I’ve been reading through the Gospel of Luke and I came across these lines in Chapter 4:
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.
That verse stopped me cold because I know its place in the story.
This is early in Jesus’ ministry. In fact, the episode from which Jesus “returned” was his testing in the wilderness. These lines represent the very beginning of Jesus’ work — before he read the scroll of the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue at Nazareth, before he performed any miracles, before he challenged religious authorities. At the outset of his ministry “everyone praised him.”
Such was not the case at the end of his ministry, of course. The same evangelist tells us that the Romans spit on him and mocked him on the cross. So did his fellow Jews. Jesus’ ministry began with wide popular acclaim, but it ended with criminal ridicule.
I read lots of pastor books and listen to sermons and seminars about the best ways to reach, disciple and minister to people. I stay informed about the latest news, trends, and ideas in the church world. And among all those books and magazines, conferences and coffees, I see a very clear trajectory for successful ministry: get bigger. Make an impact. Build a platform.
The opposite of what Jesus did.
By all accounts, Jesus did not have a successful ministry. Jesus was the Benjamin Button of upward mobility. Jesus didn’t build his platform, he dismantled it. Jesus didn’t defend his rights, he surrendered them. Jesus didn’t gain influence, he squandered it. His insistence on adopting the marginalized earned him a place on the margins. His upside-down story left him bleeding, betrayed, and alone.
I am convicted by the inverted trajectory of Jesus’ ministry, and by the idea that because I want a successful ministry, I do not want a Christlike one.