The Good Commission

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Listen to “The Good Commission” by Fred Smith

 

Some blogs are diaries – personal and revealing by making you feel you have been invited into the interior of the author’s life. Others are more like almanacs – filled with useful information and resources by pointing you to other people and places. I’m more like the latter. I want to point you to a wonderful example of the diarist who draws you into the interior of his life.

Such is the case here. This is a short excerpt from David Wayne, a pastor in Baltimore, Maryland wrestling with God and cancer. “I have tried to play the good soldier in my battle with cancer but have secretly nursed a grudge at God and felt that He had given me the short end of the stick.” 

So he’s up at 3:45 in the morning writing.

I think it’s time to say goodbye to the Christian industrial complex, the evangelical hype and marketing machine that promises life change every Thursday and promises that you, yes, you, and me, yes, me, can change the world. Hogwash. None of us is required to change the world for Christ. Christ has changed the world permanently and none of us can do anything about it. Everyone wants to change the world, no one wants to do the dishes or take out the trash. I would trade every kid who takes a mission trip to change the world for one who would stay home and clean his room, treat his brother like a human being and help mom around the house without being asked twice. Changing the world is easy, the latter is harder and far more Christlike.”

He’s so right! I’ve put it another way. I believe God is equally as interested in our living out what I call the “Good Commission” as in our fulfilling the “Great Commission” of Matthew. In 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, the apostle Paul says “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” We are awash in messages from books, pulpits, speakers and seminars about being active and purposeful, significant and influential but that is not what Paul is describing here. Even though his own life as a pioneer evangelist was marked by unusual intensity his advice to the churches was not to “get all excited” or even to focus on “winning souls” but to make it their ambition to lead a quiet life that would win the respect of outsiders.

We don’t hear that today do we? No one wants a quiet life or to be content with the work of our hands. We want to “make a difference and change the world.”

Let’s be careful about being drawn toward either constant adventure or navel gazing. Instead let’s focus on what Paul describes in Ephesians as becoming mature and examples of changed lives – even if we don’t change the world.

The Idol of Ambition

Because I have been watching the effects on younger ministry leaders being constantly pressured to build larger and larger platforms for their brand and message, I remembered something Brennan Manning said while addressing a retreat of evangelical pastors of large churches: “The greatest idol I find in leaders is ambition.”

While that was quite a few years ago and his audience was megachurches, he could have been talking about how start-up ministries and nonprofits today are saturated with advice and consulting on how to expand their influence and followers. By now, it’s common knowledge that you need an established platform for sales before a publisher will consider working with you. So this means a great deal of time is spent making the rounds of conferences, retweeting any mentions of something you have said and hoping for the big break.

The temptation of building a platform is, ironically, that it seems a perfect fit for the idol for which it is designed. By the time you’ve built it the ambition required to do so has shaped your soul. Our platforms become the gallows upon which our humility is hanged.

The world does not reward obscurity, does it?

These are not temptations reserved for the young. Even now for the older ministry leaders, the attraction of great places, platforms, and recognition is strongly tempting. In some ways even more so. We feel we have less time remaining to make an impact or leave a legacy. I understand that completely.

But doing the truth quietly without display while aiming for maturity will take us in a different direction from the idolatry of unhealthy ambition. Truly it is a gift to be simple.

Art by Ned Bustard

 

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Showing 17 comments
  • Avatar
    John T Wierick
    Reply

    Fred, this is a marvelous reminder! “Everyone wants to change the world, no one wants to do the dishes or take out the trash.” What a great insight from your pastor friend. It reminds me of the heartbreakingly beautiful song by Patty Griffin, Mary. Do you know it? The chorus goes, “Jesus said, ‘Mother, I couldn’t stay another day longer.’ / He flew right by and laid a kiss upon her face. / While the angels were singing his praises in a blaze of glory, / Mary stayed behind and started cleaning up the place.” It’s remarkable (and more than a little embarrassing) that passages like the one from 1 Thessalonians lay there gathering dust while we’re busy trying to change the world. Thanks so much for this Thursday reminder to be faithful in the ordinary things.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, John. I’m going to look up that one.

  • Avatar
    John Kelly
    Reply

    An eye-opener this morning, Fred. Thanks for this. I’ll be chewing on it all day.

  • Avatar
    Charles Gordon
    Reply

    “ Our platforms become the gallows upon which our humility is hanged.”

    What a great insight Fred! So often I find your blog articulating what I’m feeling but can’t quite put into words- this one is spot on.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Charley. It’s always hard to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy ambition. Bless you, friend.

  • Avatar
    David Wills
    Reply

    This morning in my quiet time I was in Numbers 12. Verse 3 say, ‘Now the man Moses was very meek (some versions say humble), more than all people who were on the face of the earth.’ Moses…meek? That hit hard. Your commentary this morning gives somewhat the same perspective…both the point you are making and the hitting hard part. I feel I am called to be faithful…to take the next right step which is typically across the street or next door. Thanks for making me think, Fred.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, David. Bill Haslam quotes D. Martin Lloyd-Jones in Bill’s book, “Faithful Presence”: “Meekness is essentially a true view of oneself, expressing itself in attitude and conduct with respect to others…The man who is truly meek is the one who is truly amazed that God and man can think of him as well as they do and treat him as well as they do.” That’s pretty good, I think.

  • Avatar
    John Coors
    Reply

    Fred,
    I have been thinking a lot lately about thinking small; one act of kindness, one smile, one person. I have spent many years thinking “big” to save the world, but have concluded saving the world is God’s thing, not mine. The original temptation was to be like God. I am guilty.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      I love this from Henri Nouwen, John.
      “ More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water, and be known as someone who wants to live with them. It is a privilege to have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence. Still, it is not as simple as it seems. My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups, and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets. It is difficult not to have plans, not to organize people around an urgent cause, and not to feel that you are working directly for social progress. But I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them.”

  • Avatar
    Steve Leach
    Reply

    Brother Fred,

    Your messages grounds me when yes, contemporary Christianity suggests, and at times demands, that we go big, fly higher, and stretch ourselves until we are so thin that we have little resemblance to our Savior. The slow, quiet life offers the time, space, and peace to reflect more of Him and less of us, less of me.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Steve. I know it is possible for some to “go big” because they are gifted that way and they can do it without pride or the wrong kind of ambition. Then there are others who torture themselves with comparison and trying to achieve to please others. It’s a gift to know the difference.

  • Avatar
    Matt Wilson
    Reply

    There are five kids beyond the sliding door this morning sleeping while their dad reads this on the back porch. Dads and husbands need to make note of the small things done with great love is the answer to the healthy household. This reinforces the truth the presence of God is found often in the ordinary and mundane not necessarily in the large, loud and luxurious. Thanks to Mr. Tim Challies for linking me, an ordinary guy to the thoughts of the gathering and Mr. Fred Smith.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Matt. It’s a pleasure to meet you. Those five kids are blessed.

  • Avatar
    Jesse Casler
    Reply

    Fred, thanks so much for sharing this important message. I’ll email you some thoughts that I wrote up recently on my reflections over the years of what it takes to thrive as an employee of HOPE International. There is a lot of resonance there with what you have written in this post. Thanks again, friend!

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thanks, Jesse. I’ve read your comments and agree with you. Of course, I have a bias!

  • Avatar
    Paul O. Bischoff
    Reply

    If I were losing the battle with cancer, I’d be mad at God, too. This vent sounds to me like spiritualized self-pity. Why is the Great Clommission no longer valid because this pastor is carrying a grudge against God? Was Jesus insensitive to the hurting in the world when he told his followers to Go, teach, disciple and baptize…planting churches, that is, change the world. And really, should we all now diss young people whose lives are changed on mission trips? And how does David even know the life-changing impact he may have had earlier in his ministry on those in his ministry? Why not reflect on that?

    Let’s not reduce God and his work by looking at the world through the lens of our own self-pity. I fail to see any connection between one dying of cancer and the world-changing message of One who died on a cross. The Crucified One asks us to do more than the dishes. I suggest Pastor Dave talk to his primary care doctor about an anti-depressant.

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