By Chuck Lawless
I usually think about heroes during two holidays of the year: Memorial Day and July 4th. On both days, I’m reminded of the cost many before us have paid so we might be free today. I know very few of their names, but they are nevertheless heroes.
Several years ago, I had the privilege of speaking to missionaries in Russia, and I commented that they were some of my heroes. With a humility that typifies missionaries, they encouraged me not to see them as heroes. “We’re just doing what God called us to do,” they told me.
I’ve heard the same words from pastors of churches that are genuinely reaching non-believers and making disciples of Christ. It seems like the more the church is really making an eternal difference, the more likely it is that the pastor is humble and self-effacing.
Many laypersons in churches exhibit this same attitude. For example, these members of churches I’ve led come quickly to mind:
- Sonney, a deacon who struggled to read but loved God’s Word
- Ed, who taught me about the importance of small groups
- Allen, who is a trophy of God’s transforming power
- Christie, a children’s teacher who reached out to the most unloving kids
I could tell stories of my spiritual heroes for hours. Rather than make these missionaries, pastors, and laypersons feel uncomfortable, however, I have generally tried to be more cautious about speaking words of praise for them.
I’ve now changed my mind. Ask our children who their heroes are, and I fear they will speak of a cartoon figure, a movie character, or a television superhero. I hope they would name their parents, but I’m not persuaded that would always happen. I am fairly certain the children would not name their pastor, and I doubt most could even name a missionary. Our children can likely name others who attend church with us, but I’m not sure they would list them as heroes.
That reality, I think, is tragic. Who of the next generation will take the gospel to the ends of the earth if they don’t know the stories of missionaries? How many of our children will be open to a call to ministry because their a church leader has been a hero? How many will long to be like their pastor who preaches the Word, lives a holy life, models personal evangelism, and loves God’s church?
Will our children know by heroic example they can be a strong Christian and a public school teacher? A well-trained CPA who models Christian integrity? A politician who stands up for righteousness? A bus driver who transports students during the week and teaches the Bible on Sunday? A church elder and a police officer?
I want our kids to find their heroes among church leaders.
My point is not to rob God of His glory by being man-centered. Rather, it is to give God His due glory for the leaders He has given the church. It is to praise Him for the men and women who have challenged us to follow God in radical obedience—to take risks necessary to do the Great Commission at a local, national, and international level.
So, missionary who is serving in the middle of nowhere, know that you are one of my heroes. Church planter starting a congregation amid millions of people in your urban setting, you are my hero as well. To the pastor who passionately shares Christ day in and day out, you, too, are numbered among my heroes. Faithful layperson who voluntarily serves the church each week, you are also in that group.
I know that makes all of you uncomfortable, but that’s part of what makes you my heroes. You serve persistently and passionately without suffering from spiritual arrogance. I call you my heroes without apology, knowing you will deflect any praise to the gracious God who has chosen to use you. I wish our children could know all of you.
Who are the church leaders who’ve been your heroes? Tell us about them in the comments below. Send them a link to this blogpost, with these words as the subject line: “I thank God for you.” It’s okay to honor folks who honor God.