Right now I’m thinking about a sweet lady in my church in Chicago, who, for decades, faithfully taught Sunday school, was a witness for Jesus in her public school classroom and gave much of her money and time to help the most vulnerable in developing countries.
She never wrote a book. She never had a public platform. She’s not on Twitter.
I’m also thinking of a layman in my church in Nashville who volunteers every week to help an immigrant population learn English, coaches his girls’ soccer team, and serves our church in a variety of capacities.
He’s never written a book. He’s never had a public platform. He’s not on Twitter.
I’m thinking of my own father, a plumber by trade, but a giant of a man. Every morning I saw him read his Bible. Every Sunday and Wednesday he took us to church. Every Friday he brought home a paycheck, a large percentage of which went to the church.
Dad has never written a book. Dad has never had a public platform. Dad is not on Twitter.
Of course, there is nothing wrong and everything right about writing books. I have written six and am working on my seventh. There is nothing wrong with a public platform. I contribute to several publications. There is nothing wrong with being on Twitter. I’m an active user and have made many friends and have found good content on social media. I’ll even tweet out this article so many people will read it!
But those of us who labor with the more public gifts sometimes think that we are indispensable, that it is we who make the engine of the body of Christ run around the world. But we’d be wrong.
Simple math tells us that it is faithful, ordinary, anonymous lay people who make up the vast majority of the churches around the world. Think about it. Even the most heavily staffed mega-churches probably only have 1-2% of their congregation as full-time paid staff. Most medium-to-small sized churches have smaller staffs and are heavily dependent on faithful volunteers.
The healthiest, most productive, evangelistic, disciple-making churches mobilize lay people to fulfill the mission of the church. This is what Paul is getting at when he says that the leadership gifts are given to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry” (Ephesians 4:12-16).
Of course, we know that pastors and church leaders are vital to the ministry. Paul devoted three books on the very specific shepherding mission and ministry qualifications for these offices. Jesus spoke of the kind of kingdom leadership he envisioned in the church (Matthew 20:16; 25). James warned of the weight and responsibility of the preaching ministry (James 3:1). Peter urged pastors to be faithful shepherds (1 Peter 5:2).
More than ever the church needs committed, theologically robust, humble leaders. But we need leaders who understand the church is not about them. We preach. We lead. We shepherd. But it is the Holy Spirit of God that moves in ordinary people, whom the world is not worthy, who both testify and live out the grand gospel story in their seemingly unspectacular lives.
In other words, most of what God is doing in the world does not happen on Twitter and happens through people who don’t have a byline and who don’t receive royalty checks.
I need a daily reminder of this as I’m tempted toward ridiculous self-importance. I look around at the people in my church and I’m amazed at their selfless sacrifice. They house missionaries in their home. They serve the poor in their community. They teach little children about Jesus.
Not because someone will notice them. Not because they will accumulate a huge following. Not because it will help them get their next book contract. They do it because the Spirit of God has regenerated their heart, uniting them, in Christ, to their Heavenly Father. They do it because they really, simply, love Jesus.
To be sure, I’m grateful for the leaders and teachers, the pastors and writers who, through their gifts have taught me much about Jesus. I’m thankful for highly-credentialed professors who have helped me know how to teach the Word of God. I’m thankful for writers whose work has shaped my thinking.
But it is the ordinary people who have given their time, money, and resources to allow people like me to draw a paycheck from a Christian organization, to write, to preach, and to teach.
This is really, I think, what Jesus meant when described the upside-down nature of the kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 20:16) and what Paul meant when he said that not many wise or noble are called (1 Corinthians 1:26).
This Sunday in church, look around you and notice the faithful, Christian lay people who make up the heart and soul of your church and whisper a prayer of gratitude for these saints who live on mission, not because they will become famous, but to make Jesus famous.