By Daniel Hawk
I’ve been thinking about the Hillsong implosion in light of Isaiah’s call narrative. Add scandals, resignations from four pastors, and a shadow over Hillsong’s founder, to the long list of high-profile scandals in evangelicalism: Bruxy Cavey, the CT Mark Driscoll exposé, Ravi Zacharias, the slow-drip of revelations about Kanakuk Kamp, etc. etc. etc. I can’t keep up. It’s heartbreaking.
Such leaders are made in part by a Christian brand that values celebrity over character, consumption over the cross, and intimate experience apart from dedicated discipleship. Under this Christian brand, success is the goal, marketing is the means, and celebrity is the fruit. And that’s what has drawn me to Isaiah.
While worshiping in the temple, Isaiah is given a vision of the awesome majesty and holiness of Yahweh (Isaiah 6:1-13). During the vision, he hears Yahweh ask for a messenger to represent the heavenly court. Isaiah immediately volunteers, whereupon Yahweh tells the prophet what he will be sent to do, namely, stiffen the hearts, dull the ears, and shut the eyes of his fellow Israelites – the exact opposite of what prophets are supposed to do. No full stadiums, no celebrity, no popular acclamation for this servant of God. By every earthly measure, Isaiah’s ministry will be a complete failure.
I can’t blame Isaiah for asking a question when he realizes what he’s gotten himself into: “How long, my lord?”
Yahweh’s answer is not encouraging. “Until towns are desolate, without inhabitants, and houses without people, and the land itself lies devastated.” In other words, “Isaiah, your prophetic ministry will never be a success. You’ll never succeed in softening hearts, unstopping ears, and opening eyes.” Which tells me something about what God expects from those who have said yes to a divine calling:
God values faithfulness more than success.
Isaiah redirects my admiration away from celebrity-culture leaders and toward the countless not-as-successful pastors who labor faithfully to bring comfort and encouragement to their flocks, who lead their people by word and example to bear faithful witness to Jesus Christ, who said “here I am” when God called, and who find themselves in what sometimes must feel like a desert land. Servants who nonetheless remain faithful to their calling and to their God and who often receive little more acclaim than a yearly pastor’s appreciation dinner.
“God values faithfulness more than success.”Tweet
I imagine that many of these unsung Christian servants have to deal with bouts of weariness and discouragement, now compounded by the demands of guiding congregations through years of devastating pandemic and social turmoil.
Polls consistently report that Millenials and Gen-Z’s in particular are leaving organized Christianity in droves, and that the primary factor is the superficiality of their experience with it and the hypocrisy they see in it. The majority of these, we are told, seek an authentic spirituality expressed by active love for others.
My hunch is that the future of Christianity in the West, and the success of the Christian mission, lies with “the least of these” servants of God, rather than with the celebrity leaders who dominate the headlines.
Dr. L. Daniel Hawk is professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Ashland Theological Seminary and the author of numerous books including commentaries on Joshua and Ruth.
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