Three Reminders for Youth Ministers in Light of the Allegations against Ravi Zacharias

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Earlier this week, Christianity Today published disturbing allegations raised by multiple women, each of whom has accused the late apologist Ravi Zacharias of sexual misconduct. I mourn alongside of these unnamed survivors. I pray that Ravi Zacharias International Ministry’s (RZIM’s) independent external investigation of these matters clarifies the truth and promotes justice for those who have been harmed. I also feel sympathy towards Zacharias’s surviving family and friends who are likely grieving afresh in the wake of these newly-published accusations.

As terrible as these allegations are, they aren’t the only aspects of the aforementioned Christianity Today article that wrench my heart. The article also includes testimony from Zacharias himself – quotes that describe a soul deeply burdened by the demands of RZIM’s work.

These self-disclosures are shocking, because in terms of having respect, wide-reaching influence, and public prominence, Zacharias was a “made man.” He had everything for which many a humble youth minister (and many a present-day church planter!) spends his or her days longing, hoping, and dreaming.

How many of us have passed our days dreaming of more respect, longing for greater influence, and seeking out roles we think might give us a bigger platform?

How many of us have spent hours in jealousy and envy towards those whose ministries are larger, more renowned, and more tangibly fruitful than our own?

How many of us have thought, “If I could only have a ministry that was more like Ravi’s (or that of another prominent Christian leader), then I’d feel happy. Then I’d be making a difference. Then I’d be less frustrated, less burnt-out, and less weary in my walk with Christ?”

I do not presume to know the whole story as it relates to the heart, motivations, and actions of the late Ravi Zacharias, but I took these quotes as a warning from the Lord. For my own heart, and for those who have experienced these longings and frustrations, here are three reminders that are (reportedly) from the lips of Ravi Zacharias himself. 

#1: Apart from Supernatural Supply, God’s Supernatural Work Will Drain Us Dry

As detailed in Christianity Today’s report, one of the survivors recalls that Zacharias, with respect to the alleged unwelcome sexual advances, said, “I need it. I need it. I need it.” This same survivor noted that Zacharias spoke often of desiring to lead a “normal” life beyond the watchful eye of public scrutiny, citing the immense “burden” his ministry placed on him. This confession reminded me of an important truth.

No matter how “large” or “small,” ministry – laboring to see lives redeemed by God’s grace as the gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed in the power of the Spirit – is supernatural work. And apart from a supernatural supply of that very same grace, the work of ministry will drain us dry. Without divine supply, the demands of ministry will inevitably drive us to seek rest with any number of false refuges – illicit sex, mind-numbing substances, co-dependencies, etc.

The gospel offers us hope. Before Jesus requires us to do anything for him, he does everything necessary for us to abide in him. He took on human flesh, lived a life of perfect holiness, died gruesomely on our behalf, and rose from the grave – not to add to our already heavy burdens, but to give us yokes that are ever-shared with him, and that are therefore easy and light (Matthew 11:28-30). The work of first importance is that we simply believe in him (John 6:29), and in believing, that we come to abide in his word, love, and joy (John 15:1-11). Only in such abiding is it possible to bear fruit at all; otherwise, to paraphrase Jesus, “We can do absolutely nothing” (cf. John 15:4-5).

For God’s glory and for your good, I exhort you – don’t get so caught up in doing things for Jesus that you neglect your first calling of simply being with Jesus.

#2: Friendship is Better than Fame

According to Christianity Today’s report, Zacharias often lamented that he felt “profoundly alone,” and that he had “no personhood left.” He perceived this loneliness to be a direct result of his global platform, his travel schedule, and his and demanding ministry obligations.

We would do well to heed the self-reflections of our late brother. Fame can be a useful tool when it is given from the hand of the Lord and utilized for his glory and for the good of others. But the indiscriminate pursuit of fame is a terrible master. And, as Zacharias’s laments make clear, fame is a terrible source of comfort and companionship (even if it is achieved at a large scale).

There is a time and place to pursue recognition, platform, and new positions, but these things are not normally the means through which God strengthens us in the gospel. On the other hand, Scripture is clear that authentic friendship is a means of grace (Proverbs 17:17). A friend who loves us at all times (even on our most unlovely days), and who condescends to join us in our adversity, refreshes us by mimicking the gospel love of Christ himself.

At the end of the day, friendship is better than fame. May we all invest our energy into a community of biblical friends, more so than in garnering influence, adding followers on social media, or chasing the “next best thing.”

#3: We Are Servants, Not Celebrities

Celebrities and servants are opposites. On account of their notoriety, influence, and value, celebrities get to set the terms of their appearances and performances. Servants don’t give the orders; they only follow. They have the terms of their employment set or forced upon them.

As Christianity Today reported regarding one of the survivors, “Zacharias assured her that the Lord understood what he had sacrificed and implied their sexual exchanges were God’s way of rewarding him.” On account of his perceived value to the Kingdom’s mission, Zacharias allegedly began to sense that he was owed things by God. He came to view himself as a celebrity, rather than as a servant.

We all have a tendency to do the same. At best, a “celebrity mindset” will make us bitter towards God and will render our service to him a joyless monotony. (“Aren’t we worthy to receive ease, comfort, influence, and respect from the hand of the Lord? Why is he holding out?”)

At worst, a “celebrity mindset” will lead us into sin which destroys both our lives and the lives of others, as the allegations against Ravi Zacharias illustrate.

Either way, when we view ourselves as “Kingdom celebrities,” we place our souls in great peril.

We are not celebrities. God owes us nothing but the just deserts of our hardened hearts; we deserve no better than infinite condemnation. But by God’s grace, we have been made bond-servants of Christ – because Christ our master took our just deserts as his own on the cross. We are freed from this celebrity mindset as we focus on the price which was paid for our redemption (1 Corinthians 7:23) – and on the One who paid that price with blood.

Youth minister: no matter how menial the work may be, never lose sight of the fact that the labor to which Christ has called you is utterly undeserved. And it is more than mere servitude; it is a window through which to view the very wonders of Heaven. Be encouraged by John 2:9 – we don’t know the names of the servants Jesus used to turn the water into wine, but we do know that they alone got front row seats to watch the miracle unfold.

Your name may not be widely known – but it is known by the One whose opinion truly matters. And like the servants in John 2:9, he has purchased you the “best seat in the house” to watch him work miracles – in your own life, and in the lives of the teenagers he has called you to serve.

 

 

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