No Capes: Serving in Secret

The first time I heard Bob Goff speak in person he starting talking about Jesus and the Incredibles. I loved him from the get go.

He spoke about one of the opening scenes from the Incredibles, where Mr. Incredible needs a new suit. So he goes and sees this tiny little woman named Edna, seamtress to the superheroes. She explains that she has one stipulation for Mr. Incredible’s new suit, NO CAPES.

While Edna wanted a suitless cape for pragmatic reasons, Goff connected it to all the times in the New Testament where Jesus served someone and told them to keep it secret, like when Jesus heals the leper at the end of Mark 1.

Moved with pity, he [Jesus] stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, ‘I will; be clean.’ And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, ‘See that you say nothing to no one.’ – Mark 1:41-44

Jesus didn’t want to become famous for healing this man. It was compassion that moved him to act, not a desire for notoriety. No fame. No capes. Just serving people.

When did service become about us being recognized instead of simply loving our neighbor?

Some would have you believe this is a new development, a plague wrought on today’s society by the selfie generation.

But it takes no more than a cursory glance at the New Testament to see it starting to happen even as Jesus is showing his disciples a better way. They start making it about them, just like we do now.

In Luke 9, Jesus predicted his death again and the disciples didn’t understand again. Immediately after Jesus explained to them again that he was going to die the disciples launch into a discussion about which one of them will be the VP of Jesus’ new kingdom. Jesus tells them,

“He who is least among you all is the one who is great.” – Luke 9:48

Instead of humbling serving in secret, the disciples were fighting for recognition and power in a kingdom they fundamentally did not understand. When we do the same thing today, people see right through it, especially those outside the Church. It reeks of hypocrisy.

Companies are guilty of this.

Over the last few months, Gillette started a razor subscription plan to compete with Dollar Shave Club, a start-up company that risen to prominence with cheap razors sent right to your door. To try and squash this new competition, Gillette paid to promote ads on Twitter, not an unusual practice. But the tweets they chose to promote were from users who switched back to Gillette after trying Dollar Shave Club. Gillette ended up clogging up people’s Twitter feed, mine included, by promoting their “welcome back to a man’s best shave” and “2 million guys switched back to the best” tweets.

While the jury is still out, several advertising and marketing execs have estimated their shameless promotion may have cost the company more business than it created.

People, not just DSC customers, saw that type of advertisement as ingenuine and petty.

Pastors are guilty of this.

I really appreciate when people point out corruption or hypocrisy from within their own ranks. For example, the most powerful rebuke of radical Islamic terrorism is from mainstream Muslims. The most powerful rebuke of police brutality and corruption is from good, hard-working police officers. Likewise, the most powerful rebuke of pastors come from other pastors. Most Muslims are not terrorists;  most cops are not racists; most pastors are not embezzlers.

However, when it comes to serving in secret, no capes, most pastors struggle, myself included.

Most of the time it seems innocent enough. I think most pastors mean well. When they post things like, “So #blessed to baptize __ people today” or “Wow, we had ____ salvations this morning!” I want to give them the benefit of the doubt. I want to think that they’re trying to give God the glory and spread the story of what God is doing in their midst…

but Jesus never does that.

And I think if they were honest, those pastors would admit that their intentions are not in fact 100% humble.. I know because I’ve done it before, at times accidentally and at times on purpose. The pastorate can be hard and a little validation can go a long way. But that’s not the way of no capes service.

The only reason numbers matter is because numbers are people and people matter.

I’m grateful to serve at a church that doesn’t do the “We served ____ people tonight” celebration messages. And honestly, it’s a hard thing to be great at and I’m sure we fail just as much as we succeed but I do know that we are a place that genuinely desires to serve without capes, without fanfare and without recognition.

Are you guilty of this?

It’s easy to point out companies and pastors/churches failing at this because it’s less personal than looking at your own life. Are you content to serve in secret or do you need to constantly document every good thing you do on Instagram?

Do you find yourself casually mentioning ways in which you helped someone else when that’s not necessary to the conversation, maybe just so someone takes notice and recognizes you?

Do you get frustrated when you do something nice for someone and it’s not reciprocated? Since when does service come with strings attached?

Friends, let’s take off the capes, serve in secret and point people away from us and toward Jesus because you and I make sorry excuses for Saviors.

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