Ambition, Fame and Our Obsession With Numbers

Let not the allure of recognition distract us from the things God rewards: diligence, humility, faithfulness, etc.

Do we know what we are asking for if we ask for recognition or success? Because according to Jesus, it involves suffering and sacrifice.

And sometimes publicity can result in people’s worst nightmares. Don’t we see this to be true, even outside the ministry world? How many celebrities in the spotlight become self-obsessed, behave with a sense of entitlement, and treat others with condescension? How many suffer from loneliness and depression, or have nervous breakdowns, never able to attain a sense of “normalcy”? How many marriages are broken and friendships lost at the cost of fame?

But seriously: Does anybody really, truly stop to consider the question: “Am I ready for a greater platform?”

“How will it impact me and change me as a person, and is that person somebody I can live with? How will my family be impacted by this?” Who asks these questions? I think more pastors and leaders need to!

So many people desire to be recognized and influential in this day and age, but perhaps don’t grasp how devastating fame can be. I believe God created very few people in this world who are called to larger platforms. 

There are far more people who desire great recognition and influence than those who are truly called by God to it.

And those who are called are leaders with the humility and sobriety to steward their power for the sake of others. In this day and age, where injustice abounds, we as followers of Christ are not called to fill ourselves up, but to empty ourselves as Christ did (Philippians 2:6-8), so others might be served and lifted up.

3. The bigger the platform, the more we become misled by the addiction of “numbers” over genuine and mutual relationships. 

Too often in ministry, we become captivated by the “big show” and the masses, whether in terms of church size, blog visitors or other measurements that feed our egos and hunger for a “greater” influence. To this come more reminders of Jesus:

“If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?” (Matthew 18:12)

I wonder how often we choose the “high” of the “ninety-nine,” rather than seeking out the “one” who is neglected on the margins.

I’ll never forget one painful experience growing up. I had an appointment to meet with a leader whom I admired, and I looked forward to what I’d learn. I had a list of questions prepared, of things I was struggling with. I sat at the restaurant where we were supposed to meet, and 30 minutes passed by. Then an hour. Shortly after, I left, and found a message on my answering machine (yes, those were ancient days): “Adrian, I just found out about a meeting of some ministry leaders in town. We’re discussing some big things. I’m sorry I can’t make our meeting.”

In that moment, I couldn’t help but wonder: Does this leader care more about the big meetings than he does about me?

And in that moment, I gained some resolve. I would make every effort not to leave the “one person” for the “big meeting” when confronted with that dilemma in the future. 

Sometimes when I talk to people in ministry settings, I see their eyes wandering, gauging who else is in the room and what other opportunities they might be missing. But I want to be fully present with a person, knowing that the most important ministry often happens in those quiet, intimate places away from the big announcements, loud music and masses where we assume all the “action” is.

And more than that, it is in those smaller settings of honest exchange and dialogue that we get the “mutuality” that is missing from “big speaker” venues where everyone just listens to us. We learn to listen ourselves, grow and be transformed by others.

I know many of us know this in our heads, but what about in practice? 

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Adrian Pei
Adrian Pei works as Director of Creative Arts and Resources at Epic Movement, the Asian American ministry of Cru. He earned degrees from Stanford University and Fuller Seminary, and is passionate about writing and developing culturally-aware leadership. You can find him on his blog at www.adrianpei.com, or on Twitter at @adrianpei.