This post was written by Eric Maust, former Charlotte Fellow, class of 2015-2016. He lives in Charlotte and works as the Systems and Extended Programming Manager for Brookstone Schools.
Among other things, the Charlotte Fellows program trains Christian leaders to take up strategic places in the marketplace to do good work for the kingdom. This is an aspect of the Christian life that doesn’t get a lot of attention in the church, and it’s a problem the Fellows program seeks to remedy. But as well-intentioned as it may be, this push can fail in two ways.
First, it will fail if we seek to build our own kingdom, rather than Christ’s. What begins as a desire to see God’s kingdom come can sometimes lead to losing sight of the movement of the Spirit.
The second way it can misfire is if we take on so much pressure to “change the world” that we exhaust ourselves and inevitably fail to change a fallen world. It is this point that I want to address. Honestly, it’s a pill that I am still learning to take. But I want to advocate for living a normal Christian life.
In the fall of 2015, I joined the Charlotte Fellows. It was a wild year. I was looking for a program that would tell me what to do with my life—something big and exciting. Instead, failure and shattered expectations punctuated my time in the program.
Three months into the Fellows year, I was miserable. I tell people now that the program gives you at least five avenues to come crumbling down: your host family, mentor, internship, church, and “fellow Fellows.” Then it gives you all those same avenues as support when the others fail you. By this point in my year, three of those five had fallen short of my expectation.
At our regional retreat, we were challenged to think big about social justice and what living out the gospel looked like in our contexts. At that moment, hearing that I should do something huge was the last thing I needed. I was overwhelmed by the smallness of my life and underwhelmed by smaller moments within it. Not only was my life small in comparison to this prescription of gospel-living, but it was breaking down rather than flourishing.
Throughout the program, I worked for Brookstone Schools, an inner-city Christian school whose mission is to equip urban students for lives of leadership and service. But rather than being excellent in my duties, I was inexperienced and insufficient in my position. Rather than making a difference in my students’ lives, the best conversations I had were about which lunch meat is best. (It turns out turkey is a big hit.)
I found out that I was not extraordinary. I was normal. Sometimes failing, other times successful, but very normal. Was that okay? With a swollen view of my life’s purpose, an average day at work wasn’t good enough. No, I had to scrutinize every moment, questioning its fruitfulness. That kind of scrutiny, as well-intentioned as it is, squashes the beautifully mundane things that make up most of our lives. What if I could rest in God’s timing to bring His Kingdom to fruition and simply obey His voice in the meantime?
The apostle Paul urges us to make it our ambition to lead a quiet life (1 Thess. 4:11, NIV). “A quiet life,” said by the man who boldly preached the gospel in the heart of the Roman Empire at the penalty of being martyred. The loudness of Paul’s life paradoxically came from the quietness of his obedience. The later portion of Paul’s life in the city of Rome came after he had been broken. Over the last 25 years of his life, God had made good on his promise to “show him how much he must suffer for the sake of [His] name” (Acts 9:16, ESV). A quiet life of simple obedience is the normal Christian life. What God does with that kind of life is His call.
Instead of striving for perfection and spiritual greatness, we should seek simple obedience in all things. What is God asking of you today? To stop striving enough to be present in your relationships? To give yourself fully to your work instead of doing enough to get by? To have that hard conversation that you’ve played one-hundred times over in your head? Being obedient requires you to walk into situations in which you have no control over the outcome. You have to walk into weakness, uncertainty, and failure. But Christ shows Himself most vibrantly in those moments. God brings glory to Himself when we have no room to say, “That was my doing.”
I’ve been working for Brookstone for a year and a half now. The brief conversations in the halls of the school have become my favorite part of the job. The flash of a kindergartner’s smile and the solemn look of a middle schooler when he’s had a “not-good” day are commonplace, but the more attentive Christ makes me, the more I realize those things are small compasses that all point toward Him. The best that any of us can do is ask that God alters our course to their bearings: into the heart of the Maker and the coming day when all will be made right.