If not consciously checked and managed, there is something very bad that happens inside most people when they are elevated through high-level efforts or combined circumstances to a place of prominence among others. In common language we may say that “it goes to their head.” But it is a very strange place indeed when you find yourself at the very top of the pyramid — everyone comes to you for advice, authority, or simple conversation to be seen close to you.
I can’t say that I have experienced this on any grand scale, though even pastoring a church the size of TSF brings a bit of this into play. Our structure is very much of a shared and team leadership modality, but I do know that there are often more people who would like to talk with me than I have time to chat with at length. I feel badly when I have to move on to catch up with several people who must be seen that morning.
But I have seen truly large church pastors become a top-of-their-world guy. They display such personable and likeable skills in public ministry, and when you engage them personally, it is the same for a moment or two. They warmly greet you like you’re the most important person in the world and it is actually THEIR HONOR to speak to you, not the other way around. That is … as I said … for a moment or two. And then you can see them fading away and their eyes begin to dart around the room. Your time is up, and they have to move on to all the others who want a piece of them.
Too many of these sorts of pastors (I’ll pick on my own profession here for a moment) fall prey to private thinking and evaluation that they have really arrived — they are clearly pretty big stuff. Everyone comes to them, but they don’t have anyone else to go to. And they like the position that they are in and the pedestal they occupy.
Political people are particularly prone to this … no surprise there! Forgive me if you’ve heard this story before, but it was from an event that is at least 10-15 years ago. I was at a Rotary Club luncheon and the speaker was a very bold and brash figure who was a legend in Baltimore and Maryland Politics. I must have arrived late, because I found myself seated that the very front circular table — actually closest person physically to the speaker who was talking at a podium on the line of people sitting at the elevated platform front table. Early in his talk he cracked a political joke that I thought was rather obscure to interpret, but everyone in the room cracked up laughing uproariously … except me … I was just sitting there trying to figure out what I missed that was so terribly funny. And he looked right at me and called me out and said, “You, what’s wrong with you? Why didn’t you think that was funny?” It was very weird and awkward. Clearly he did not like anyone who did not think he was as 100% awesome as he believed himself to be.
Mordecai ran into a situation a bit like this, and he was the lone man who was out of step with everyone else …
3:1 – After these events, King Xerxes honored Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, elevating him and giving him a seat of honor higher than that of all the other nobles. 2 All the royal officials at the king’s gate knelt down and paid honor to Haman, for the king had commanded this concerning him. But Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor.
3 Then the royal officials at the king’s gate asked Mordecai, “Why do you disobey the king’s command?” 4 Day after day they spoke to him but he refused to comply. Therefore they told Haman about it to see whether Mordecai’s behavior would be tolerated, for he had told them he was a Jew.
5 When Haman saw that Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor, he was enraged. 6 Yet having learned who Mordecai’s people were, he scorned the idea of killing only Mordecai. Instead Haman looked for a way to destroy all Mordecai’s people, the Jews, throughout the whole kingdom of Xerxes.
For reasons we don’t actually know, Xerxes elevated Haman to a position essentially as the #2 guy in the kingdom. We learn later that he was rich; maybe that had something to do with it. And Haman certainly did not lack for personal confidence and determination. So he is like the Chief of Staff, or perhaps the Prime Minister. And Xerxes bolsters Haman’s position with a decree that all should bow down and honor him.
Everyone did it, except for Mordecai. Why? What was his reason for not doing so? Was it spiritually motivated by faith? Come back tomorrow and I’ll give you a reason that is based upon Jewish tradition and possible bitterness between the two men. It is a fascinating background.
But today, talking about the delusional power of success; unless a person who gains it actively engages in a humble sort of introspection about how they got where they are, they will have a difficult time of modelling the servant leadership character that is to mark the follower of Christ. It is two entirely different models of introspection when a person says to self, “I am here because my work and talents have brought me to this level of greatness,” versus, “I have found myself in this place because God in grace has put me here to serve him.” The former is common and natural; the latter is uncommon and learned through an appropriate understanding of the gospel.
Whenever we are up high, we are the proverbial turtle on the fence post … we got put there by circumstances bigger and beyond ourselves. Haman did not understand this, Mordecai and Esther did. There is a sovereign God behind the circumstances.