Platform building, stature and prestige are a key part of our celebrity-obsessed culture, but missional church leader Mike Breen says that spiritual breakthrough will only come when "we turn our backs on the usual ways of gaining status".
Writing on his blog, Breen points to the ways that we confer status in Western society. In the UK, he says, we have a class system, while in the US – where he now lives – status is gained through achievement; a good job, a nice house or the latest car. "The more you achieve the more status you get. Wherever we live, status is always given to those whom we consider to be the brightest and the best. But Jesus is not looking for the brightest and the best. He's looking for something quite different..." Breen writes.
In first century Palestine, he continues, the powerful elite were considered to be those of the greatest status; the Romans and the Jewish leaders. "Some groups had very little social status," however. "The landless poor, unmarried women and the youngest children. In the time of Jesus, children had virtually no status at all."
And yet Breen notes that Jesus calls his followers to be like these little children; in Matthew 18 and Luke 9 he suggests that those who humble themselves as a child are the "greatest in the kingdom of heaven". We need to be dependent on God in order for him to work through us.
"For Jesus it was simple, if his disciples were to be 'great' – greatly used by God – they had to be as lacking in status as little children. This was the single most important qualification of discipleship," Breen writes.
"He knew his disciples would remain a tiny and often persecuted minority throughout their lifetimes and so Jesus gave them a strategy that would always produce kingdom breakthrough, whatever the circumstances. Of course they would see remarkable results very quickly, as the early chapters of the Acts of the Apostles attest. But when things go well dependency is hard to maintain and we tend to lean more on ourselves. And so Jesus gave them a picture of dependency that they could never forget — being like a child."
Spiritual breakthrough in our own lives, therefore, may be blocked by our determination to build our own platforms and desire to appear important or worthy. It's a message that even, or perhaps especially, the Church needs to hear in a time of megachurches and 'celebrity' pastors. "It's amazing what God can do when he mobilizes a movement of people equipped with the tools of childlike dependency," Breen says.
"My personal witness is that all of the most significant spiritual breakthroughs I've seen – both here and around the world – have always had this truth at their center.
"I'm sure it's possible for us to see a spiritual awakening again in this land, but perhaps only if we turn our backs on the usual ways of gaining status and adopt the methods of Jesus, becoming like little children."