I read an email this afternoon from a missionary couple that our church supports. They served in South America for decades and then moved back to the States to work among the growing Hispanic population in the northwest. As their main prayer request, they simply wrote, “Pray for us… we need to reach out more.”
I appreciate the candor of that statement. I’m prone to view missionaries as people whose evangelistic zeal is invincible and whose missional mindset is indefatiguable. I mean, they’re missionaries. Now, I realize that missionaries aren’t Christian superstars. I’ve learned over the last few years that missionaries are some of the most normal people in the church. But I think it’s fair to say that we tend to view them as evangelistic and sacrificial to the core. We realize that they have big hearts and a broad vision.
But just like the rest of us, they wrestle with maintaining and increasing the size of their compassion and the breadth of their vision. They don’t have a heart for the lost just because they’re missionaries. They’re missionaries because they have a heart for the lost. And if they cease to love the lost and cherish the gospel, they cease to be missionaries, no matter what their title may be.
I’m reminded tonight that one the most subtle and dangerous lies of titles and positions is the lie that my position makes me who I am. It is frighteningly easy to slip into thinking that because I’m a Resident Director, I must love people. Because I’m a seminary student, I must love God’s Word. Because I’m in spiritual leadership, I must be a spiritual leader. Because my titles say that I’m these things, I must be. I shouldn’t have to work at it, either, because I just am. But none of these connections are true.
I should serve as a Resident Director because I love people. I should be in seminary because I love God’s Word. I should be in spiritual leadership because I’m a spiritual leader. And I should wake up each day with a tenacious commitment to pursue Christ and His heart of service to such an extent that I outdo the expectations of my positions. Because having a position or a title doesn’t mean anything, except that I now have more opportunity, visibility, responsibility, and accountability than before. It doesn’t make me anything.
God gave us the official or unofficial positions we have. And I don’t think He’s impressed with them. He certainly doesn’t evaluate us based on them. I don’t think He’s very interested in the titles on our resumes or the letters before our names or the degrees on our diplomas or the positions that we fill in the eyes of others. But He’s very interested in the degree to which we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him with greater and greater consistency and vitality every day.
The shortest path to complacency is to rest on your laurels and to admire your official titles and your unofficial positions and your assumed reputation. This is why I’m glad to hear that our missionaries aren’t deceiving themselves and saying, “We’re missionaries — of course we’re having an impact for the gospel. That’s what we do.” Instead, they’re being honest and saying, “Pray for us… we need to reach out more.”
I would rather be a holy man without a holy man’s reputation than to be known as a holy man but not actually be holy. Because reality is always more important than reputation.
May God grant us a spirit of humility that does not admire our own titles or set our standards for spirituality only as high as the expectations of our positions. And may we grow to be people whose true character far outweighs even the most noteworthy title and the most widespread reputation.