Satisfied Low

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We’ve always wanted a king, haven’t we? We’ve always wanted a leader to make our side clear, so it’s no wonder that the American church has a tendency to elevate the rich and put the poor in the corner. The rich and famous lead us to success every time. Jesus must have known we’d be this way, because He clearly flipped it upside down. He never stopped elevating the poor and putting the earthly kingdom in the corner. But aren’t we still looking for a king? Don’t most of us aspire to be known among the greatest of these, the ones with the biggest platforms, the ones with the longest reach?

Sometimes I wonder if we want a leader or a speaker or a writer to tell us what to do so intimacy with our God won’t be required, and serving out of forgiveness and love won’t be so hard. We don’t outright think these things. This is just the model we’re following.

The model we’re following is an old one. The model is an old wine skin, but we are asking here for the new wine. As I’ve written these posts about revolution, I’ve received several emails from those among you who have quit church or from people in the pews who experience Sunday mornings as their spiritual low for the week. The life has gone out of so many in the American church because often we go as consumers. We’re going to buy a message. The responsibility has landed on the people in leadership to package up something good and sellable. When we talk about the church in these cases, we are not referring to ourselves. We’re referring to the leaders, what level of spectacularness they’ve acquired.

Before I describe this top-heavy model, let me ask that church leaders to not assume that their perspective of their congregation is the correct one. Ask the single girl or the widow who sits alone every single Sunday. Ask her and the ones that come in smelling nasty. Ask the one without an education and the one who doesn’t know anything about style. Ask the one who is the object of our justice. Ask the least in the congregation if they are being equipped as ministers of the gospel. Ask them how many times they’ve been called and treated as “sister.” Are the gifts of the Spirit celebrated in these? Don’t waste time patting yourself on the back until you know.

Often those in the pews are waiting for those on stage to open the gates of ministry to include them, and until then the pew-dwellers are consumers of messages toward which they are either numb or angry.  People just want to be known. We want a place in the kingdom, and we all know that if Jesus sets the table, we’re supposed to have a place at it. As we desperately want out of this numbness and anger, we aspire to be included in the only model we know. This is why we need revolution.

Highest esteem and honor belongs to our elders and all servants of the Lord, obviously, but something has happened as we’ve syncretized with our culture. The people have aimed for the stage and the throne. We have hailed some as Moses and said get us out of here and take us to the Promised Land, and we have wanted to be Moses taking people to the Promised Land, as if the least of these don’t already have the Spirit of God leading them to the Promised Land, as if every single person doesn’t have everything they need for life and godliness.

There are people in positions way up front on pedestals like thrones, and many line up to associate with them. They are hailed as great prophets and teachers, preachers with motivational fire in their voices. Among them are ones who love the position. Not all do. They love to be called “leader” when they’re out in town. They have a tight network of “leaders.” If we could just get in with these leaders, then we will have a place in the kingdom. This is the American way. Our royalty are the ones who’ve made themselves famous, especially to each other. It is no different in the church, how a platform means more followers, and “more” makes us worthy of honor. At feasts and gatherings, these are the ones who long for the head of the table. We all want this, to be known as important.

When Jesus addresses the Scribes (writers) and Pharisees, He tells us this:

 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:1-12).

Do what they say, but not as they do. Certainly do not aspire to do as they do. Do not aspire to build a platform and have such high position that you are placed at the head of every table. Do not aspire to be popular, though we should do our best to be at peace with all people.

I am writing this because I know it to be true, but I am the guiltiest one among us. This is not about blogging. This is about our culture and how the church has mixed in, but often I have viewed this culture and the church through the window of my screen. When I first started blogging, I followed a group of bloggers as they visited a country in need. These were amazing women, women that I would be honored to know and call friends. These women are humble followers of Jesus. It broke me in a million ways to read their stories, and it showed me a window into the powerless, a way to help. But in another way, it showed me a group stateside to call leaders, a group whose platform grew with their stories. They were a people to follow who had earned a status on which I could set my aim. I didn’t mean to. It’s the American way. I took their good and turned it into the model for how to use my voice for the gospel. Mixed in with aspirations to change the world, syncretizing like flavors marrying, I took a taste of power in the platform. Those women did not build the platform. I did. Those were the beginning days, when the blog-world and book-marketing world were doe-eyed. Now platform building and personal marketing is a common way of life.

Now I loathe the day I called myself a leader of anything, though as I abide, I will bear fruit, and these fruits are what the Kingdom of God is made of.

When St Cyr said that he is only a servant, I hadn’t realized that he was repeating the words of Jesus.

Think of the Shepherd. Think of the Sheep herder. Think of Him as he makes a dirty path to the water. Think of how low He lies with his sheep.

“though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8).

Photo credit: Galantucci Alessandro

Comments

  1. Okay folks, there’s more. I just needed to not write a 4,000 word post.

    Do I feel the tension here? I cannot express it. I could slice the tension with a knife.

    Friday’s post talks about the good news of all this. Thank goodness. Thank goodness. Thank goodness. Let’s talk then about what the model should be.

    • Annie Barnett says:

      Thank you for laboring this out, Amber. May we be those who walk in Jesus’ ways, in step with the Spirit.

  2. This is a very good post, Amber. It is good to be small, and we will be small whether we want to be or not. Say the name of the biggest blogger you know to people, just regular people, in the grocery store. Chances are, they will not know that name. Travel to another country and throw out the names of our U.S. power houses. Those in other countries may well not recognize those names. Each of us is small no matter how big or powerful she is. The richest among us cannot take our money to heaven. So the scrambling is a distraction. It is taking away from the time and energy we have to bless and help the person just in front of us.
    Brandee recently posted..Roller Skating

  3. You got it. This is the “dead weight heavy not after coffee talking” problem that’s real and relevant. What divides us from the bread of life is our own combustible sense of self. The “what ifs” don’t matter as much as the what haves. We’ve forgotten the heartbreak. And it stinks. Who are we if we don’t belong to each other? I am listening.

  4. I like where this is headed Amber and I’m grateful for the wrestle you’ve taken on. Hard but good word. Have to read the previous posts and will stay tuned for the next.

  5. Elisabeth Beasley says:

    Why don’t I have your cell number in my phone anymore! Going low going deep is a painful journey. I love you sweet amber. Spirit born words light up the path of truth. Truth is needed.

  6. Thank you, sister.
    Travis Curtice recently posted..Fayetteville, we’re moving.

  7. This series has been mighty powerful and wise. So rarely has anyone called us out on our consumer culture in such a personal and practical way. I wonder if what you’re saying about platform/fame not being the way of Christ helps me understand my feelings about my book being published because it feels more like disruption of my life than blessing. But it’s a good book and there are readers out there.

    Yet this writing work has given me my ministry as I teach composition to young people who come from some of the worst neighborhoods in Chicago. I just heard a Civil Rights guy on On Being who talked about how we need courage to stand with young people in darkness and show them how to be lights.

    Well, I”m tired and probably need to write my own blog post about this…Thank you for your good work.

  8. As always, you give voice to the words many of us can’t dislodge. But our hearts are heavy with the knowing, and then along comes your bell, deep and strong, and we resonate with truth.

    Preach on, sister. It is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
    Kelly @ Love Well recently posted..Recharge

  9. Still following this thread you’re unraveling, Amber. I feel the tension. I am praying for you as you wrestle it out, and for us as we wrestle along side.

  10. I think I’ve commented here once before, and I’m not really a commenter on blog posts.. but I felt like adding some thoughts. I’m a non United States of American but lived in the Arkansas Christian bubble for a while, and have now lived outside the US for the past nine years and five of those have been in Western Europe, which is about as secular as it gets. No one here knows about the “famous” Christian bloggers in the US, no one in the churches I’ve been part of have read the books or share the essays on facebook. When I found the blogs several years ago, I needed encouragement, inspiration and challenge (and the example of women who were writing their stories), and it was a lifeline to me in a lonely season of being a new mom, but over time it became too much. LIke I was standing in the detergent aisle in WalMart – one product essentially, but so many choices, so many different nuances, different marketing, slightly different this, slightly different that.. but all I needed was to get the clothes washed. It was information/inspiration/encouragement overload. Most of us probably follow at least 10 blogs, perhaps a lot more, do we really need so much information? Is there such a thing as too much inspiration? Too much encouragement? Too many stories? What happened to telling other people’s stories instead of just our own? What happened to seeing other people’s stories in their own context without it needing to connect in some way to making our project happen, to making our name great, to make our life more meaningful, to fulfill our purpose? I guess this is the other thing I see with the church in the US and the US Christian culture machine – the obsession with seeing Christians personally fulfilled, satisfied, “alive” in Christ. Isn’t there more to following Jesus than my own personal enlightenment? Just some rough thoughts that reading your post triggered.. hope you don’t mind the raw download.
    Devi recently posted..a tribute to my grandmother

  11. ro elliott says:

    I love what you are wrestling out here… Top down living… it’s the way the world gets things done…gets what it needs from others to accomplish its goals… Top down living shouldn’t be found in God’s kingdom… Jesus… Jesus lived the very opposite of a top-down life… He the King of the upside-down kingdom…He turned the ways of the world upside down…inside out… This kingdom where the first will be last…to mature is to become like a child…where a cup of cold water has value… where the measuring stick of performance is snapped in two…”when did feed…cloth….you” ….Amber…keep wrestling …. don’t ever stop… I am not sure we are ever supposed to…at least for me at 56… I am still wrestling…and I love continuing to see how little I know…but all the while …deepening in the abiding love of Abba.

  12. I’ve been quietly following along, and LOVE where your words are going. “When we talk about the church in these cases, we are not referring to ourselves. We’re referring to the leaders, what level of spectacularness they’ve acquired.” so so good. It’s time that our churches and we as christians get back to the basics-love,grace,and mercy. It’s time to bring the lost into the fold instead of keeping them out.

    My soul is getting exciting about what God is going to do through your words and the impact they may have.

  13. Amber, your words give voice to thoughts I’ve had for awhile but didn’t know how to put.In my opinion, the American church, many but not all, has become a reflection of the world around it, the same power struggles, the same rise to the top of the brightest, the same lost ness of the not so bright, a place for peers to go and socialize and be seen, similar to a country club. When all that we all need to do is follow the road that Jesus led, loving and serving for the right reasons, putting others first, content to be under the radar when called for, and to lead when called for with, always with, humility. Keep up the good work, Amber, and continue to shake people up.

  14. I’m going to miss you.

  15. I am so new to the blogging world and have already made mistakes like these. I had great goals, but now, I just want to serve Jesus and love Him. Thanks for sharing your struggles. I am struggling too.

  16. I’m late (as usual) to this conversation. But I have to tell you– I have seen this in the past 3 years. I started out writing and watching and thought it was my goal to do “that thing” everyone else was doing and was quickly reminded by the Spirit that no– it’s NOT the way it’s supposed to be…for me. I am satisfied low too. Sometimes it’s lonely. But wow–the reward is intimacy with God and with the few others who walk this path as well. So thank you.
    Lorretta recently posted..avoiding a snark attack

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