These days I’m coming to terms with my tendency to desire the approval of others. From what I gather, it’s a common challenge for pastors, because after all, we are in the people business where surrounding yourself with approval feels like a wise career move. We believe that if we have others approval they will give a good public report of who we are as leaders and that when that happens, we will enjoy a comfortable popularity. If we’re honest, popularity is a status that many of us have desired at one time or another be it among a small group of people or a much larger audience.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets. Lk. 6:26
Jesus repeatedly assures his disciples that their immediate ministry will not be marked by popularity. He tells them that the approval of the masses might actually indicate that their words are empty and untrue. To be labeled a “false prophet” might seem a little bit over the top, especially since we don’t readily acknowledge the public office of prophet these days. But, the point of Jesus’ warning should make us pause for a moment.
In the days of social media content, blogs, and mass communication in general, we can feel the need to clamor for affirming words from as many people as possible. We desire to be known and liked.
In contrast, I’ve recently thought about some of the most influential people in my life and how they have approached the whole posture of popularity. One of the trusted leaders I meet with regularly is a sought after speaker at the national level within his area of expertise. One of my friends who knows him referred to him as a “living legend.” But as far as I can tell, this sought after leaders hasn’t put his energy into winning popularity contests, instead he’s worked hard to be faithful to his calling.
When Jesus calls, he doesn’t call us into an ego building relationship in the way that our common popularity standards might encourage. Rather, Jesus calls us into a relationship that will give us a new identity rooted in who he is. So that’s what I’m praying for these days; a deeper relationship with the One who was despised by many and yet loved others so abundantly.