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I once attended a music festival at a conservation area just outside of Hamilton. The festival featured some amazing musicians: Neil Young, Daniel Lanois, Trixie Whitely, and more. I first got a glimpse of one of the festival stars, Emmylou Harris, as she performed as a backup singer for one of the other acts.

A backup singer. That’s Emmylou Harris, winner of 14 Grammy Awards, the Polar Music Prize, and inductee at the Country Music Hall of Fame. She performed her own set later, but was happy to serve in the background to support the other acts at the show.

Stepping Out of the Spotlight

I’ve seen this other times too. I once attended a concert with Sting and Peter Gabriel. Both are musicians who are used to taking centre stage. My favourite part of that concert is when they stepped out of the spotlight and performed in the background to support the other.

I’ve also seen this in the church. I’ve witnessed pastors step down from senior roles and become associate pastors, serving and submitting to newer, younger leaders. I’ve enjoyed watching them do everything they can to help the new pastor succeed.

I shouldn’t be surprised that I enjoy this so much. It reflects Jesus, who “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:6-7). It reminds me of the Holy Spirit, who delights in glorifying Jesus. The three members of the Godhead are coeternal and coequal, each person delights in the other.

This self-giving love begins to appear in us as God changes our own hearts to become like his. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:11-12). “The circuit of God’s love is completed when we love one another,” writes Colin Kruse.

The Lowest Place

Matthew Kim, professor of preaching at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, asks his students: do you want to be a celebrity preacher? This question surfaces the motives of the preacher. Are we preaching because we want to make Jesus’ name great, or because we want our name to be great?

Pride disqualifies pastors (Titus 1:7). Pastors must not seek their own glory. Humble pastors know how to step out of the spotlight and serve in the shadows. They don’t want to be famous; they want to be servants. They’re content to serve in obscurity for the only recognition that counts.

And it’s not just pastors. The call to all of us is to step out of the spotlight and serve others, loving them and looking after their interests first, even at the expense of our own. “All of us—pastors, teachers, professional religious workers and nonprofessional included—are tempted to say, ‘I will take the larger place because it will give me more influence for Jesus Christ,’” observed Francis Schaeffer. “But according to the Scripture this is backwards: we should consciously take the lowest place unless the Lord Himself extrudes us into a greater one.”

Emmylou Harris performed backup for someone else. That image has stuck with me in the years since then. Let’s be okay stepping out of the spotlight and delighting in the good of others — especially in the goodness and the glory of God.