Everyone wants growth.
Churches are planted with growth goals established. Businesses launch with certain projections they want to hit. Garage bands work on songs imagining they’ll get to play them in Madison Square Garden.
(Do garage bands still exist? Can we bring those back, please?)
When everything has a growth mentality, part of what that means is doing more to sustain that thing.
People look ahead to the progression they believe they’ll make. A beat reporter imagines getting in with a sports team, growing in influence over time, and eventually reporting on a national level. A garage band imagines playing local clubs, then getting signed, then doing national tours.
(Seriously, let’s bring back garage bands!)
What if the path forward actually involved doing less?
I know that seems crazy, or at least it does to me. I grew up in an area of New Jersey that was heavily influenced by New York (concrete jungle where dreams are made of, there’s nothing you can’t do). I’ve heard it said New York is where you go to make yourself. So I grew up believing that hard work and doing more were the ways to get ahead.
That’s what makes Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians 1 so interesting to me.
“I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, for now no one can say they were baptized in my name. (Oh yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas, but I don’t remember baptizing anyone else.) For Christ didn’t send me to baptize, but to preach the Good News – and not with clever speech, for fear that the cross of Christ would lose its power.”
If I read this right, it sounds like he’s actually happy he didn’t baptize people.
Maybe you’ve never had the chance to baptize anyone, but as a pastor who has, let me tell you that baptism is some of the most fun ministry there is. It’s pure celebration. In ministry, all you want is for people to come to you and say “can you help me follow God more passionately?”. In baptism, that’s exactly what you get.
So why is Paul so happy that he didn’t get that fun experience? Because him not doing something was actually better for the Kingdom of God.
For many people, their vision of serving is slowly adding on more and more tasks until you’re doing all the things. But for Paul, he was content knowing that some tasks weren’t for him. And by not taking those tasks, people were more established in their faith.
For clarity, this is not Paul advocating laziness. He’s the same apostle that said he “worked harder than all the other disciples”, a verse that really deserves a Youtube reaction video from all the other apostles. He worked hard for the Gospel, he served with all he had, but he stayed where God wanted him to stay.
Perhaps the greatest restraint Paul displays here is not comparing his work to that of his ministry buddies. It’s real easy for churches, or even individuals, to look at what their friends are doing and think “I should probably do that, too.” In fact, the Bible says we should “encourage each other towards love and good deeds.”
But that’s where this concept keeps slowing us down. Not every good work is your good work to do. We should follow all God’s commands, but we should sit content in the knowledge that God hasn’t called us to do everything.
The greatest thing this calls for is humility. When I started working as a youth pastor, I believed it was my job to do all the ministry. I taught the sermons, set up the chairs, met students outside of youth group, and just about everything else.
Then I realized God had given me 10+ other leaders who had roles to play as well. By doing all those things, I was robbing other people from the role God had for them. If we try to do everything, we need to ask whose role we might be stealing.
I hope this thought causes you to do two things.
First, ask if you should be doing everything you’re doing.
We often treat God’s will like a mystery, but He wants us to know what it is. He wants to reveal it to us. He’s often just waiting for us to ask.
Think about the ways you serve. Do they come from a burning desire in you to see those tasks accomplished? Or did they come from watching someone else do them?
If we take a minute to think through our serving, we may find we’re serving from envy or fear, not from love and faith. If it started by comparison, it might not be from God.
Second, really focus on what truly is from God.
Rather than sulking about not being the baptizing apostle, Paul dove headfirst into his preaching role. The reason God doesn’t ask us to do everything (other than our inability to do it all) is because each individual role is extremely important. You don’t need to compare your role; you need to value it.
Whatever task God is putting in front of you, it matters. Don’t make light of it, sidestep it, or wish it was different. Play your part in the kingdom. When you do, you may find you make someone else’s role shine a little bit brighter.