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EDITOR’S NOTEBOOK: Lessons for Ministry Leaders From “The Man of the Tombs”

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Editor’s Note:  Most Saturdays we will feature this “Editor’s Notebook” column. MinistryWatch President Warren Smith will comment on stories in the week’s news or, sometimes, offer a behind-the-scenes look at how and why we do what we do.

The story of the “Man of the Tombs” is one of the strangest in all of Scripture, of another culture and era. Despite that strangeness – in some cases because of that strangeness – we can find lessons for Christian ministry leaders and pastors today.

The story is found in three of the Gospels, but my favorite is the version in Mark 5. I often call Mark the “Journalist’s Gospel.” It was the earliest written. It is the shortest. Its language is sharp and direct. Mark would have made a great newspaper reporter.

In Mark’s telling of this story, Jesus left the crowds he had been preaching to on the northern and western regions of the Sea of Galilee. He retreated to a more desolate region on the southeast shore. While there, he encountered a man possessed by demons. Jesus casts out the demons and the man was healed and made whole again.

Jesus Left The Many For The One

The first lesson we learn from this story is that Jesus was not impressed by the crowds who had come to see him. In fact, he fled them. Jesus’ behavior contrasts sharply with some of the platform building, celebrity seeking, conference headlining leaders of the Evangelical Industrial Complex, the ones we often report on here at MinistryWatch. Jesus, by contrast, left the many to minister to the one.

Jesus Went Among The Dead

Secondly, this story reminds us that Jesus sought the least and the lost. He was not a “respecter of persons.” It is hard to imagine the Jesus of the Gospels as a social media influencer, a networker, or a personal life coach.

That is not to say that he did not have influence, didn’t have a network, or didn’t have disciples he coached and mentored. But these were neither ends nor means for Jesus. Building God’s kingdom and glorifying his Father were both means and ends.

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Jesus Named The Demons

I am a journalist. I think words matter. That idea comes, of course, straight from Scripture. Among God’s first instructions to Adam was to “name the animals.” The 8th Commandment is not to bear false witness. What we call things matters. It is one way that we humans maintain a relationship to reality, to the created order.

But we live in an age in which words don’t seem to matter. Our politicians argue over “what the definition of ‘is’ is.” Even Christian groups and leaders often speak “evangelistically” about the accomplishments of their ministries – especially at fundraising time. Indeed, factchecking fundraising claims has become its own separate “beat” here at MinistryWatch. (You can find recent examples here, here, and here.)

Christians, especially our leaders, should tell the truth. We should not parse words. We should not prevaricate. We should not make unsubstantiated claims.

It is interesting that Jesus commanded the demons to come out of the Man of the Tombs and, at first, they did not. Then Jesus asked the demons their name. The answered, “We are Legion, for we are many.” Jesus then exorcised the demons. Did Jesus not have the power to deliver the man until the demons gave him their name?  I don’t believe that is the lesson of this story. I don’t believe Jesus was limited in any way by what the demons did or did not do. Rather, Jesus was teaching us, yet again, that words matter. What we call things matters. Calling things by their true names is one way we bear true witness in the world.

Jesus Sometimes Says “No”

Perhaps the most poignant aspect of this story is the ending. When the Man of the Tombs is whole and in his “right mind,” he naturally wants to follow Jesus. Who wouldn’t? But Jesus said, “no.” He tells the man to stay behind, to go among the people who knew him before, and to share what Jesus had done. He did this, and the Bible says people were “amazed.”

What the Bible doesn’t tell us, but history does, is that this Gentile region was one of the first regions in the world to be completely overtaken by Christianity. It is speculation to say that the Man of the Tombs was responsible for this phenomenon, but that conclusion is certainly not implausible. What we can say with certainty is this: sometimes following Jesus doesn’t look like what we want it to look like. Following Jesus sometimes means not following Jesus in the way we want.

Jesus Keeps Score

The true name of the Man of the Tombs is lost to history, but his impact reverberates through the ages. Just before Tim Keller died, I interviewed him. Keller was often called the “non-celebrity celebrity.” Fame found him, though he did not seek it.

Near the end of our interview, I asked him how he wanted to be remembered. We had just talked about the cancer that had, by the time of our conversation, almost completely overtaken him. Just weeks after this interview, he would be dead. Questions about legacy were not abstract to either of us in this conversation. They were clear and present concerns.

That’s why his answer stuck with me. He said, “The only thing I want to be remembered for is that I loved my children, my grandchildren. Beyond that, I don’t think I care, or should care too much, about how I’m remembered. Let the chips fall where they may. Let the chips fall where God wants them.”

In an age of platform building, celebrity spotlights, bestseller lists, and movie deals, that is a refreshing sentiment indeed.

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Warren Cole Smith

Warren previously served as Vice President of WORLD News Group, publisher of WORLD Magazine, and Vice President of The Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He has more than 30 years of experience as a writer, editor, marketing professional, and entrepreneur. Before launching a career in Christian journalism 25 years ago, Smith spent more than seven years as the Marketing Director at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

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