As for those who were held in high esteem—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not show favoritism—they added nothing to my message. Gal. 2:6
I thought I had made it. I thought I had arrived. I thought that I was finally on the inside. I had been in local church ministry only 5 years and already had a lead pastor role. On this particular morning I opened up my email to find an invitation to a full day gathering of young lead pastors in my city.
It was to be a small gathering where we would hear from well-known influential pastors from around the country in a conversational setting. During lunch we would share the same table and swap our stories with them as well. I felt honored to be invited to such a gathering. I wasn’t looking for this invitation, it came looking for me. I felt affirmed and honored.
In every culture, society, and grouping of people, there are those who occupy high positions and those who occupy low positions. Those in high positions are often thought to be elite and successful. Their the ones who make the decisions and hold all the power. They’re the privileged and favored. Those who occupy low positions often look up to those in high positions believing that the more they engage with those in high positions, more esteem and favor will be added to their lives.
The day came for the gathering. I was eager and excited. I was hoping that attending this gathering would add to and validate my ministry. That it would increase my network, my influence, and my ability to make a name for myself. That by spending time with those who are esteemed, I too would become esteemed.
In Galatians 2 Paul shares about an invitation he had to a private meeting with esteemed church leaders in Jerusalem. While it was an important meeting to preserve unity in the church, Paul’s very clear that he wasn’t concerned with either growing in honor and esteem or having these other leaders add anything to his message or ministry. It was God who validated his ministry, not men. Paul wasn’t driven by acquiring position or power.
While the lure of honor and esteem is tempting, it’s never truly satisfying. Even if you move to a higher position, once you get there you’ll realize there’s still an even higher position that you don’t have. And the position for which you’ve worked so hard immediately loses its pleasure and joy. You can end up spending your entire life trying to chase something that you will never actually attain.
Honor and esteem can also be dangerous. As you gain more influence and recognition, there’s a greater chance people will speak highly of you. While that may feel really good, it’s dangerous to believe everything people say. It can give you a false perception of invincibility and that your better off than you actually are. For example, one of the “esteemed and influential” pastors at that young lead pastors gathering I attended ended up resigning from his large nationally recognized ministry a few years later due to moral failure. In an interview after his resignation, he said it was subtle shift, but over time he began to believe that he could get away with just about anything. He said he began to believe his own press.
Paul will say in other places that when we rely on honor and esteem for effectiveness in life and ministry we diminish God’s power in our lives. God choses to have his power most manifested in our lives through our weaknesses rather than our strengths. Jesus repeatedly tells His tells disciples that the place of honor in His kingdom isn’t in the high positions of power and authority but in the low positions of help and service. He says, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever want to be first must be slave to all (Mark 10:43-44).”
After the gathering of young lead pastors was over, I got back in my car realizing that not a whole lot had changed for me after attending the get-together. On all accounts it was a great day. I met some great people. I learned a lot from those who had been in ministry much longer than I had. I was even sent home with a stack of resources.
But as I drove away I realized that not a whole lot for me had changed. I felt no more honored or esteemed than I had when I showed up. I was going back to the same place to the same people, who, even though they love and care for me, see me as Bryan, as dad, as their friend, not as their celebrity pastor. I realized that I was looking to this gathering and time with these influential leaders as some form of validation rather than looking to God.
So today, instead of looking for ways to increase your honor and esteem, look for ways to empty yourself and serve. Through doing so, may you find the power and grace of God to be your in abundance.
1. In what areas of my life do I try to increase my honor and esteem?
2. What is the motivation and drive for pursuing greater honor?
3. Where have I found it left me dissatisfied?