For the success of others

If you’ve been following this blog, you know by now that one of our dearest friends and mentors, Dave Long, recently died. Like Barry, I’ve been trying to not only grieve but to think and consider, to remember lessons Dave taught me by precept or example. In family worship over the past week, I tried to teach my kids some of the biggest lessons God taught me through my friend Dave.

I’d like to tell you one of those, too.

In Acts 9:26-30, the church in Jerusalem is, wisely, worried about the sincerity of the Saul’s conversion, who until recently had been “breathing threats” against the church. Were it not for Barnabas – who had seen the fruit of Saul’s conversion firsthand and put his own reputation on the line to speak up for Saul – the whole situation might have turned out very differently. Although Barnabas wasn’t at the heart of the story, he was instrumental in the success of Saul’s ministry.

Here’s the lesson Dave showed me: Work for the success of others, not your own. 

Often Dave recalled his own and greatest Barnabas, Bill Long. Bill was an elder in the Lafayette RP congregation when the fledgling pastor first came to minister there. Bill not only took Dave under his wing to give him counsel, he constantly promoted Dave, supporting his ministry and encouraging the congregation to appreciate and follow this young pastor. Dave was quick to confess how vital Bill’s role was in his own success as a pastor.

Bill’s example didn’t go to waste. As soon as he was able, Dave sought to bring other men into the gospel ministry. In the process, he never protected his own turf, but was glad to give us opportunities to serve and even minister publicly when he would have done a much better job at it.

As the years went on, in countless ways Dave worked to make each of his students and friends truly successful in the pastorate. A couple of us were brought back to serve as his associate pastor at different times. As one of those, it’s hard to express how much Dave tried to help me be successful: he encouraged me, he challenged me, he met weekly with me, he counseled me, he promoted my ministry to the congregation. And when I was sent out to church plant, he and the congregation joyfully sent out with me many loved members of the church.

Here’s what stood out to me the most: Dave was deeply and genuinely delighted when he believed one of his disciples surpassed him in some way or another. He was quick to point out how this one became such a great preacher or how this other one had a better way with certain people. Although we would shudder to ever claim such things, it gave Dave such joy.

Like every good parent who hopes and prays their children grow to surpass them in godliness and success, so was Dave with those he taught. It’s yet another reason Barry preached on 1 Thessalonians 2:8 at the funeral: “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.”

Whether you knew Dave or not, please consider with me how we might work for the success of others this year. Who can you encourage and promote and protect? For parents, this should begin with our children. Take it further: which of your coworkers could you be helping to be successful? Who in your church could use ministry opportunities that you might prefer to keep to yourself?

In other words…

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Phil. 2:3-4)

7 Comments

  1. Lynette January 20, 2016 at 11:13 am #

    How encouraging to hear tribute after tribute to a great shepherd of the flock. It seems that all of you have been tremendously blessed to have known Pastor Long. Oh that the Lord would raise up more pastors like him in the RP Churches in other Presbyteries!

  2. Megan January 20, 2016 at 6:26 pm #

    Hi Jared,
    Thanks for the post. I have been mulling over it since reading it. I’m just wondering how this sort of attitude and application would work for the Christian who is in a vocational career or extracurricular activity that is focused on the ability of one’s self? For instance our oldest daughter who is working to become a ballet dancer (DV) or our second daughter who loves to run long distance races or for myself who has one foot in the art world. All of these activities if they turn into vocations require the promotion of self in order to make an income. So how as Christians do we balance this? What does this look like for the dancer whose career is dependent on being successful at auditions and in workshops being taught by professional dancers? What does this look like for the artist whose work will only sell if people know about it and are able to see it in a gallery or competition? Or the athlete who competes alone in competitions?
    I’m trying to teach my children and myself that we work on these talents out of the joy in being creative, pushing ourself to beat personal goals and the making something of beautiful. If success comes we should have a heart attitude that recognises it as being a blessing from the Lord. But this lesson seems to be different from the one in this post where we are to actively seek the success of others over our own self.

    So I’m pondering what this looks like in vocations that are somewhat dependent on the promotion of self?
    Thanks,
    Megan

    • Tim Bloedow January 20, 2016 at 7:22 pm #

      If I may respond, Megan, I would say it’s not an either…or matter. If a pastor is preaching for a call, then all eyes are on him, and he has to preach well for him to be considered. When a committee is considering a preacher or even other ministry workers, they look for people who have a recognized competency that people have noticed, or who even stand out from the crowd. Those who are known for promoting others and putting others before themselves, don’t necessarily do that at the expense of activity that also draws attention to their own competencies.

      If you’re in a field or pursuing a vocation in an area that requires self-promotion, then so be it, but there will also be opportunities to promote others. A key is attitude and whether one thinks that it’s necessary to push others down to put yourself forward or whether you can also commend competitors / colleagues without fearing that doing so will undermine your own success.

      An artist could have an attitude of talking down the other artists in order to try to generate more interest in their own paintings, sculptures, etc., or he could be enthusiastic about other people’s art as well as his own, and quite open to suggesting that a person check out another artist’s work if a conversation reveals that this potential customer seems to like that other person’s style or genre more than one’s one.

      A dancer, seeing a competitor struggling with moves that she has overcome, could keep the secret to her conquering that difficulty to herself, or she could come alongside her competitor and offer her tips or point her in the direction of the expertise that helped her move ahead.

      Those are just 2 examples that come to mind of ways one could put others first in the course of pursuing the vocations you suggested, even while working in a context in which self-promotion is important. We could probably brainstorm on many other applications. You’ve probably seen the stories of runners/athletes who have stopped to help an injured colleague in the middle of an important race instead of continuing to race themselves. There are a couple of pretty famous incidents now that have “gone viral” on the internet in recent years. Perhaps your long distance running daughter will be tested along those lines one day?

      I hope these few thoughts are helpful.

    • Jared January 21, 2016 at 6:25 am #

      Hi Megan,

      What a great question. I agree with Tim’s comments about it not being an either/or situation.

      In careers like those you mentioned, self-promotion is a fact of life. A conscientious Christian will go about it with humility in the first place (a key ingredient to this whole idea) and will seek to raise others up along with herself, always trying to help younger dancers, always tutoring other athletes and sincerely delighting the success of others, even if it is ahead of her.

      There’s a sense in which self-promotion is true for almost every vocation, pastors included. We have to “candidate” at various churches and prove to them why we’re the “man for the job.” Whether that promotion is done at the expense of others is important. And whether we are ultimately set on Christ’s glory and the good of others is the other key.

      Hope that helps.

      Jared

      • Megan January 21, 2016 at 7:11 am #

        Jared and Tim,
        Thank you both for your responses. The examples of application you gave were helpful. Being humble is so very difficult. This post is a good reminder of the need to pray for this in my own life and also my children’s lives as well. M

    • Brian January 21, 2016 at 9:34 am #

      Hi Megan,
      My take on it – It’s not mutually exclusive. But a Godward life is a sacrificial life. We’re still called to pursue excellence (do your work heartily as unto the Lord). We’re also challenged to encourage others and rejoice with others. A runner could occasionally train with (mentor) younger or less experienced runners. Or look for other avenues to build into the lives of other runners (teaching, writing…). Artists could display works together or critique each others work. Or share what motivates our work. My daughter dances as well, though she’s still very young. Her dance teacher/mentor was trained at Julliard and was actively being recruited by national dance troupes. But she set that aside to teach dance for the glory of God. This teacher realized that dancing (and all aspects of life) can easily point to the creation, but she wants her students’ dancing to point to the Creator.

      The heart of the article was building into others’ lives and rejoicing if they happen to be ‘better’ at something than we are. That also brings up our game too!

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