In thinking about the new year, and the intrinsic partying and resolutions of every American year change, I am struck with this observation: American culture is obsessed with loud, boisterous, and BIG. This is especially true every new year, when we say goodbye to past failures and make big new year’s resolutions. “THIS YEAR,” we say, “things are going to be different!” My life will be better, more successful, and definitely BIGGER: with more money, more energy, and more accomplishments.
In the American value system, if I am going to do anything, the only serious way to move forward is to go BIG. If I write a song, I want it to be on Billboard Magazine’s Top One Hundred. If I publish a book, I want it to become a New York Times Best Seller. If I start a business, it will grow exponentially and become the biggest thing in town. As a Christian leader, if I plan an outreach, I want to impact the whole city. Anything short of BIG SUCCESS is, well, failure.
BIG has become the only way to define our lives. The fruit of such a definition, however, is that we are never content.
This is the American way. And the Christian way. To an American Christian, little thinkers have no faith. No vision. They’re timid, lazy, or unfocused. They certainly are not living up to their potential. Pastor Joel Osteen encourages people to define themselves by big vision, big plans, big success. He challenges his followers to aggressively pursue their big “God-given Destiny!” Pastor Rick Warren illustrated this big obsession in recent years when he publicly declared it was his goal to get a million people to follow him on Twitter. He encouraged people to help him. (He now has 1.76 million followers). I’m thinking, “Why is this important? Are Rick Warren tweets so profound that a million people should follow his every comment? Should a million people even care what Rick Warren says… in Twitter minutiae?”
I’m not disparaging Rick Warren or Joel Osteen. I’ve met Pastor Rick. I like him. He’s a decent man and a great leader. I am sure the same is true of Joel Osteen. I occasionally listen to Osteen’s radio program. He really is inspiring. A little theologically shallow, but inspiring. But, these men, and tens of thousands of other Christian leaders like them, regularly capitalize on the American obsession with BIG. We convince ourselves that this is God’s way, and encase our rhetoric and ambition in biblical language and holy goals: Billions without Christ. Jesus and the multitudes. The early Church’s Pentecost impact. God loves the whole world. God doesn’t want any to perish, etc. These underlying assumptions – certainly biblical truth – influence our preaching, our planning, our team leadership, and our ministry budgets. BIG has become the only way to define our lives.
The fruit of such a definition, however, is that we are never content. When “big, hairy, audacious goals” define our every value and pursuit we will never be able to rest and enjoy God’s shalom. Tranquility will continually allude us. Trust me. I’ve ridden this horse, and am obsessive by nature. It’s THE great quality… and affliction… of most young men. But, I’m older and wiser now, and I’m trying to get out of the saddle and sell this unhealthy beast!
It’s interesting that pop culture’s quest for bigness and greatness never includes the family or long-term relationships. Such mundane things are dispensable when you are on a journey to BIG.
Few celebrities are interested in going BIG on family. Family life, if they have one at all, usually only involves a single parent, because the other biological parent – mother or father – has left to run after the next big thing. Few focus on a long term marriage or being (as a life goal) a GREAT father or mother. We who feed the media machine – by our addiction to televisions, movie theaters, social media, cell phones, tablets, and laptop computers – consume this mush every day. And we wonder why we aren’t content and at peace. Don’t kid yourself. We aren’t getting our BIG vision solely from the Bible. It also comes from the influences of culture: the media, peer pressure and our insecure need for validation.
I was recently listening to a NPR broadcast that was discussing how new legislation in California is seeking to define and enforce gender equality in the workplace. Equal pay for equal work. The California example, it is hoped, will sweep across the nation and become law in all fifty states. For the most part, pay equality is a good idea. My issue, however, was over a statement made by one of the commentators: “Women who might be in the workplace pursuing a career and helping to influence culture toward gender equality are stuck at home taking care of children.” What? Women are “stuck at home” taking care of children?
Forget fame! Do whatever it takes to cleanse yourself of the addiction to getting attention.
What a trap! What a lie! I don’t care if it’s the man or the woman at home caring for children. But I take issue with the premise that the homemaker is stuck. It is a grave error to drink this Kool-Aid, and share it with God’s people as God’s will. Our call to follow Jesus also involves faithful obedience in many mundane things!
I believe it is time for God’s people to go against this cultural tide and starting living SMALL. Let’s lead the way and do SMALL STUFF!
Let’s do small outreaches that touch a few hurting people and offer them real opportunities – over a long period of personal, intimate investment – to change. Let’s write an article or a song or a message and share it only with a small group of friends. Forget fame! Do whatever it takes to cleanse yourself of the addiction to getting attention. Let’s get a small group together and grow as Christ followers. Let’s stay in our marriages and have three, or four, maybe even five children and focus on raising them – for twenty-two years.
Jesus ministered to the multitudes when they came to Him, but He did not pursue them or seek their attention. Time and again, He withdrew from the crowds.
Let’s be an example to our spouses and our children how to love God, serve Jesus, do life in community, have wholesome friendships, solve small problems, live within boundaries, be responsible in mundane things, and prepare for a healthy contented future. Let’s reframe bigness in terms of quality of character, rather than the size of our bank account or the extent of our public notoriety. Aspire to have a big heart for a few people – our children, our friends, and a reasonable circle of influence. The rest is just vanity.
This is Jesus’ example. He ministered to the multitudes when they came to Him, but He did not pursue them or seek their attention. Time and again, He withdrew from the crowds.
Sorry, Rick Warren, no offense. I’m sure you’re a really great guy. But, I really don’t care what you have to say. I’ll get my tweets from the Bible. I know that’s where you get most of yours. I’ll just go directly to the source and skip the middle man. I’m also sure your family and friends love you dearly. That’s the way it should be, and those are the only people who matter anyway.