“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:1-3
One of the biggest challenges for me in my role as a “missionary” comes from the most innocent of the intentions of others – or at least innocent as they appear. In fact, I struggle so desperately with this issue, I have found myself over these past years beginning to avoid certain persons – some of whom I consider very close and dear to me.
I know sincerely that – for the most part – these individuals have absolutely no desire whatsoever to create for me a stumbling block over which I must maneuver. I know that they love me and want the best for me. But, I have to say that more than once, I have found myself wanting to gather all of these people into a big room together, stand up front with a huge megaphone, and scream at the top of my lungs:
PLEASE DO NOT PRAISE ME ANYMORE!!! My ego can’t take it! I’m trying to become more of the woman God has designed me to be, and your words of praise are hindering me!!! My being a missionary does NOT put me on some higher plane than yourself! I’m here because I’m broken, I’m lonely, I’m in need of healing from the sin and sickness and death that looms in my life and seeks to destroy me. I don’t want you to sit below me. I desperately need for you, my brothers and sisters, to sit BESIDE me! Reserve your praises for the One, True Creator God. For the sake of the gospel for which He died in our lives, let HIS presence be that which brings you to your knees, not mine.
Now, to be clear, I often receive words of encouragement from so many that I consider precious – even as water for my thirst in this walk. These are words that many of you have offered to me in love, and I want to be careful to distinguish these acts of love poured out on us from the offerings of praise that I refer to above. One is an ointment on the wounds that come in service of the Lord. The other is the buzzing of the flies around that wound, hindering the healing process, often even spreading the disease of the sins of bitterness and pride as a result.
I bring this up as an effort to address the huge “superstar” issue we see in the church today. Those who are leaders in the church today are often revered – put onto a higher plane than others as individuals who are “called” by God to a higher service. Meanwhile, everyone else is just to live their “normal”, mundane lives – going to the office or the classroom – back down here on earth. I imagine there are many, many reasons that we do this in the church. To mention just a couple:
I believe some individuals treat church leaders/missionaries as a sort of higher being as a result of some lie they’ve been fed by the enemy about themselves. People actually believe they are too broken to give their lives fully to the call of God. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone say to me, “Oh, Miki, I just couldn’t do what you do over there in Russia! I’m just not built for that kind of life!” Just to clarify – I’M not able to do what we are doing over here in Russia! I am scared most of the time, and can’t count the number of times I’ve taken my eyes off of Jesus, looked down at the water below my feet, and just sunk to the bottom.
I believe other individuals offer up their praises to leaders in the church in order to justify disobedience in their own lives. (That came out harsher than I’d intended, but not so much that I’m inclined to delete it.) Over-compensation. Perhaps one of the deadliest of services offered these days out of the wealthy, western church in our efforts to make us not feel so bad for our own over-indulgent lifestyles. You see it not only in the praise of church leaders, but in almost every area of church life, including missions, children, and even music ministries.
Some of the results of praise offered to men and women leaders in the church include:
Hierarchy – or separation – among God’s children. Hierarchy may be appropriate for government, or business. But we are one body, one church, the bride of Christ. There is one head, and that is Christ the Lord. In the final days we will ALL be accountable for how we chose to spend our days in this world. True healing will only come in the church as we seek to serve one another in love. Politicking for higher position or praise from our brothers and sisters in the church only draws eyes off of Jesus, and leaves us vulnerable for the seeping in of the enemy’s tactics.
Self-pity – perhaps one of the most crippling results of the praise of men. When church leaders become convinced of how amazing they are for all that they’ve done and all they’ve “given up” in order to follow the Lord’s calling, self-pity and entitlement can set in. They – we – can begin to feel that they’ve “given” enough, and that they deserve some sort of compensation for their “suffering” for the Lord. In fact, they may begin to feel that they are no longer able to do as the Lord is calling because they’ve suffered or given up too much already. And so there they sit, wallowing in pride and self-pity, accomplishing less toward the furtherance of gospel than on the day they first confessed their sins to God in Christ.
I must remind myself constantly that this life of full-time service to the church and the children of Eastern Europe is a privilege. The calling and provision to spend my days in this type of service is worth much more to me and my children than all of the money or esteem or comfort I might earn in this world otherwise. As Paul urged the Ephesians, let all of us live a life worthy of the calling we have received from the Lord. Let us seek to be completely humble and gentle and patient, and bear with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. Let us do this when we feel others do not deserve it, and let us most certainly do it when we believe they do.
With great love –