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Has the Church Confused Influence for Impact?

Has the Church Confused Influence for Impact?

Most of my life, I’ve felt a tug toward greatness.

You know–that feeling that burns deep and can push us wide? Deep because we know that we were created to do important, meaningful, gorgeous things in the world. Wide because we look around us at all that we aren’t doing and see people who seem great in our eyes—people who carry great influence, great ideas, great power.

And that feeling in us, that yearning for greatness, can sometimes make us feel very small. Small because we lack great influence. Small because we lack world-changing ideas. Small because we lack great power. I don’t have a million followers, a best-selling book, a corporate position or a lot of money. I’m guessing you might not, either.

But we look at others who do, and it’s easy to feel like we should be doing something bigger and greater and more important with our lives. Sometimes, we might even find ourselves thinking: “What if I’ve missed it?” “What if I’m never great in the way I long to be?”

Those are the moments when I find myself trying to push my way into greatness. I think that if I can work harder, think more deeply or just be better—then, perhaps, greatness will fall upon me like a cape. If I just keep driving my way forward, maybe I can make this thing—this elusive greatness—happen.

But I can’t. It never works out that way.

And honestly, it doesn’t matter how hard I push; my grid for understanding greatness is all backward when I look at it this way. That’s why I have to go back to how Jesus sees greatness—particularly in Matthew 23. A little spoiler warning for you: His idea of greatness isn’t anything like what we see online or on TV. Shocker, I know.

First, a little background: In Matthew 23, Jesus is talking with His disciples and with the crowds, and He is warning them from living the way the Pharisees live. They’re walking shams. They love to get noticed in a crowd, Jesus says. They love the best seats in the house and the honor that comes with being a leader. They look spiritual and they soak up attention like sponges.

They wield great influence. They say they have great ideas. They love having great power. But they’re liars. They refuse to practice what they preach, and their influence and ideas actually tie up the souls of their listeners with heavy burdens. They have power, yes. But rather than setting people free, they’re making spiritual slaves through their hypocrisy.

“They do all their deeds to be seen by others,” Jesus cautions. There is nothing in them that really wants to serve others. They just want attention. The bad news for them is: now they’ve gotten it. The King of the Universe is paying attention to them, but the attention they draw is damning. Their lives are all about themselves, when they should be pointing people to God.

It is Jesus’ next words that humble and upend me: “The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:11-12).

The greatness I see scrolling through on social media, the power I see on television—these things I find myself longing for and envying—are not true greatness. They are a sham. It is not that the people I follow are shams, but that my perception of true greatness is skewed. I look at my fellow humans and I see their influence, their ideas and their power, and so often, I want what they have.

But what my soul actually wants—what it really needs—is God. Because when it comes down to it, there is no power apart from Him, no influence apart from Him, no insight apart from Him. Standing in front of the God of the Heavens, the Maker and Creator of all, each one of us is unfathomably small. There is only one who is great, and He—Christ Jesus—became the servant of all. Unlike the Pharisees, He did practice what He preached. He took the lowest road, the humblest form, the surest pain—all because He is truly great, and that greatness led Him to the deepest humility. It led Jesus to death on a Roman cross.

From the outside, Jesus’ life might have looked rather small. From heaven’s perspective, his life was the greatest life of all. According to the world, this way of doing things is backward. But according to the Kingdom of God, it’s perfectly right.

Greatness is smallness, servanthood, humility. It is not power, ideas and influence.

God’s type of greatness doesn’t appear powerful in the world’s eyes, and it’s certainly not sexy. But it’s the kind of greatness that Jesus lived out when He walked the earth—the truest kind of greatness there is. So instead of looking to our phones and our screens for what greatness we might be able to create for ourselves, let’s seek true greatness in our own lives: serving and loving those around us, right where we are.

A version of this article originally appeared at in 2015.

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