What does it mean to be great?

I remember watching a little girl be interviewed onetime on a talent shows for kids. This was in the 80s, so her hair was big, and her face looked like it had been shot with a paintball gun with makeup. They asked this little girl what she wanted to be when she grew up – her response? I want to be famous! There was something unsettling about her comment to me, but not because I felt sorry for her, but because I identified with her. I wanted to be famous.

Fame is something all of us aspire to and often want. Fame is a dangerous trap and game we play and has the potential to damage all kinds of things around us. Often, we want fame but we aren’t even sure what fame is! Nor do we understand the cost of fame. When you become “famous” you often lose many of the rights and privileges you once had when you were a “nobody.” But that may be a discussion for another day.

Now, let me say this upfront – coming to First Bellville has been a tremendous grace-gift from Jesus. I think often the mentality in ministry is the insatiable desire to be recognized and famous. I think some enter into the ministry for that very reason. I’ve seen people enter into ministry because they think that it’s in ministry where they’ll be beloved or respected – but often, that just isn’t the case.

I was complaining about something the other day and Abby said to me (she was preaching the gospel to me BTW), but she said, “Michael, most people simple will never understand or embrace what you do. Get over it.” My “complaining” was really me whining about not receiving the recognition I felt I had earned. And lets be frank – this desire for recognition is a threat to the heart and soul of a person.

I would call it the idol of greatness.

 For some, the measure of ones ministry is who you know, not what you know. Simply put, fame. I remember being in Seminary, and people would say to me, It’s not the grades you make, but the hands you shake.” The implication was that Seminary was LESS about studying, learning, and growing as a disciple of Jesus, and MORE about networking, relationship building, and connections – because that is what was going to propel you to be “known” or “great.” I don’t think it’s either/or, rather a both/and. It does matter who you know, but what you know is that Who you know is greater than who you know. See what I did there?

God’s networking will always be greater than your own.

 But, what does it mean to be great? 

For me, that’s where coming to First Bellville has been a tremendous gift. When we chose to come to this sleepy town, on some levels, it was about killing the idol of “greatness.” The temptation in my own heart was to be recognized – to be given credit, to network with certain people that could give me a leg up. To write that and even say it out loud sounds, well, foolish. I mean, I’m zeroing in on motives here people, please don’t judge.

I guess what I’m saying is that as God moved our hearts to come to Bellville to, in some part, help us redefine and reorganize what it meant to be great. To be great used to mean money or largeness of ministry, or buildings, or perks of the job, or knowing certain preachers/communicators, or leaders in a variety of organizations – but now, our hearts understand that those things will never satisfy the soul. Our hearts were made for a different kind of treasure.

Our hearts were made to treasure Jesus. We’ll be unsatisfied in any other pursuit. 

So, being great means that I have a passion for God and compassion for people. Being great means that I outpace my people in my love for them. Being great means that I’m willing to lay down my life for them – even if I’ll never be famous… for fame is fleeting, but treasuring the Treasure is not.

  • troy allen

    Criner,
    Thanks for writing this today. I just finished reading Matthew 18 in my QT this morning. Verse one begins with the disciples asking about who is greatest in the kingdom of God. What your wrote really resonated with me because it echoed many of the things I wrote in response to the text. Greatness is not defined by the size of your church but by its depth. Greatness is not defined by how many know you but how many people you truly know. I think the greatest pastors out there are the ones no one knows about because they are too busy doing ministry that they don’t have time to write books, speak at conferences or make a name for themselves. Those who are greatest are the ones who make Jesus’ name great. Thanks for the post.

    • michaelcriner

      Thank YOU for modeling this idea of greatness to me early on at Richland Springs. We should grab lunch sometime (I’m sure I’ll be visiting somebody in the hospital soon in your area). I’ll look you up! Blessings to you brother!

      • troy allen

        That would be great. Even if you can’t make it here I would be glad to drive there. Looking forward to it soon I hope. Thanks.