Mahershala Ali won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor at the 2017 Acadamy Awards for his role in the feature film Moonlight. I’ve not yet seen this movie, but I appreciate blackness being celebrated on major platforms like the Academy Awards. What struck me more than Mahershala Ali’s win was his acceptance speech. Before he thanked anyone who helped make his participation in the film possible, Ali referenced one thing his professors constantly told him:
"It's not about you. It's about these characters. You are a servant. You're in service to these stories and these characters…"
This is a humble acknowledgment that there is a bigger purpose being served in his work as an actor than being honored and awarded for what he has done. For him, the recognition is not the accomplishment, the service is. Artistry is his service to others.
Here’s a necessary reminder in a culture where branding and marketing so often take precedence over serving and making an impact:
Ministry is solely, only, exclusively, and entirely about serving!
When your ministry is celebrated, it’s not about you.
When your ministry efforts are successful, it’s not about you.
When new doors open and opportunities become available, it’s not about you.
For Mahershali Ali, his work is about serving the essence of the characters he embodies. For Christian ministers, the work we do is about serving the essence of Jesus Christ. The essence of Jesus is love. Not fame. Not wealth. Not status. Ministry is the embodiment of love. When we embody love, we become servants and live in service to the greatest story of all, God’s gift of love through the life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
In her book Salvation: Black People and Love, bell hooks says that love does not bring an end to difficulties, it gives the strength to cope with difficulties in a constructive way. She defines love as a combination of care, knowledge, responsibility, respect, trust, and commitment. The embodiment of this kind of love, the love of God, must translate into clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, consoling the hurt, speaking for the voiceless, and continuing the work of Jesus towards all humanity. Apostle Paul says If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing (1 Corintiahins 13:20).
You prefer to just preach in a pulpit?
You prefer to just minister on a stage with a microphone?
You prefer to just do your “service” in the latest church fashions to church people?
Guess what?! Your preferences are inferior to God's purpose. It’s not about you. When we commit to growing beyond our personal preferences, we will most effectively minister “in Jesus’ name”.
To rephrase Mahershali Ali’s acceptance speech:
It's not about you. It's about Jesus. You are a servant. You're in service to the people who are broken, hurt, and in need of an encounter with the love of God.