I read John 3:3 today. John the baptizer said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” The context was John’s fading popularity and influence in comparison with Jesus. John’s disciples were upset that so many people were going over to Jesus; they felt threatened and discouraged. They wanted John to remain in the spotlight, and no doubt wanted to be included as part of his inner circle.
But John had already embraced the reality that he was not the hero of the story – Jesus was. Not only did he embrace it, he gloried in it. God appointed him to prepare the way for people to repent and place their trust in Christ. He would fade from the scene shortly (and violently), but his life and ministry would have a lasting impact. He was a bridge that connected repentant sinners to the eternal life and freedom that come through a relationship with Jesus. Better yet – he connected people with the very person of Christ – because Jesus is life and freedom.
As I attempt to listen to God regarding the next 10 years of my life and ministry (I turn 50 in May), the image of John the Baptist, the woman at the well, and Barnabas loom large. And another character keeps coming to mind – Gandolf from the Lord of the Rings.
- John the Baptist – In some significant ways that God has not yet revealed I will be stepping aside as others step forward in the coming years. Ultimately this will occur because God wants people to see more of Jesus and less of Tom Blaylock, but also because God will use me to bring other leaders (younger leaders) into a place of health and influence. Their progression will be similar to my own: healing, health, maturity, mission. (This is not chronological, in fact mission is integral and motivational for the entire process – it was my desire to live on mission again that pulled me toward healing, health, and maturity.) As they gain strength and grow in their character and ability as servant leaders, my role will change. They will increase, and I will decrease.
- The woman at the well – Whatever God does in and through my life and marriage in the future will grow from the soil of my grace story. I grew up in a home fractured by addiction. I lived through the birth and death of a glorious dream to plant a church which left me angry, burned out and cynical. Sandi and I saw our relationship sicken and slip into a coma for several years as we settled for far less than what we’d hoped for in marriage. But, like the Samaritan woman in John 4, Jesus met me in my brokenness and denial, and poured living water into my parched soul. He brings dead things back to life – and that is the story that will undergird our ministry in the coming years.
- Barnabas – In Acts 9 Barnabas is the only one willing to give Paul a second chance. After Paul’s conversion Barnabas vouches for him and takes him to the Apostles. In Acts 11 Barnabas travels to Tarsus to bring Paul to Antioch. Through these actions Barnabas advocated and lent his own credibility to Paul. He eventually steps aside and allows Paul to lead the team on their missionary journeys.
- Gandolf – God has been saying to me in recent months, “You are the mentor in the story – not the hero.” In fact, not only is Jesus the capital “H” Hero, but there are other “little Christs” who will also play a heroic role in the story, and my job will be to mentor, advocate, connect, make room for, and release them into their protagonist calling as I step back and coach them (and celebrate with them) from the sidelines. So, I am like Gandolf – expect I am short like a Hobbit and have no powers…
These reflections are nowhere more evident than in my current role with student ministry. I have an important assignment God has given me for this season. Establishing a ministry that is utterly dependent upon my gift set and personality would sabotage everything God wants to do in the long run. From the very first God is asking me to embrace the roles of John, the Samaritan woman, Barnabas and Gandolf. This year will be a time of preparation (John) and of laying a strong foundation of grace (Samaritan woman). When the time is right I believe God will identify a younger leader who will grow into the next student ministry pastor – and my job will be to mentor and release him or her when they are ready (Barnabas and Gandolf).