Not long ago, I heard about a pastor who committed adultery. This same man also started a flourishing homeless ministry. Though he did step down from the pastorate, he would not step down from his leadership position in the homeless ministry — a decision that caused many of his employees to either cover for him or to leave the ministry altogether.
News like this is hardly shocking anymore, because it has become so common. And though it didn’t shock me to hear this, it did sadden me and stir my thoughts about the growing disconnect between our public and private lives.
In a social-media age, it’s even easier for us to be truly disconnected people. People can follow us or friend us without really knowing us. Relationship connections are easy, but if we aren’t careful they can become quite shallow. We now can build a platform or become a minor celebrity just through making YouTube videos or amassing Twitter and Instagram followers.
We don’t want to view social media or any form of technology as inherently bad, and we can indeed use these platforms for the glory of God, but we must not forget the value of a faithful life lived on the ground and in the ordinary. God delights in the inner being of men and women.
Example in the Flesh
Jesus is the sinless example of the intersection of public and private living. For starters, Jesus did not have a public ministry until his thirties. First, he sweated decades over the hard manual labor of carpentry. For the majority of his life, Jesus was unknown and seemingly ordinary. Yet he was faithful in the mundane. He worked with his hands and created form and beauty out of planks of wood.
Why didn’t he start his ministry younger? Why did he forgo a thriving ministry in his teens or twenties?
Jesus deliberately postponed his public ministry until the timing was just right (John 2:4). And although Scripture doesn’t directly tell us all the reasons why, certainly part of it was that the public launch of his ministry would open up a Pandora’s box of growing popularity and opposition that would ultimately lead to his death (John 7:30; 8:20; 13:1).
But until the timing was right, the one thing we can infer from this sovereign decision is that the ordinary and mundane years of Jesus’s life was its own form of ministry. The unknown places of our private lives are honoring to God when we are faithful and obedient in the joy of Christ.
Focus on God, Not Followers
In some astonishingly mysterious way, Jesus’s pre-ministry years were purposeful and necessary for him to increase “in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). It was in the field of carpentry that Jesus learned and grew into a sympathetic High Priest, and it is here that he models for us that no form of work — even the most mundane — is below the God-man. It is a calling — a place to be, and live, authentically.
When Jesus finally did enter into the ministry work of healing, miracles, and teaching, he attracted a significant following. He was known and sought after. He experienced a new kind of fatigue with this work as he traveled and ministered to people. But he also was mindful to separate himself from the crowds in order to pray (Matthew 14:23; Mark 1:35; Luke 5:16).
This was his rest, his communion with the Father, and the cultivation of his private life. These times were the foundation upon which his house of public ministry was built. He was always about doing the will of his Father more than driving for personal fame and a larger platform.
A Small Babel of Our Own
Many of us feel something of a disconnect between our public and private lives. We skimp on our private formation, while mastering our public persona. We don’t build the foundation that Christ did by cultivating faithfulness and communion with God in our private lives, and then we scratch our heads at the collapsing house in front of us.
Though Jesus was ushering in the kingdom of God with his ministry, he was not building his own kingdom in the sinful ways to which we’re drawn.
It’s hard not to make ministry about us (and our platform) in a world where he who has the largest following wins. Jesus prized private prayer and did the mundane, ordinary work of persevering in obedience to God.
When we don’t treasure our private relationship with God in the midst of our public life, it becomes easier to give in to temptation. Compromise tastes sweet, because we have not been drinking living waters. If we aren’t drawing up buckets of water from the well of God in Christ, then we will build broken cisterns that cannot hold water (Jeremiah 2:13).
Private and Public Collapse
I’ve heard a story of another man in leadership who committed adultery — a king, a predecessor of Christ. In Psalm 51, King David recalls his adultery with Bathsheba. Though David sinned grievously against God and others, he humbled himself, and in his brokenness, cried out to God in repentance. David’s sin began with being unfaithful in the ordinary duties of kingship when he neglected to go to battle (2 Samuel 11:1).
David had disconnected his public life from his private one. Yet, he knew the deeper issue. He wasn’t delighting in truth in his heart or learning wisdom in the secret and private places of his life. David said, “Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart” (Psalm 51:6).
This is one thing Jesus did far better than David. For it was Jesus who came through the line of David to redeem it. He went to battle for us, despite our sin, and he was faithful in the ordinary. He was, and is, a better King. He saves us and helps us delight in truth in the inward being.
Jesus bridged the gap between the public and private perfectly for us. And he empowers us by his Spirit to do so increasingly ourselves.