“A man can only receive what is given him from heaven…. He must become greater. I must become less” (John 3:27,30, NIV).
The crowds were made curious by his unconventional clothing and daily diet of raw locusts. They were intrigued by his teaching, and they marveled at his bold message. Word of his ministry spread like wildfire – causing multitudes of people to travel great distances to see this man who preached repentance, promoted the greatness of God’s kingdom, and claimed to be preparing the way for Christ. By the time Jesus started his ministry one year later, John the Baptist already had a strong reputation, large number of disciples, and the forefront ministry in the region.
It wasn’t long, however, before the ministry of Jesus surpassed that of John in popularity and prominence. This was an obvious concern and threat to John’s disciples who saw their ministry market share slipping away. Before loosing it all, they addressed their leader with the apparent stagnation of their ministry: “Rabbi (John), that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan – the one you testified about – well, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to Him.” (NIV) Listen to their concern: “Everyone is going to Jesus.” What was their problem? Their personal kingdom was shrinking; their personal image was being deflated; their personal greatness was melting away. A new ministry in town was outgrowing theirs! These guys where perplexed with a personal and organizational dilemma!
Can you see the picture? John’s closest friends, his disciples, his ministry partners for God’s kingdom had become disillusioned by the growing greatness of God. They, more than anyone else, should have understood the mission of John’s ministry, but they missed it!
Listen to John’s passion, as his words cut straight to his followers’ hearts to address their concern and sin: “A man can only receive what is given him from heaven…. He must become greater. I must become less.”
Does this send a chill up your spine? It should. With these few short words, John re-defines greatness. Greatness is realizing that I don’t build God’s church – He does! Greatness is realizing that I don’t win the lost – God does! Greatness, in God’s kingdom, is about God and others becoming greater as I become less. Greatness is not obtained through personal drive, skill, or gifts, nor is greatness measured by building projects, financial capital, weekend attendance, or ministry prominence. Greatness is obtained when we blaze a trail for God’s greatness as we fade into the background of His glory.
As Christian leaders, we often find ourselves in an awkward position: we desire to build God’s kingdom but in doing so we get distracted by our own kingdom – a kingdom of personal image, personal prominence, and personal greatness. Whose kingdom are you building?
Do you feel a silent competition with other churches in your area for larger ministry market share? Do you partner with other ministries to build God’s kingdom, or do you remain relatively isolated? Do you silently compare your ministry to the strength and weaknesses of other churches or ministry leaders? Do you expect your children to live at a higher standard than other children because of your position?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then you may struggle with the pursuit of personal greatness. Ask God to search your heart and check the motives of your ministry and leadership.
God, it is so easy for me to pursue my own greatness while serving to expand your Kingdom. I find myself depending on my personal drive, skills, and gifts instead of on you to win the lost and build your church. Please help me set aside my personal image, prominence, and greatness that you might become greater as I come less.