“Landsmen all, whoever you may be, if you want to rise to the top of the tree…you must stir it and stump it and blow your own trumpet.” So wrote Playwright W.S. Gilbert of Gilbert & Sullivan. He was telling us the way the world functions.
However, the New Testament has taught me another way: Find some Christian whom you admire, and who is doing an effective work for the Lord, and make yourself available to that person’s ministry as a servant. Be unobtrusive, get as close to the leadership as you can, but learn, learn, learn, while you do everything you can to help that ministry to develop.
Will that also bring help to you? Of course it will. Listen first to what the apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians: “In lowliness of mind, let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for your own interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4).
A number of fine Christian people I know have undertaken individual ministries and are finding it not any easy path. Their promotional material is colorful, and they love reaching out to people with a message from the Master, but they are struggling in their vocations. Crowding into the limelight is difficult, and “tooting one’s own horn,” to use Gilbert’s expression, is for a Christian a distasteful business.
As I study the relationship of the disciples to Jesus, it occurs to me that God does not necessarily require that we spend our lives “doing our own thing.” That could mean building our ministry for Christ on a slippery slope. Sometimes by joining with someone else or some other group and taking a subordinate role, the Holy Spirit will actually multiply our effectiveness. Not only that, we can learn how to correct our own weakness and reach more people for Christ by observing how someone else is doing it with class.
In 1954, while pastoring a modest little Presbyterian church in south Berkeley, I was aware that at age 43, I was certainly not setting the world on fire. In fact, due to demographic causes, my congregation was shrinking. Then someone invited me to watch a 10-minute film about Billy Graham’s remarkable crusade in London, which was still going on at the time. The crowds in Harringay Arena appeared ebullient and joyful; they were even singing while riding in the Underground.
I came away from that viewing with the thought that if I am not God’s chosen instrument to do a worthy work for the Kingdom of God, perhaps I can adopt a servant role and help someone else to do it. Within a few months Billy Graham came to San Francisco and quite unexpectedly I met him. Four years later he conducted a seven-week crusade in the San Francisco Cow Palace. At the time I was pastoring a larger church in east Oakland, and our people became involved in praying for Billy.
I had no intentions or expectations of ever joining the Billy Graham team, but the way opened for me to write a book about the San Francisco crusade. Harper & Brothers published it, and when he left the Bay Area, to my great surprise, Billy took me with him. He said he thought I could help him. Four years later my little church merged with another congregation and disappeared.
It is now March, 1997. I am retired from my servant role, but have just published a new book about Billy Graham with the simple title, “Billy.” The publisher is Crossway Books, of Wheaton, Illinois. “Billy” is not a biography; rather it is an “inside” tribute to the man whom I have known for 43 years, and for whose magazine, “Decision,” I became the founding editor.
Helping someone else has enriched my life with blessings that never would have come to me “on my own.” I don’t mean to suggest that working for important people makes other people important. Churchill’s greatness did not rub off on Anthony Eden. Servants of others don’t make headlines or gain recognition. But as my book will inform you, helpers often get helped beyond their expectations. Being around Christian communicators whom God is honoring brings its own rewards.