Serving Without Seeking the Crown
When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
July 23, 2021, Words By: Gideon Ochieng, Image By: Blakely Dadson
When the Center for Transforming Mission (CTM) began working in Nairobi, we had no idea it would grow into what it is today. What started as an afternoon catch-up for a few became an anticipated monthly fellowship for leaders all over the city. There was no name attached to the meetings, no one was paid to attend, they simply came. A simple gathering of folks grew into some sort of movement – sometimes with over 100 leaders in attendance. Today, we’ve trained leaders in over 10 communities, with more requesting future training. All this begs the question: why did they come?
In this week’s text, thousands are following Jesus around the countryside. John tells us it’s because of the healing miracles Jesus had been performing. I’m sure the crowd included those who had been healed, those who were still sick, and those that brought their loved ones in the hope of receiving healing too. While His healing power is what drew the crowds, Jesus does not seem eager to show off. Instead, He joins His disciples who were seated by the mountainside. As He observes the people streaming in, He sees their hunger. Could this be the reason why so many of them are sick? That they are so poor that they are not even able to feed themselves? Jesus has a plan to feed them but chooses to engage His disciples rather than do it on His own. The few fish and the bread are multiplied to feed over 5,000 people.
Then came the most predictable response from the crowd: “We must now coronate our King”. John records, “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.”
Like the crowd seeking healing from Jesus, our leaders usually come to have their needs met. It might be for training, or help running their churches in the slum communities, or the need for material items. Some leaders hope for financial support and others for an official validation of their ministry. By associating with CTM and other known organizations it simply puts a stamp of approval for their ministries, which some desperately yearn for.
For me, and the other leaders at CTM, it is sometimes overwhelming to be invited by those we serve, and who look to us for guidance, to validate their work. Of course, they are already authorized by the Spirit to act in Jesus’ name and that is what we help them see, but the dynamic I am describing here creates a huge temptation to power up and make a name for ourselves.
Jesus resists this temptation. He does not use the opportunity to advance himself. Jesus shows us what is at the heart of incarnational ministry: coming alongside those we serve and inviting them to participate in their own healing. We all have ego needs and I do too, and sometimes I confess that we have used the communities we serve to meet those needs. When we do our reward is very small, and very toxic, and we end up hurting those we serve. We are not the sage on the stage with all the answers. We are a vulnerable and imperfect community who recognizes the Spirit at work in hard places, coming alongside what the Spirit is already doing. This is what Jesus models for us in the feeding miracle. Jesus has the good sense to go away when the crowd wants more than is necessary for him to give. Knowing when to disappear is perhaps the lost art of leadership and it requires a certain kind of faith that is not often practiced. Perhaps this is why later in his ministry, Jesus says, “It is to your advantage that I go away.” So he can send the Spirit who will lead and guide us in the way of God, with the same wisdom and clarity and deep trust that the Spirit is not only at work in all things, but that we are authorized to work alongside God and co-create our own future.
Dwelling Among Us
How are you tempted to take on the crown as you serve today? What is your community telling you about how you serve or come alongside them? How are you celebrating the good news among the most vulnerable?