The music is getting louder.
In the third chapter of the book of Daniel, three men stood in the midst of a cultural collision. The society in which they lived and served was demanding allegiance to a set of values that directly conflicted with those that guided their every act and thought. There was no room for compromise, no justifiable accommodation. When the music played, they either bowed down to the new cultural norm, or faced the persecution of death by incineration.
As the music grew louder there was undoubtedly a moment of decision. Their definition of success as godly leaders was at stake. If they chose the path of self-preservation, health and the opportunity to continue and grow their work, they would have joined the masses and bowed to the new national religion. And their cultural conformity in the face of persecution would have resulted in missional irrelevance. God’s faithfulness would never be displayed and their story would never have been told.
Instead, they chose to define success as faithfulness, regardless of the cost. They set aside every normal metric of success and embraced an unequivocal adherence to living God’s way. They chose not to escape persecution, and as a result they saw the awesome power of God displayed in its midst.
In America today, the music is getting louder.
Some of you are already in the fire. Some of you hear the music all around you and know your decision is at hand. Some of you are in denial, hoping it will just go away. For all of us, the fires of cultural non-conformity are growing hotter. The cost of standing is growing every day.
It is not difficult to imagine that soon the social pressure to accommodate our kingdom values to secular norms will give way to legal mandates requiring us to do so. The relentless demand for cultural conformity will strike at the heart of Christian schools, ministries and those who seek to operate their business according to kingdom ethics. It may even pierce the sacred walls of our churches and impact the messages that are preached from our pulpits.
I believe that in the next few years every sincere follower of Jesus who is called to leadership at any level will be faced with this one decision – will you bow or will you stand? Your decision will be based solely on how you answer this one question, ‘what is your definition of success?’
If, like the men in Daniel, your definition of success is faithfulness, plan now for how you will stand together and bear witness to God’s truth as the fires grow hotter. Define what faithfulness looks like, what it will demand of you and how you will prepare for it. Consider the words of Paul, “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” Ephesians 6:13
If, however, your driving definition of success involves metrics of financial sustainability, numerical growth, mission expansion and image promotion, be forewarned that the music is going to be especially disturbing. The day of the crouching Christian is drawing to an end. By that I mean those who seek to crouch over just enough to still appear to be standing to fellow believers while also attempting to bow down just enough to stay below the radar in the culture wars. Perhaps all of us in leadership need to consider again Jesus’ powerful warning, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Revelation 3:15-16
My urgent plea to Christian leaders, boards and financial supporters is to agree together that success in God’s kingdom is measured by absolute faithfulness regardless of the cost.
As steward leaders called to advance God’s kingdom, we are reminded by Jesus that ““Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23
Are we ready to follow Him into the fire? Are we writing our strategic plans, hiring staff and talking to financial supporters with this as our primary context for ministry? If so, might He grant us the grace to see His awesome power at work to keep us cool and safe in the furnace.
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