Earlier this year I had the opportunity to volunteer at one of the Passion 2014 gatherings. As volunteers it is frequently emphasized to us that any of the students passing through this gathering could be the next Chris Tomlin, John Piper, Louie Giglio, or Beth Moore. Several will go out from this gathering to start megachurches, influence denominations, start hugely successful nonprofits dedicated to providing clean water in Africa or ending sex slavery in India…who knows? And we get to be on the front lines of serving them during this time.
Certainly, given the law of averages and the size of a typical Passion gathering these days, there is a strong likelihood that the next Louie Giglio, Chris Tomlin, John Piper, or Beth Moore is somewhere in the room. But what no one seems to want to talk about very much is that the vast majority of these students will not be the next Chris Tomlin, Louie Giglio, or Beth Moore. Instead, the vast majority of these students will go out into the real world and take jobs as engineers, doctors, lawyers, teachers, accountants, IT professionals, baristas, nurses, paralegals, plumbers, carpenters, architects, you name it. The vast majority of these students will live in the city as young professionals, or get married and move to the suburbs and start families. There they will live as husbands, mothers, fathers, wives, and strive to raise children in the fear and admonition of the Lord.
But in the evangelicalism of our day and age, this is not good enough.
We are addicted to chasing extraordinary.
In so many parts of evangelicalism, Paul is held up as the standard to emulate and strive for. Look at his zealous, singlehearted, radical devotion to Christ! Look at what all he went through in order to spread the Gospel throughout the known world of that time! Look at the passion he felt, that drove him forward in all he did to advance the Gospel! Shouldn’t you be ashamed if your life is anything less than this? This is exactly the sort of thing we get from so many pulpits and conferences for zealous young college students in evangelicalism these days.
But who received Paul’s letters? It was ordinary believers. Not other apostles. Not even other pastors. Paul’s letters were written to ordinary, rank-and-file believers. Bet you didn’t notice this, did you?
These people, the recipients of Paul’s letters, were carpenters, farmers, traders, sailors, fishermen, shepherds, mothers, fathers, and children. Compared to the apostles, these people were no great shakes. Their lives were quite mundane. They were ordinary people who gathered together in someone’s home to drink their wine and eat their bread and hear the Holy Spirit speaking to them through the words of an apostle.
And then they went home.
And then they got up the next day and lived a perfectly normal life.
And they came back the next week and went through the exact same drill.
And on and on it went, all the way to the very end of their days.
Then they died, and now they are all forgotten.
For most of these people, the most extraordinary thing that happened in their lives was the day they trusted Christ and joined the Christian community. After that, their lives were completely back to normal. They listened to the words of Paul, learned from him, then in faith stayed exactly where they were, doing exactly what they were doing before, after he left.
Never in any of Paul’s writings do we get the sense that he was asking his readers to stop being who or what they were. He never challenged them to pack it all up and go overseas to preach the Gospel. We never get hints that he is making them feel guilty for living in relative comfort and ease, compared to his lack of it.
For some of you, this idea of identifying with the ordinary rank-and-file believers who received Paul’s letters may seem like a sort of death. Death to the dream of being extraordinary, of being someone special.
I get that. I once dreamed that I could one day be the next Chris Tomlin. I once dreamed that I could stand on a stage and preach or sing in front of thousands.
Matt Chandler, a prominent megachurch pastor in the Dallas area, attended the first ever Passion gathering in Austin as a college student back in 1997. During those days God turned his world upside down and sent him out as a flaming arrow across the sky for His glory. Now he is a big-time megachurch pastor, widely recognized as the next John Piper.
Those are the sorts of stories that are celebrated around Passion. You too can be just like Matt Chandler. You too can be just like Chris Tomlin, who is now living the dream, married to a former Miss Auburn who is now the woman whom every young Christian woman on the face of the earth would give her very life to be. Just pray harder. Surrender more. Dedicate more fervently. Live with even greater zeal than before.
I wanted it. God, how I wanted it. I have been going to Passion gatherings for over a decade now, just hoping and praying that God would rock my world as he did Matt Chandler’s, and send me out as a flaming arrow across the sky for His glory.
Hasn’t happened yet.
So if this seems like a death to you, death to the dream of being extraordinary, death to the dream of being someone special, I get that.
But for countless others of you, this idea of identifying with the rank-and-file believer instead of the Apostle Paul is the greatest news you have ever heard in your life, next to the Gospel itself.
As noted earlier, we in evangelicalism are addicted to chasing extraordinary. Meaning that we have GOT to make a good name for ourselves. We have GOT to do big things for Christ that will be remembered by God and by others for all of eternity. It is not enough to run your business ethically or raise small children to the glory of God unless you are doing it on another continent, with bullets flying overhead and malaria crouching at your door. Why? Because we approach life needing desperately to succeed. To fail is to die. Success equals life.
But because of God’s grace, we are free to be ordinary. We don’t have to go out and turn the world upside down. Jesus Christ already did that when he won the victory over sin and death at the cross. We don’t need other people to love, respect, or approve of us in order for us to matter. We don’t even need anything from God. Why? Because we already have everything we need in Christ Jesus. Because Jesus was extraordinary, it is perfectly OK for us to be ordinary.