How to Handle the Stage: 5 Lessons from John the Baptist
Jimmy and I married just as his music career was kicking into high gear. We were both eager to honor God in this season and often asked for words of wisdom from older men and women in our lives. Above all that we heard, there were two things that resonated deeply with us both and that we still recount today.
1. The stage is the most dangerous place for the human heart.
A stage can give you authority, power, and attention. It can give you purpose and meaning. And most dangerously, the stage can be addicting. One taste of the praise, adoration, and attention brought by an audience can hook you for life.
2. No one can handle worship but God.
We are the created ones. We are not meant to be the object of other people's affections, hopes, dreams, and love. We cannot handle it. We are not meant to. There's a reason so many celebrities seem to implode once in the spotlight; they cannot handle being worshiped.
A Culture of Audience-Building
Most stages today aren't like the ones in your old high school auditorium. A stage can be anything that creates an audience for you. Twitter and Instagram, blogs and YouTube channels, websites and books are all forms of stages. Through these online avenues, you can now create your own audience with little to no risk at all. You don't have to stare people in the eyes from your stage. It can be a stage on your own terms.
In addition to the easy access to a stage, our culture celebrates audience building. Wowed by those who've made it to the top, many long to join the ranks of those vloggers and bloggers with millions of followers. But for those who follow the Jesus who taught us that true greatness is servanthood (Mark 10:43–45), is it ever okay to pursue a stage? To promote a blog? To write a book? To seek out new followers? If the stage is so dangerous for our hearts, how do we view platforms we might already have?
Lessons from a Locust-Eating Man
In answering these questions, let's look at a man who had a huge platform, one whom Jesus said was the greatest man to ever live (Matt 11:11).
For a man who lived in the wilderness, ate bugs, and wore camel’s hair, John the Baptist had a huge following! “Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him" (Matt 3:5). His Twitter account would have had tens of thousand of followers; his book would have been selling faster than they got it on the shelves. He was a sensation in Israel.
Then Jesus comes on the scene, and immediately his numbers start dropping. And as John's ministry is decreasing, his disciples express their concern: "[Jesus] is baptizing, and all are going to him" (John 3:26). Here is John's response in the face of his ministry vaporizing:
"A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, 'I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.' The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegoom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:27–30).
Here are five things we can learn from John's response about how to think about the stage.
1. Have an attitude of stewardship, not ownership.
John gave God credit for his platform: "A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven." Like John, we must be painstakingly clear that any audience we have is not something we create; rather it is given by God. Therefore it is something we are to steward, knowing one day we will give an account to God.
2. Know who you aren't.
John put himself in a different category than Jesus: "I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before Him." He knew that Jesus is God. He alone is meant to hold center stage. Like John, we would do well to have this truth solidified in our hearts: we are not the Christ. Our words cannot save, our ideas cannot save, our insight cannot save, nothing we have to offer can save or redeem. Jesus saves. Jesus redeems. May we view ourselves as the red carpet rolled out before Him, as a spotlight continually pointing to Jesus, the only source of salvation.
3. Know that the people of God belong to Jesus.
"The one who has the bride [God's people] is the bridegroom [Jesus]." Like John, our followers, our fans, and our audiences don't belong to us. They belong to Jesus. If they leave your stage to go somewhere else, remember that they weren't yours in the first place.
4. Rejoice that people are following Jesus, not you.
In light of the people flocking to Jesus (and consequently away from him), John rejoiced! "Therefore [in light of the crowds going to Jesus] this joy of mine is now complete." John hadn't created an audience of people who were dependent on Him, rather he prepared them to be dependent on Jesus. Likewise, we should not be creating audiences who are dependent on us, needing to continually come back to our blog/book/YouTube channel. Our goal should be to encourage others to flock to Jesus and depend on Him.
5. Re-adjust your view of success.
At the height of his ministry, John insisted that it was right for him to diminish: "He must increase, but I must decrease." Most people consider a loss of followers a failure. John not only considered it a success but exactly as it should be. Do you feel the same? Can you rejoice in the glory God is getting, at the expense of your own success?
Be an Ambassador
Has God given you an audience? Is your view of your platform in line with John's? If you are currently trying to build an audience, to what end are you desiring to be known? Is it about you, or about Jesus? Is it about you increasing or Jesus increasing?
"We are ambassadors for Christ" (2 Cor. 5:20). An ambassador doesn't desire to make himself known, but to make known that person whom he represents. John was an ambassador for Jesus. Could the same be said about us? Let's keep asking good questions as we interact with this dangerous place called the stage.