Temptation to be Relevant, Popular, and Powerful

Read: Luke 1:5-25, 57-80

As I continue to ponder what Zechariah did during his 9+ months of silence as Elizabeth managed her high-risk pregnancy, I read this incredible section in the NIVAC (NIV Application Commentary).

I hope you’ll read this and consider your leadership role in the church. Whether you’re on staff or occasionally attend a gathering of people led by someone with the title of pastor (i.e., church), you play a part in the continuing story of the Creator and His desire to reconcile with His creation.

By the way, if you participate in any activity that represents a church, you are in a leadership position for that local body of Christ, whether or not that is explicitly stated. You don’t have to be a seminary professor, or even know what seminary is for that matter! As soon as we accepted Christ as Lord, we became heirs with Jesus and were given a leadership position.

I hope this extract from the NIVAC will encourage and inspire you to consider your next steps in your personal walk with Christ and your effective ministry.

NIVAC Excerpt 1:

An interesting work to ponder comes from the pen of Henri Nouwen 2. His autobiography relates a fascinating journey from teaching pastoral psychology and theology at Notre Dame, Yale, and Harvard for twenty years to burnout. From there he undertook a ministry in the home of the mentally challenged. There he learned that “service” given even to those whom the world does not see taught him as much as or more than his learning in seminary.  

Sometimes God is able to teach us in the midst of surprising circumstances. Ministry is not power and prestige, but humble service and trust.

Those who seek God’s deliverance and pursue it in holiness and service sometimes find themselves in places they never imagined ministering and in ways they never contemplated.

Here is his own testimony:

Let me summarize. My movement from Harvard to L’Arche made me aware in a new way how much my own thinking about Christian leadership had been affected by the desire to be relevant, the desire for popularity, and the desire for power. Too often I looked at being relevant, popular, and powerful as ingredients of an effective ministry.

The truth, however, is that these are not vocations but temptations.

Jesus asks, “Do you love me?” Jesus sends us out to be shepherds, and Jesus promises a life in which we increasingly have to stretch out our hands and be led to places where we would rather not go. He asks us to move from a concern for relevance to a life of prayer, from worries about popularity to communal and mutual ministry, and from a leadership built on power to a leadership in which we critically discern where God is leading us and our people.

The people of L’Arche are showing me new ways. I am a slow learner. Old patterns that have proved quite effective are not easy to give up. But as I think about the Christian leader of the next century, I do believe that those from whom I least expected to learn are showing me the way.

I hope and pray that what I am learning in my new life is something that is not just good for me to learn, but something that helps you, as well, to catch a glimpse of the Christian leader of the future.

End of Excerpt.

The definition of “church” is changing more rapidly than any of us want to accept, especially those of us who’ve been around a while—we don’t want to give up our hard-earned status and reputation! I speak in inclusive terms that are somewhat hyperbolic, ok, downright exaggerated, but this is an important conversation to have at every level of church organization if we want to be an effective part of this society. Yes, the gates of Hell will not prevail against Christ’s church, but that doesn’t mean that our definition of the modern church will survive. Don’t get too comfortable. Multi-million-dollar church incorporated budgets do not guarantee success for Jesus, they merely perpetuate power and position or organizations that are well intended, but not necessarily effective.

In making this observation, it’s important to confess that I don’t have any special insight into this issue. There are many voices in this argument that have credentials to support their theses, such as Nouwen above. I’d love to invest the time to present a bibliography for consideration, but then again, I think I’d rather invest time in the 20-year old that wants to learn how to be a better disciple (or the 30-something, 40-something, etc.). I shouldn’t have to convince anyone that the local church is struggling, but this is not a topic that is discussed as we (church staffs) seek to deliver the goods on Sunday morning—that event that most people equate with church.

We need churches more than ever. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting we close churches, far from it! My prayer is we would learn from Zechariah. Instead of demanding God show us a sign, that we would get to work doing that which He requires of us.

Maybe what we need is some Zechariah time, a period of silence that demands our attention. What would it be like if we stopped trying to be relevant, popular, and powerful and started listening to those around us – really listening – then doing.


  1. Wilkins, Michael J.; Garland , David E.; Bock, Darrell L.; Burge, Gary M.; Fernando, Ajith. NIVAC Bundle 6: Gospels, Acts (The NIV Application Commentary) (Kindle Locations 45779-45795). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
  2. Reference: In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership (New York: Crossroads, 1994). Pp 71-72


Here’s an excellent article from Christianity Today (Jan 2017) that provides a background about Nouwen. I’m thankful to note that as we focus on serving the local community, I’m beginning to make Catholic connections. We really need to be more intentional about working together! One body of Christ. Unity.

Thoughts about serving others

This link includes a list of posts about Serving the Least, the Lost, and the Lonely.

My prayer is for you to join me on this journey. Subscribe to this blog below to get an email when a new post is available.

Let the Word evoke words. May your life encourage lives.

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