STILLPOINT Archive: last updated 07/03/2013

A Gospel Perspective on Ambition

By D. Michael Lindsay

In recent years, a debate has emerged among American evangelicals: Is it appropriate for Christ-followers to seek powerful positions? After all, the Sermon on the Mount is a clarion call to meekness and humility. And didn’t Jesus prefer the poor to the powerful during his earthly ministry? 

I have spent years thinking about this question and have come to a firm conviction that much good can come when people devoted to God are in positions of influence. Too much of the evangelical tradition prizes individual transformation—changing one person at a time—and too little appreciates the value of rightly ordered institutions. Those institutions—a large corporation, a major university, or the Oval Office—will not reflect godly purposes without godly leaders. That’s not just a sociological observation; that’s a theological reality. 

The gospel lays out a robust vision for human flourishing. Jesus’ ministry was fundamentally about transformation—not just of individuals, but of communities, of the world. If the presence of Christians does not make society better, then the Christian community is not taking seriously the mandate to love our neighbors as ourselves. 

I recently gave a Chapel address (you can watch it on Gordon’s YouTube channel) built around the story of Nehemiah, who attempts the seemingly impossible: rebuilding Jerusalem. People question Nehemiah’s motives, his ambitions, and his strategies. But he persists, and in a matter of eight weeks, the task is completed. After the wall is rebuilt, Nehemiah invites the people to stand on it with him. In this action he elevates—both literally and figuratively—those around him. 

That’s a good lesson, and it’s my favorite part of the story. We raise people up when we invite them to join us on the wall. That’s what we’re getting at when we speak of Gordon seeking to “elevate the contribution.” You’ve heard me refer to the Gordon Commission. It’s our institutional raison d’être. We exist as an institution to stretch the mind, to deepen the faith, and to elevate the contribution. That notion of elevating others comes directly from the Book of Nehemiah. We want to elevate the contribution we make to the common good and, in the process, elevate others.

Indeed, if there is any assembled group of people who are positioned to take up the mantle of being ambitious for the Kingdom, of devoting their lives to God-sized goals, it’s the young men and women I see in the classrooms, the quad, the dining hall, at Gordon today. The greatest gift they can give the Church is to raise their horizons, set higher ambitions, and commit themselves to honor the Lord every step of the way as they seek to serve him to the fullest extent possible. 


Ebersole GF