I was just barely removed from a life drenched in substance abuse and all other kinds of depravities when scores of well-meaning Christians began to inform me that I was “destined for greatness.” I was bombarded left and right with predictions about all the big and marvelous ways in which God was going to use me. They said a guy with my kind of testimony and gifts was sure to follow in the footsteps of spiritual giants like C.S. Lewis. And it wasn’t just me who was receiving these supposed words from the Lord. I was submerged in a Christian culture where anybody with a scandalous story and decent communication skills was labeled a future “world-changer.”
Though it was masked by spiritual language, self-promotional ideology was abundantly present in the Christian circles I ran in. There was more talk about networking and platform-enlarging strategies than there was about Jesus and his gospel. Though no one would have admitted it, the mentality was that your success as a Christian is determined by the effectiveness of your ministry, and the effectiveness of your ministry is determined by the scope of your influence. And people did whatever they could to be successful and effective! I saw ungodly young men thrown into leadership positions for no other reason except they were gifted guys with attractive personalities. Again, no one would admit that—but it was blatantly obvious. Christlike character and theological soundness weren’t nearly as important as being articulate and charismatic. Though I had only been born again for like five minutes, multiple people approached me about becoming a “leader” in their ministries. I was young, semi-articulate, and had a crazy cool story that would get people’s attention—so of course I was qualified (sarcasm)!
I so wish I could travel back in time and tell all the people who espoused this “world-changer” verbiage to zip it! I understand and appreciate the fact that most of them were likely trying to encourage me and rev up my excitement about following Jesus. But all they really did was 1) appeal to my carnal, self-exalting tendencies, and 2) set me up with unbiblical expectations about what it looks like to be mightily used by God.
You may be someone, like me, who formerly identified as a gay man and was plucked by God from reckless drunkenness and wild promiscuity. Or you may be an ex-drug addict who met Jesus with a needle hanging out of your arm. Maybe God rescued you out of prostitution or a gang or the abortion industry. Whatever your story and however compelling it may be, please hear me: the radical nature of your testimony and your ability to talk without stuttering does not necessarily mean God wants you to become the next John Piper or Joyce Meyer. But does this mean you won’t be used mightily by God? Heavens, no! God may not want you serving him in the spotlight, but he definitely wants you doing glorious gospel work in your local church, neighborhood, and living room. In the economy of God, being used in “big” or “amazing” ways isn’t measured by how many Twitter followers you have or how many people show up to your bible study. Christians do big and amazing things when they 1) simply do what God has called them to do—even if it seems mundane, and 2) stick to the true substance of Christian ministry: Jesus and his gospel. You may not impact the world for Jesus, but you will certainly be used by God to impact your little world for Jesus. And that has more weight and glory than your mind has the capability to fathom.
Oh, how I wish I had been beaten over the head with this kind of truth in my spiritual infancy! I might have avoided a lot of frustration, distraction, and even discipline from the Lord!
Early in my walk, I discovered I had a knack for putting words together and that I thoroughly enjoyed writing about the gospel. I also discovered that people responded well when I did, which confirmed in my heart that this was definitely going to be a significant part of my personal ministry. However, I felt like this ministry of mine needed to have thousands of spectators to be effective and impactful. So I worked double-time to get more readers. I wrote about controversial topics, not always because I felt led to, but because I knew controversy got people’s attention. I networked like a madman and kissed the feet of bloggers who had large platforms, in hopes they would share my stuff and direct people to my blog (they mostly just ignored my messages!). Sure, there were some good, God-honoring motivations mingled into my self-promotional mentality. I really felt called by God to write about the gospel, and I found tremendous joy in serving him and others in this way. But my less-than-godly motives eclipsed my pure motives. I wanted Matt Moore and his writing to be known by the masses more than I wanted Jesus Christ and his gospel to be known by the masses.
Thankfully, God stepped in with fierce grace and, through a series of painfully humbling events, shattered my self-promotional perspective of Christian ministry and my ministry-infatuated perspective of the Christian life. He stripped away my writing for a bit and opened my eyes to see he should be my primary source of joy and purpose. He showed me that my position in Christ, not my ministry for Christ, should be the spiritual well from which I drink. He revealed to me that I should be working to please him and not to be seen by the masses. He taught me that the legitimacy of my personal ministry isn’t measured by how wide my influence is but by how faithful I am to love others well by ministering content that is drenched with the grace and truth of the gospel.
Knowing Christ personally and laboring as he leads us is where joy, meaning, and vitality are found. Whether two people or two hundred thousand people see and benefit from our personal ministries is far less significant than whether or not our ministries are propelled by a love for Jesus and desire to see him worshipped. If we are driven by anything less than adoration for Jesus and a desire to see others adore him, we are either going to burn out or resort to less-than-honorable means of accomplishing our ministry goals. But if our focus in ministry is Jesus (not ourselves), and if we desire for others to make much of Jesus (not ourselves), our work in the gospel will be joyful, meaningful, and effective.