John the Baptist, that curiously dressed wild man with a penchant for preaching hard truths, has always been an odd figure. And though Jesus taught that John’s role was essential, virtually nothing about his ministry would make its way into church planting manuals today.
Yet while John the Baptist isn’t normally associated with church planting, I think his ministry can greatly help church planters understand their role. Specifically, we can learn from John’s understanding of his role in redemptive history, his willingness to recede into the background, and his posture toward Jesus’ ministry,
Look Down: John’s Understanding of His Role
The Gospels show that John the Baptist was well aware of his role in redemptive history. Even when others gave him every opportunity to exalt his ministry or religious status, he humbly pointed away from himself.
Consider, for example, one occasion when the priests and Levites, intrigued by John’s fiery preaching and eccentric dress, asked if he was the Messiah. John insisted, “I am not the Christ” (John 1:20 ESV). Then they asked if he was Elijah (Mal. 4:4–6) or the Prophet (Deut. 18:15). Again, John answered no.
Instead, John identified himself as “one crying out in the wilderness,” whose message was, “Make straight the way of the Lord” (John 1:23 ESV). In other words, John made it clear that he was not the focal point of his message and ministry.
The same should always be true of us. “For we are not proclaiming ourselves,” as Paul says, “but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’s sake” (2 Cor. 4:5 ESV).
Step Aside: John’s Willingness to Recede Into the Background
John understood the implications of his ministry of prophetic preparation. He knew that his unique role had a built-in expiration date. In fact, he was working toward that end.
For many months John had pointed to the coming Messiah. He knew Jesus was the only one with the power to bring lasting change. John also knew that he himself possessed no such power and that only Jesus could alter the eternal destiny of countless souls.
All this is why John was willing to recede into the background so Jesus could shine in the spotlight. As John famously said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30 ESV). John’s life had a lasting impact precisely because he understood that the goal of all ministry is the exaltation of Christ and the extension of his kingdom.
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Source: Church Leaders