glory as its goal, not God’s, even though we don’t realise it till someone points it out to us. But it can be betrayed by excessive use of phrases like:
I want to…
While these expressions may not be wrong in themselves, frequent use of them may in fact be an indication that another agenda is being followed – that of the mission worker.
Some of us may have gone into mission to prove that we could achieve something, even though this motivation is subconscious. In a society that is always desperate to achieve some sort of significance – be it academic, career-focussed promotion, or wealth creation – it is hard not to acquire a streak of competitiveness during our upbringing that we find hard to shake off in later life.
So our ministry (even that expression is a bit of a giveaway!) can be a means to us demonstrating that we can actually achieve something. While any readers who have read this far into this blog may be incredulous at what I’m suggesting, I see it all too frequently in my ministry (whoops – I mean Syzygy’s ministry!). It can often be traced back to a childhood authority figure. A grandparent who said “you’re useless”, a teacher who doubted your capabilities, a church leader who thought you had nothing to offer the church. And even though they may be long-dead, we’re still trying to prove them wrong. You can read all about this in a previous blog.
Jesus did not select many high achievers to be his followers. Matthew possibly was one; he would certainly have been wealthy, but he walked away from it all (Luke 5:28). The others were probably simple tradesmen. Even the Biblical characters who had something going for them, like Moses, Joseph or Paul had to be broken, exiled or humbled before God could use them. God loves to use the insignificant to shame the proud (1 Corinthians 1:27), but that doesn’t mean they become significant. In fact, they start to delight in being nobodies.
Paul starts one of his earliest letters, Galatians, with “Paul, an apostle not sent by humans but through Jesus Christ”. His career progression leads to him becoming “least of the apostles” (1 Corinthians 15:9) and ultimately “greatest of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). He ends his life writing “I am being poured out as a drink offering” (2 Timothy 4:6). Was his career going backwards? Was he morally deteriorating as he aged?
No. Like John the Baptist, he knew that the essence of following Jesus is that “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). Now would be a good time for each of us to reflect on our ministry, our success, and our achievements and ask ourselves if we’re building God’s kingdom, or our own.
Blog post first published on syzygy.org.uk on 23 May 2016.