It's not all about you
AG Washburn was already 62 years old in 1907 when he became the “Superintendent of Indian Missions" for the brand new state convention of Oklahoma. In his 1908 report to the state convention he reported traveling 9,003 miles, preaching 99 sermons and 81 other addresses, and visiting 34 churches, 14 associations, and 14 other meetings. That was just in one year of his work. Later reports he gave show that was a little bit of a down year for him. In 1910 he traveled 10,544 miles and preached 164 sermons. He labored among the Native American churches for over a decade late in his life.
The reports he gave list baptisms, money raised, sermons preached, men ordained, and more. But at the end of every report comes the most important part. He lists men and women who helped him along the way. The list is never the same from year to year, but he gives names like Rev. Daniel Bird, Geo. W. Bell, H. M. Harjo, JC Stalcup, and WD Moorer. Washburn wanted the people to know that whatever he did, he didn’t do it alone.
The name of AG Washburn name is mostly forgotten to the pages of history. There’s only a very few in Oklahoma that would even know his name today. The names of his co-workers are even more obscure. His name was listed as giving the report, his name is found on the agenda at each meeting. But those reports given over 100 years ago make one fact very clear. We are all partners in God’s work.
Paul makes this point over and over in his epistles in the New Testament. His mission work is made possible in part by a large network of fellow believers, some arising from his own ministry and some from elsewhere. In Acts chapters 13-28 as Luke covers the journeys of Paul, there is one consistent thing in every place that Paul goes. It’s the people. In those chapters over 20 different people are mentioned. Lydia, Timothy, Barnbas, Titus Justus, Crispus, Erastus, Gauis, Sopater, Alexander, Trophimus, Priscilla, Aquilla, and more.
In Paul’s journeys he finds people doing God’s work. Some times they are already on the scene, sharing the gospel. Other times they are saved under Paul’s ministry, but by the time he leaves they are also doing the work of Jesus, and they keep on doing it after he leaves. The story of Acts is the story of God’s people, doing God’s work, telling the story of Jesus. There are so many names mentioned in the last half of the book of Acts. Just like the reports that Washburn gave in the early days of OK, Pauls lists the names of those who labor alongside him. Act is not just about the work of Paul and Peter or the Apostles, it’s the story of people like you and me. The church is not built on great leaders, it’s built on Jesus. That’s why God uses people like you and me to do his work. It’s not about us and it’s not about our talents or gifts. It’s about Christ in us.
There is always someone who gets to be in front. The pastor stands on the stage, the leader gets the credit. It’s tempting as a leader to think that it’s all about us. It’s easy for those in that position to start to feel big about themselves. There is nothing as intoxicating as our own fame, however big or small it may be. But no matter what your ministry looks like, you do not do it alone. I don’t care if your name is on the sign or in the bulletin, the ministry that you have is not your own. The leaders who speak at conferences and sell tons of books are surrounded by people whose ministry makes it possible for that leader to do what they do. You will never see their name in lights, and their books won’t be on your shelves. But they are co-laborers in the work of God. There is no unimportant work in God’s kingdom.
It’s not likely that you or I will be one of those leaders that everyone follows. It’s easy to think that our ministry isn’t as important as someone else’s. But no matter what your ministry is, it matters. If you stand in front of thousands or dozens, your ministry matters. Those who edit the books are as important as those who write the books. Even the greatest leader of all cannot do it alone. You and I need each other to do the ministry that God has called us to. Whether our name is at the top of the report or just a footnote, we are all co-laborers in the work of God.
That’s the most important thing to remember. No matter what we do, it’s not our ministry. The greatest work has already been done by Jesus on the Cross. All the work that we do is only possible because of the work that Jesus did in defeating death. This means that we don’t have to bear the burden of doing the work ourselves. We are free to give ourselves like AG Washburn did. When our time on earth is over, another will come along to take our place. Rest easy in the fact that it’s not all about you.