Stop Being a Third Wheel

third wheelIt is hard not to look with awe at the life of John the Baptist. The first page of the gospel story is really the last of his own, and while we know a little about his radical prophetic call from the wilderness and his courage to speak truth to power, we also see that he was a man without ego, and (in the view of Jesus) a man without equal.

Once this man, the most famous spiritual leader of his time, sees that Jesus is moving into public ministry, John immediately instructs his followers to transfer their allegiance to Jesus. He steps from the public eye into obscurity, eventually finding himself alone in prison awaiting his own death. It was in that place of waiting that he confirmed the depth of his own character. “I must decrease so that he may increase.” He knew he should not stand as a potential rival to Jesus. He knew that his death was the ultimate sacrifice (one he was willing to make) in order to assure that no one would ever confuse him with Jesus.

When John and his followers wrestled with his place in the story of the coming of the messiah he chose the metaphor of the friend of the groom. This is still the best metaphor for us to understand our role as leaders within the church. We are the friends of the groom. Therefore our joy is accomplished in the coming together of the bride and the groom. Our primary relationship is actually with the Groom, not the bride. The Christian leader’s love and allegiance is to the groom, and because of that love he cares for, serves, and protects the bride—but the bride is not his to possess or control.

Think of two best friends. One falls in love. The ring is bought, the wedding set, but the groom has an assignment with his job that sends him overseas. He can communicate with his bride over email or occasional phone calls but the nature of his job is such that traveling back to help with wedding details and even some of his future bride’s needs is just impossible. He is, of course, distraught at not being able to be there to help her with the wedding preparation or her day-to-day struggles. Always weighing on him is the nagging sense that he cannot really look after her or protect her until he returns. So he engages his best friend. “Help me bro. Keep an eye on her, make sure she’s okay. Make sure nothing happens to her, and if there is anything she needs, try and help her. As I would.”

And so he does. At first for his friend, but then over time, something happens between the friend of the groom and the bride. The groom is mentioned less and less, and the relationship is less and less about the groom and more about them. Until one day the friend realizes he is in love with the bride, with the way she makes him feel. Important, strong, helpful, handsome, and so on, and worse even still, she is in love with him. She has forgotten the groom, and now loves the friend of the groom more. She has come to trust him and rely on him, and the intimacy that was meant for the groom has been stolen by the friend. This is a broken picture of ministry, counseling, discipleship, and more. It is a broken picture of leadership that loses sight of its rightful place.

We meet with a lot of people who want to work with us or align themselves with us in some way. Although we have different kinds of ministries, we both need to be able to tell relatively quickly if we have some kind of chemistry or affinity with someone. We both use the same test. We look to see, if in the course of a meeting about ministry, the person will mention Jesus. You would be shocked how often Christian leaders don’t. Even when we bring up Jesus, the subject is too often changed back to ministry. Does this person have a genuine relationship with the groom or just a creepy relationship with his bride to be?

It is a warning for those of us who do ministry, who spend a lot of time with the bride, to keep our friendship with the groom strong. To make sure that our primary relationship with him is actually stronger than it is with the bride. Making sure our loyalty to him, to loving him, to serving him, to pleasing him, and to seeing him united with his bride, is more important than accolades or prominence.

It seems the greater the gifts, the greater the honor that a leader receives, the harder this test is. There should be direct correlation between influence and personal depth with God. Too often that correlation is reversed (to disastrous effect) when leaders grow in influence and drift from the God that gave it to them.

Our real job as missionaries, as sent ones, is to see people fall in love with Jesus, not us. We may make the introduction but then we must be willing to decrease in their lives so that he might increase. It still applies. Our first ambition should be to grow in our love and obedience to the one who first saved and called us. Sometimes our ambition leads our prayers in the wrong direction as we pray to do mission better, forgetting that it is relationship with Jesus that compels us into mission in the first place. Yes, it is that relationship that will sustain us through mission—but actually that relationship is the transcendent part. It is not just the fuel to do mission, it is the goal of mission. We are serving the bride in order to draw closer to the Groom.

This has been a sneak peek inside ‘Different’, a new book written by Brian Sanders and myself. It is officially released August 1, 2014.  You can find it on Amazon, Kindle, or a worship gathering at Underground or Greenhouse.



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