I don't know about you, but it is easy for me to watch other ministry professionals' career take off and soar and wonder when it is going to be my turn. This feeling has plagued me throughout my entire career. It has looked differently over the years. Why did I get passed up for that job? Why is my group stagnate while the church down the street is booming? Why don't I get to preach more? Why did that guy get picked to speak at that retreat? Why did they get to be a part of that cohort, and I wasn't? Why did they choose her to write that article and not me? Why did my proposal get turned down, and theirs was accepted? I recognize that at the core of who I am, I wrestle with envy. Now, part of this is of course sinful. Watching what others have and wanting that for myself. That part is part of my flesh that I must die to every day. But if we are honest, part of this battle is that there is a real vision of the person that God has made me to be, and I am in the birth pains of trying to work that out.
If you can humor me for a minute. Assuming that we have done the hard spiritual work of dying to our fleshly envy, what is left is some unrealized vision of who we might be if we were fully living into the person God made us to be. And what I want to do is figure out who that person is, and then run after it with all my might. So when I use terms like, "advance" or "move upward," I am simply saying that there is a larger call that is being pursued.
What I have noticed is that there are some poor theology, laziness, and fear of failure that justifies why many of my colleagues and I are stagnate in our professional development and not living into the larger dream God has put in our lives. This is what I mean: Poor Theology: When I look around at my peers and see the fruit of their ministries, the opportunities they have to speak, the invitations to be a part of special cohorts, the books and articles that they publish, I think that it must all be spiritual. These people are faithful to their calling and God has blessed them. Now while that is entirely true across the board, what is untrue is that it is simply a spiritual matter that they are advancing in their careers.
A book that has changed my life is Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers. In this book, Gladwell challenges the assumption that it is simply hard work that moves people along the path of career advancement. And in the Church we can add, God's will. But what Gladwell observes is that people are born into unique settings with unique connections that allow for certain kinds of success.
Going back over my list of people who I am envious of, I realize that many of them have had very unique opportunities based on their unique connections. Working at a mega-church, or being friends of a well known and connected pastor, or being related to someone connected are the easiest and main ways people advance in careers in ministry. On a side note, once you are given the opportunity, it is imperative that you come through and do a good job. But if the connection is made and you can adequately accomplish the task given, doors begin to open for you.
Now you have opportunities to speak at camps and retreats, present at conferences and trainings. And as you do this well, more and more doors will open up to you.
But what about the people who did not land in a context that allows them to make connections and advance in ministry. There are many youth workers who are in this camp, who excel in their small-unconnected context, faithfully serving. For most of my career in ministry I have found myself among the unconnected. God has given me a vision of what kind of youth worker I can be, what unique things I can bring to the table in my local context and beyond. But if I land in the place where I actually think that it must just be God's will to only do X or only be Y, then I am afraid I will be missing out what God actually might have in store for me.
I love the story of Joseph who had a vision of himself where he was going to be someone respected and bowed down to by his brothers. It was a dream given to a spoiled kid. Because Joseph shared that vision of who he was going to be in an immature way, he paid the price. He was sold into slavery, wrongly accused and spent years and years in prison. But sure enough, as God was refining his character, the vision of what God originally put in his heart, finally came to fruition. A similar account happens with David who was anointed at a young age, but doesn't live into that anointing until years later. Even Paul was given a vision of who we was going to be in the church, but it took years of trials and testing until that was proven true.
I firmly believe that God gives us certain visions of who we are to be in the body of Christ. There is no hierarchy of visions or places God calls us into in His body. The body of Christ is so diverse and made up of so many unique parts. The vision God has given me will be different the vision God has given you. So, no mater what the calling God gives us, we are to be faithful to pursue that calling with all of our hearts and will all of our strength.
Too often, we simply affirm that God has given us a vision to do something or be someone, and then we sit and wait for our big break. We can not be passive in this pursuit of our calling. God rarely grabs passive people waiting for him to show up. We all know that it is easier to steer a car in motion then one standing still, and the same must be true as we work out our calling. We cannot rely on poor theology and passively stand by as our our dreams wither and die. We must get off our butts and work hard to pursue God and work out our calling.
Next we will look at our natural bent toward laziness and the status quo and how that squashes our abilities and opportunities to advance toward our call.