On Being Forgotten

I just heard a thought-provoking quote from one Count Zinzendorf. It reads, “Preach the Gospel…die…be forgotten.” It’s purported by some to be a slight misquote and certainly out of context. Still, it’s attention grabbing and noteworthy.

Since he probably said (or wrote) this in German, it’s understandable that it might be somewhat askew—word wise. Still, the meaning is clear. The context was advice he was passing onto new missionaries. He was warning them that sharing the gospel could bring suffering with it. He wanted them to be wary of doing it for the wrong reason—pride. In other words, “You’re not building a legacy here. You’re glorifying God” (my extrapolation).

Zinzendorf was a leader in the Moravian Church in the 1700’s. He is credited with being a pioneer of Christian missions during that period.

Firsthand Knowledge

The Count certainly had a background that could have given him firsthand knowledge of the subject of pride. He was born into a rich Austrian family of noble descent. He was well educated, and his accomplishments added to a resume that could have produced a swelling pride within his own character. He knew whereof he spoke.

The advice is simple and straightforward. As followers of Christ, we’re not here to placate others or bring credit, fame, or praise to ourselves. We live to serve—at least, that’s what we attempt to do.

Obviously, Zinzendorf was not forgotten. People are printing t-shirts with his quote and name on them. He is a famous figure in the Protestant mission movement. We still know the names of some of the missionaries he supported as well. They preached the gospel, they died, but we still remember them. Of course, his words went well beyond their face value.

He was merely attempting to convey the thought that it’s easy to get sidetracked. We see this play out often in today’s church. Too often, instead of servants, we see superstars—people who have talent and fall into the trap of believing their own hype. Getting a pat on the back begins to supersede the real reason they began their work in the first place. Eventually, they seem to become addicted to the adoration heaped upon them by their groupies and sycophants.

Big Fish in Small Ponds

Beyond that, a lot of folks become big fish in small ponds. They build little kingdoms for themselves, and they call it ministry. Zinzendorf’s words peal loudly in our time—or should.

Fame and esteem can be alluring spices to someone who otherwise seems to be lost in the shuffle. Sometimes we can’t avoid those enticements, but we can still remain humble enough to forgo the easily taken prideful avenue.

I write this as someone who has several books on my shelf with my own name printed on them. I write books to help people, but I fully admit that a small part me wants to be able to pass on that legacy to my grandchildren. I find it good to be reminded of Zinzendorf’s words from time to time.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]

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