pitiful salesmen

I've been contemplating that Jacques Ellul quote in the last entry, and I want to add to my thoughts on insignificant ministry from last month. In "ministry," there's a tendency to think that organizational success (people served, money raised, etc) benefits God, or makes God look good, and is therefore the best witness. People admire successful ministries, and give more money to ministries that can demonstrate effectiveness. Which then enables more service to the needy. And doesn't this all serve God's purposes better?

It would seem so. But is God really taking the same approach as all other human organizations and businesses? Success sells? Impress people and they will support and join you? Is God really trying to gather our support?

Maybe that interpretation could be applied to Jesus' early ministry. The gathering the crowds and calling disciples part. But not the later part, the lamb to the slaughter, degrading execution as a criminal part.

Jesus left behind what could be called a successful ministry and went, not to the head of a crowd storming Jerusalem, but to the lonely confusion of Gethsemane and the apparent final failure of Golgatha. We may make it look climactic and heroic with our theology, but the reaction of the disciples show how it looked to them: Like a fiasco. A horrible catastrophe. The end.

The relevance to me right now is that what is considered success in ministry, people served, donations gathered, plans accomplished, supporters impressed, impact made, none of these things look like what Jesus was after. Jesus was certainly trying to be a witness for God, but not by impressing people in the usual ways. If anything, Jesus' witness is that he didn't try to impress people in the usual ways. He wasn't trying to gather their support. It's Jesus' glaring disinterest in this that is impressive. It says that God doesn't need our support. God is offering us something, but does not need us to take it. God doesn't need to impress us. God doesn't need to sell us on it. What God is offering is what we desperately need and what we can get nowhere else.

As I wrote in "insignificant ministry," successful ministries always end up endlessly fundraising and giving media interviews. Maybe that kind of publicity does make God more attractive to some people. But it also makes God look very much like a politician.

I think it's very important not to try to succeed like every other human organization tries to succeed. Focus only on faithfulness, on following Jesus, even when it looks like a fiasco, like certain failure (and it will). Learn to live with confusion and failed plans and frequent rejections. And don't be dismayed by the lack of success, or that your failure is making God look bad. It is not by your plans and hard work that God's cause will be victorious. It is when your plans collapse and your work falls pitifully short and failure is certain, it is then that God will save you. You will not make God look good. God will glorify himself by rescuing you in your utter helplessness. Just like he did with Jesus.

What other human organization wants salesmen like that?