If you grew up in church, it’s probably the first song you learned as a kid in Sunday School. You know the one I’m talking about. This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. Hide it under a bushel? No! I’m gonna let it shine. We’d all sing the simple melody with our chubby little pointer fingers up in the air, signifying the tiny candles of our lives. So precious.
I’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the road to adulthood, most of us were told that it’s prideful and wrong to receive attention. Recognition became equated with conceit and arrogance. And we were compelled to dig our bushels out of storage, dust them off, and snuff out our little lights. (What is a bushel anyways? A basket, I think?)
This can be especially true for those of us in ministry. It can be especially especially true for those of us in worship ministry. If you have a platform position of any kind, you’ve most likely heard something along these lines: “We just want to disappear when we’re on stage so people can see Jesus. We want to be invisible. We want Jesus to be the focus. All eyes on him, not on us.” I’ve heard phrases like this quite a few times in my life. And I get irked. Every. Single. Time.
Because how can I actually disappear??? I’ll start with the obvious: it’s literally physically impossible to disappear when on stage. Think about it. As a worship leader, I’m on an elevated platform with incredibly bright lights focused on me, singing into a microphone that amplifies my voice for the entire room to hear. Disappearing while leading others is, in fact, not an option. People are watching me. People are following my lead. Because I’m the worship leader. And I can’t call myself a leader unless people are willing and able to follow me. I have to be seen in order to lead.
That being said, I completely understand and agree with the heart behind these expressions. We’re being warned against seeking the spotlight, self-promotion, and self-glorification. It can be a very fine line to walk. Yes. We want the focus of our praise to be Jesus rather than us. Yes. We want him to be the center of our worship. Yes. We want his name (not ours) to be magnified. This is the entire reason why we do what we do! We’re called to lead others into the presence of the Lord. But do we really have to make ourselves invisible or attempt to disappear in order to do this?
I don’t believe so. And neither did the apostle Paul.
I believe that asking God to make us invisible in order to magnify himself takes the very necessary burden of responsibility and accountability off of the leader. It’s a cop-out. As the person out front, I am responsible for how I present myself. I am responsible for engaging others in the worship service. I am responsible for encouraging others to praise the Lord. I am also accountable for the posture of my heart. I am accountable for the uprightness of my spirit. I am accountable for the cleanliness of my mind and the purity of my motives.
Leadership does not come without a cost. Jesus said so himself in Luke 12:48. “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and from the one whom has been entrusted with much, even more will be expected.”
Let’s take a look at the life of Paul. This man was bold. He had a big light and he wasn’t afraid to let it shine. He’d never met a bushel. He put himself out there on full display for the sake of the gospel. Paul knew people were watching him…and he welcomed it.
“For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me.” (1 Corinthians 4:15-16)
“Imitate me, as I also imitate Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1)
“And they glorified God because of me.” (Galatians 1:24)
“Join in imitating me, brothers and sisters, and pay careful attention to those who live according to the example you have in us.” (Philippians 3:17)
Paul knew the weight of leadership. He had counted the cost…probably more so than any other human in history. The price of his calling was high. It involved persecution, abandonment, slander, shipwrecks, endless travel, incarceration, and a mysterious “thorn in his flesh” which was a gift from God to keep him humble. But Paul’s eye was on the prize. He knew that “our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly wait for a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 3:20)
Paul lived in such a way as to be worthy of imitation. And that’s the call of leadership. When we live a life worth emulating, we can echo Paul’s sentiments and invite people to follow us as we follow Christ.
As leaders, we carry the responsibility of modeling holiness and humility, as Paul did.
Holiness – our daily praise. Paul tells us in Roman 12:1, “Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship.”
Humility – our daily posture. Paul instructs us in Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves.”
This is true leadership. Not just on a stage, but in our day-to-day rhythms. This is what it means to let your light shine: to entreat others to watch how you live your life, how you conduct your business, how you treat your neighbor, how you love your family, how you worship the Lord.
So…No. I’m not going to pray that God would help me disappear while leading worship on stage, or speaking at an event, or leading my children in a Bible study. Because I believe he’s glorified when people watch me do these things. Not because I’m great. But because he’s worthy. I can confidently say, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” Not because I’m perfect, but because I’m frail and broken and I know that God’s grace is sufficient for me, for his power is perfected in my weakness. (Galatians 12:9) I can boldly ask God to be magnified when people see my little light flickering.
Get rid of your bushel, Friend. Obliterate it. Let your light shine. Live a life worthy of imitation. Rise up to the high calling of following Christ. You are a trophy of God’s grace. And trophies belong on display.
"In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven." - Jesus (Matthew 5:16)