Unless you live on Jupiter and the solar storm completely wiped out your communications, then you will almost certainly be aware of the comments by my good friend Mark Driscoll about the cowardice of British preachers. At the time Mark made those comments I decided to stay out of the fray. Now the storm has subsided, I feel brave enough to come out of my bunker and comment! In truth, I was persuaded that this was an occasion when discretion was the better part of valour.
Firstly, Mark was right in recognising a problem among British preachers and leaders. He did us a great service in identifying the reality of an issue, and we owe him a debt of gratitude for that. It often takes someone from outside to notice and highlight cultural blind spots and problems. So let’s leave our wounded pride in the dirt where it belongs and thank Mark for having the courage to speak out, and in such a way as made us sit up and take notice.
Secondly, although he was right in identifying a problem, he was wrong in the analysis of that problem. Our problem is not one of cowardice. This is a hard context to be a Christian and an even harder one to be a Christian leader. There is no kudos in being a ‘pastor’ or ‘vicar’. Pity? Maybe. Admiration and envy? Not a chance! The reality is it is actually getting more difficult, and will probably continue to do so.
In my opinion, the principal problem of British preachers is our lack of real gospel ambition. This is not due to cowardice; more to do with vision and passion. Many people have analysed the lack of entrepreneurial flair in British culture. Of course, there are a number of notable entrepreneurs, but maybe their notability is illustrative of the problem? If there were more, they wouldn’t be so conspicuous.
But it seems to me that we don’t make it easy for people to step out, take a risk and break new ground. We value the traits of steadiness and reliability. We honour those that can maintain a steady course. Ever since Aesop, it’s the tortoise who gets the plaudits, and the hare is dismissed as a rash, over-excitable ne’er-do-well!
Without a shadow of a doubt, dependability and durability are vital and commendable virtues. We would be nowhere without them. But we need also those who are willing to step outside the safety of existing structures, try new things, explore new territory and even experiment with new fangled ideas! Not simply for the thrill of doing so. Much less for some egotistical impulse to make a name for oneself. But for the sake of the gospel, the glory of God and the fame of Jesus. In short, we need such ambition that is bold, courageous, daring, risky and sacrificial.
Why? I want to highlight just three of the many reasons:
(1) The gospel requires it
Jesus Christ is the King of kings and the Lord of lords, and he is the gospel. His supremacy can never be a localised affair. His name is the name that every knee will bow before and every tongue will confess. As those who have been given eyes to see his glory, our hearts should be so enraptured and besotted that we can do nothing but speak his name and declare his praise: to our own hearts, in our own homes and churches, around our own communities and even to the farthest, most remote regions of our planet. John Wesley once famously defended his itinerant ministry with the claim that ‘the whole world is my parish’. As we reflect and meditate upon the gospel and renew our hearts again with a vision of the Saviour of the world, for the world, we will see our ambition for his fame increase exponentially.
(2) The Spirit empowers for it
Paul reassured his young protégé Timothy that we have not been given a spirit of timidity, but one of “power, love and self-control”. He then goes on to write, “Therefore, do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord…”. The Spirit’s principal role in the New Covenant is to exalt Christ. It is by the Spirit that God reveals his glory to his people and it is the same Spirit that God displays his glory through his people to the world. For all the discussions about the person and work of the Holy Spirit we should never forget that, because his primary task is to exalt Christ, then it is his work to equip the Church for mission. He loves nothing more than hearing rescued sinners make much of Christ. His ambition knows no boundaries, and will not be satisfied until eternity is populated with the innumerable company from every nation and from all tribes and peoples and languages.
(3) The need demands it
The need is a world full of men and women who have not, as yet, confessed Christ nor ever glimpsed his glory. The world is a large place, full of people who have, in the words of a repentant Jonah, ”forsaken the grace that could be theirs”. In the light of this, how can we satisfy ourselves with our small achievements, and be so easily distracted by our petty concerns?
We can never be cajoled into action, nor browbeaten into effort. But please let us ask the Holy Spirit to do a great work in our hearts. May we become willing to spend and be spent for Christ and his fame, and those who will not rest until his kingdom comes and his will is done on earth as it is in heaven.
And this, not at all for us, but only always for him.