Ambition and The Christian Leader, and Ottolenghi Experiments
DJ was kind enough to speak to a small group of us on the topic of ambition – something that has been on my mind in recent weeks as we looked to appoint people to lead and teach groups. I am far too careful by most standards: the usual criteria seems to be some evidence of the ability to teach (1 Timothy 3 – assuming that a small group leader is somewhat like an overseer) and general enthusiasm and energy. People at the School add that he must be well-thought of by outsiders (1 Timothy 3:7) and generally be aware of his own sins and fighting against them. I think it is equally important that he be able to manage and care for his household, and not be a recent convert so that he would not be puffed up with conceit (1 Timothy 3:4-6). The temptation to pride (young convert or no) would be so great that I would think that he/she should already demonstrating servanthood in his life before even being considered for a position of leadership.
Recently, someone put forward a name – a convert of about 2 years, young and enthusiastic, go-getter, bright, outspoken. While attempting to shop for groceries, my two pence (probably given far too loudly over a bad line and to all fellow shoppers) was that this suggested that our criteria for appointment was no different from the world’s standards.
roast butternut squash and red onions, with tahini lemon sauce, and toasted pine nuts, and za’atar and chopped parsley (recipe)
In Luke’s Gospel, the dispute amongst the disciples as to whom was the greatest (Luke 22:14-23) is ironically sandwiched between the institution of the Lord’s supper where Jesus tells them that he will be giving up his body and blood for them (Luke 22:24-30) – even the most privileged moments are tinged with self-seeking, and Jesus warning Peter that Satan will tempt Peter to deny Jesus (Luke 22:31-34).
Romans 12 tells us that the battle with pride is in our minds (Romans 12:2) and that we should not think of ourselves more highly than we ought, but to think with sober judgement, and in humility to count others more significant than ourselves (Philippians 2:3).
There are two things likely to derail the disciples: (1) power; and (2) reputation.
The kings of the Gentiles operate through power and through power, they get their reputation. The proof of the reality of what we believe is in our actions. Do we actively seek to serve others? The warning in 1 Timothy 4:16 for him to keep watch on himself and his teaching isn’t just about ensuring that he can tick all the right boxes in the doctrinal statement. There are subtle things that can get hold of us and mar our effectiveness for the gospel.
sticky roast quail and couscous (recipe)
Ambition is not wrong per se. Competitiveness is ingrained in children in school. But we must remember that we all play before an audience of one. We all want to do well – but for whom do I want to be the best? How much have I imbibed the city culture of being the top dog? Are we still thinking clearly about honouring God? Is my ambition directed towards being a table server or a table owner? Only God can give us the right desire.
All too easily, we can as concerned as the world about number-crunching and customer satisfaction. We can worry about where we are in the pecking order. We wonder what we will be doing next – looking to get up a rung in the ladder. Has ministry taken the place of God? An Aussie preacher was once introduced by an effusive young minister as the leader of a successful church that was growing year by year. “Yes,” said the Aussie drily, “we have about 2 million people in our congregation and more being added every day. We run successful conferences and workshops. This is why we don’t need God.” “Oh dear!,”said the alarmed hapless young minister, “what should we say to that?!” “Just sit down!” shouted a voice from the back. This sort of wrong ambition tends to be self-perpetuating.
hummus kawarma (recipe)
How then can we have a sober estimate of ourselves?
- remember that we are not the Christ (John 1:20). We may think that there is only one Jesus, but we surely are tempted to be that Jesus. We are not omnipresent. There may be plenty of people who have plans for our lives but are we concerned with God’s plan for our lives? Do we have over-zealous ownership over our ministry work? Do we not want other people to get into the same work? Are we following our personal agenda? Are we aiming to be super-successful operators?We can’t do it all. God sets us free to be ourselves – that is, humans who operate locally.Christ’s kingdom is not about outward success but the quality of a life lived in service of others. A small rural church recently had a couple from a good church join them. The guy was always accusing the pastor of not making good use of his gifts – he wanted to lead and teach groups as he had done in his old church. But where was the humility?
- remember that only God can give growth (1 Corinthians 3:7). It is not our service that is life-giving. We are dependent on God. Whenever we are tempted to boast of our success, remember that we are only human, only servants. We are merely clay vessels, or disposable plastic cups. What is required of servants is to be faithful.
- remember that knowledge puffs up but love builds up. The ultimate test is whether there is self-inflation as the result of knowledge. The test is the quality of our relationships – whether they are servant-ly. Love is demonstrated and re-kindled at the cross. That’s why we have, everyday, to come to the cross. Resurrection power is in the Lord Jesus.
We have to say every day that we are only people who serve. We serve for God’s glory, in God’s strength, through the cross of his Son. Otherwise, we will always be on the edge, always looking at other people, always frustrated.