The One-Down Position: Going in Needy

It is hard to be humble. It is even harder to be needy. And yet, sometimes that is exactly what we need to be… needy.

God, in his providence, allows me to be around a lot of church leaders and potential church planters. Multiple times every month, I find myself at training events, breakfasts, equipping meetings, planter assessments. These venues usually have the best and brightest here in Houston who are attempting to place another flag in the ground for the kingdom. In Raleigh, I was fortunate to work at a seminary and help pastor a church full of potential ministers of the gospel. It is an encouragement to see people who want to reproduce gospel witness in places where there is little.

Not only do I see these young leaders, I also see the pressure to have all the answers. That pressure is real. Young church planters and pastors know they have the best and only answer to the world’s biggest problem. The see a broken city in need of good news, and they are the ones with the answer. However, that quickly translates into having all the answers to every little question. After all, in order for people to trust us concerning the true message of the gospel, we need to demonstrate how competent we are. And then there is the ego. We want people to think we have it all together and know what we are talking about. In a room full of young leaders, you want to be the one that everyone thinks is making it.

Unfortunately, this translates into ministry. We think we know what people need, or at least we want them to think we know what they need. This affects ministry methods. Everyone wants people to look at their church and see it as successful, and so we posture that way. We broadcast the message that something is really happening over here, and everyone needs to come look at it. This is especially true in areas with social and economic hardship. Plant in the “tough places” and you may feel like you are the answer to poverty, or crime, or lack of education. You are there to fix things, right? And when you do, everyone will want to be a part of your church.

I saw this on the mission field too. If I am honest, I suffered from this on the mission field. In a land with no electricity, high poverty, and non-existent literacy rates, it is easy to feel like you are smarter than everyone. You are the missionary with the answers, and you do not need help from anyone. Truth is, nothing could be further from the truth. And few things tank a ministry like thinking you are better than the people to whom you are ministering.

In his book, Cross Cultural Conflict, Duane Elmer addresses what he calls the one-down position. The one-down position is intentionally taking a position of neediness (being one-down) with the people to whom you are ministering. Instead of going in with the answers, it is going in with questions and a request for help. Instead of thinking they need you and what you have to provide, it is realizing you need them to understand the people you are trying to reach. Elmer says it this way, “Taking the one-down position means you make yourself vulnerable to another person or indicate that without their help you are in danger of being shamed or losing face” (Elmer, Cross Cultural Conflict, 80).

Something amazing can happen when we go into an area of ministry needy. Walls start to come down. When we approach people in a manner that appears superior, they get defensive. Would you not? After all, it is by nature demeaning. If we truly believe that everyone is created in God’s image and all are valuable, we demonstrate it when we acknowledge our dependence on others. We highlight how valuable someone is by revealing how inadequate we are. We begin to build connections, and before long these connections become two-way relationships of mutual support. We need people, and they will begin to need us as they allow us to aid them. What is more, the one-down position demonstrates the very gospel we seek to share.

Jesus humbled himself to the point of death, even death on a cross. Does your ministry reflect that?

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