"I am the greatest." - Muhammed Ali
"As human beings, greatness is not so much in being able to remake the world as in being able to remake ourselves." ~ Ghandi
"Greatness" is trendy today. In fact, it is possibly the most recognizable slogan in the United States nowadays. I find this puzzling at best.
In the year 2000, I became pastor of a church in Amsterdam. It just so happened that the church had recently won the coveted "Helix Award" given by the Dutch Evangelical Alliance for the "most successful church in The Netherlands." I was encouraged to attend a ceremony in which I would be given the award, which was in the form of a small trophy.
This accolade never set well with me. Was my church really the most successful in the country? How was that measured and what does it truly mean to be successful, or to be "great"?
Some years later I served as executive pastor in a church outside Denver. It drew people from a 50-mile radius every Sunday to hear the senior pastor preach (he was very good). The church had constructed a large building a few years earlier to accommodate the growing number of people attending on Sundays. The church was becoming "great."
Until it was no longer great, when the pastor was dismissed for alleged theological error (that is an entire other story, which I won't go into here).
I see several significant dangers in being the most successful, or in being great.
- I call it the "Muhammed Ali Syndrome." Ali is famous for boasting that he was the greatest, presumably in boxing. His greatest was fleeting at best, as his health seriously deteriorated and he died a slow and painful death;
- We can believe our own press and become complacent. We can coast, because the only direction is down and to lesser greatness;
- We can become prideful and arrogant. Somehow greatness becomes equated with being better than others, or dominating them, and can lead to denigrating those who are not great.
What if we understood greatness in a fundamentally different way?
What if we framed our understanding and "striving" for greatness based on a completely other set of criteria?
- The central, overarching criteria is the words of Jesus: "