February 21, 2018

Stripping the Status-Makers of Their Power

Photo by Mike Wilson on Unsplash
A few quotes from Jesus ...

Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. John 13:16

Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all. Mark 9:35

So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen. Matthew 20:16

These statements are saying a lot of things. One thing they are not about is piety. One thing these statements are about is status.

All throughout the Gospels, the disciples are arguing with each other about status. In a small, insignificant corner of the world's most powerful empire, a people in an occupied territory are constantly bickering with each other about who is the most important, the most powerful. Over and over again, Jesus says effectively, "You're missing the point; you have to stop participating in the rat race."

Why would Jesus say that? Shouldn't this people group with such little in the first place, at least be provided some significance? Jesus is not here advocating for some escapist, other worldly minded delusion. He's pointing to a truth that exists across religion, markets and politics: as long as you're striving to measure up to someone else's benchmark for status, you've given them control. You lose.

Why is the story line of Black Panther so powerful in American pop culture right now? Because it imagines a way of being human for an entire people group that doesn't require measuring up to another people group's measuring stick. It's an existence that is wholly other.

You strip the status-makers of their power when you stop striving to achieve their definition of achievement. It's at that point that you're able to make your greatest impact, do your best work.

20 years ago when I started getting an imagination for the kind of Christian community I could contribute to I knew it wouldn't measure up to the standards of my colleagues. What I didn't know is that by giving up on competing with them and doing what I knew I was called to do would threaten so many of them. Time and again, I was caught off guard by how threatening these seemingly small and insignificant missional communities were to those leading large and significant churches.

You want to disrupt the system, to make an impact? Take the Gospels seriously. Eat dirt. Start with people no one wants or will welcome or those who have no interest to what the big steeples are doing. Quit worrying about who says "No" to what you can offer and pay attention to those who will say "Yes." Be the last in line for funding or recognition. Prove you don't need it. As Flannery O'Connor once wrote,  "You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd." No one wants to hear this but in all my years of experience, it is most often those that are willing to do this that have the deepest impact. They rarely grab hold of the status everyone else is chasing but their impact is unmatched. If you're willing to be odd, you might end up changing the world.

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