I was talking with someone I look up to and admire deeply a while back, discussing some of my frustrations in a particular situation. As if I needed to excuse my feelings, I said “but maybe it’s just because I’m too young and idealistic.”
He challenged me quite strongly. I was told, “Don’t apologise for that. You are young, and you are idealistic, and neither of those is a bad thing.” He also told me off for being apologetic about being intelligent and well educated. These too are good things, I was told. I needed to hear this.
I’ve been exposed to people who are intelligent, know they are intelligent and feel it gives them the right to look down on other people who aren’t as intelligent. I’ve also known people for whom the prestige of the institution where they were educated, or the grade they came out with, give them that sense of superiority. I think that in trying not to be like that, I had run too far the other way.
Being good at being different
I have a degree in Theology from Oxford University. There. I’ve said it.
Statistically speaking, the chances are you do not (unless, as might be the case, the only person who reads this blog is my wife, in which case it is extremely likely). That does not make me better (or smarter) than you. I genuinely believe that. Nor does it make me worse than you. I’m learning to believe that. But what it definitely means is that we are different.
In a sermon on Spiritual Gifts on Sunday (the best teaching I have heard on the subject), there was a huge stress on just that. We are different, and we should relish that. We should celebrate that. I should not be too proud to be me, nor apologetic that I am me.
We need to learn to be different, and we need to learn to be good at that.
The sermon also touched on a problem that often exists in churches – that of some gifts being esteemed so much that there ends up being a hierarchy. Preachers are more important than servants. Prophets are more vital than administrators. Leaders are worth more than followers. And so on. Those kinds of mindsets exist, and we all know it.
But that’s not being good at being different.
My own dilemma
- My own tendency toward suppressing my own gifts so as not to make others feel small
- The problems with certain gifts being elevated
But these two things are very related, because I have a real struggle, something that I find very hard and find myself battling with often. I believe (as do many who know me well) that I have gifts of preaching, teaching and leadership.
I am convinced that to ignore those giftings would be to be disobedient to God. To say to anyone who gives a gift, ‘No thanks!’ is rude. But I worry about feeding into a culture where those who have gifts that make them more visible are considered more valuable. I fear making people think they are lesser because I lead and they do not, or because I preach and they do not. I fear making those beautiful and amazing people who are servants and givers and have tremendous faith (all gifts I admire so much) feel they are worth less than they are, worth less than me.
It isn’t that I think to preach or lead is to do all those things. Here in Chalfont I have seen modelled fantastically powerful preaching and authoritative leadership which does the exact opposite, releasing people into the worth and the gifting and the freedom for which they are intended. I know it is possible to do this well, to be different well.
I’m honestly just very scared that I won’t do it well. And that I’ll do damage.
A way forward
So, what to do? I’m not quite sure. This isn’t the part of the post where I answer my own question. I am trying to think on all these thoughts, and adopt patterns and attitudes which avoid all the potential dangers I’ve outlined.
I’m getting somewhere, I think. But I’m sure I’ll continue wrestling with this one for a while, hopefully I will remain conscious of all this. I sense that if I cease to be, that’s where the real danger might begin.
If any of you have any thoughts on this, I’d really value your thoughts? Am I being too sensitive? If you know me well, do you think I do perpetuate and encourage those wrong mindsets? Be honest! Do you have any advice or have you seen people (with whatever gifts) really usefully affirm and encourage those with different gifts?
I would really appreciate any thoughts on this, perhaps more so than on other posts.
Since first writing this post, I have reflected further (and particularly due to some feedback given) and felt it right to make a few further points.
It has been pointed out that, in the way I wrote this post, I may unintentionally be endorsing the culture that I am worried about perpetuating.
Why is it relevant that I studied in Oxford, but I don’t mention other differences we likely share? I don’t think it is, but the wrong culture which I don’t want to play into makes that into something many become proud of and many feel intimidated by. For me, it is simply something that is true.
Doesn’t the fact I am tempted to suppress gifts so that others don’t feel small mean I do think my gifts are more ‘dazzling’ somehow? I don’t think so, but sadly the culture that often exists puts such gifts on a pedestal, even if those who exercise them try to do so humbly, as I try to.
If I did come across in those ways, I am sorry. If as you read you saw hypocrisy, I apologise for that. My real problem in all this is with a culture that says so and so is more valuable because of X or Y. I don’t want that to be said of me, and I don’t want to say that of anyone. Perhaps I should have discussed this more generally, instead of talking about my own struggle within such a system. That could have been clearer.
I’m also really appreciative of all the comments and feedback I’ve been given. I’m finding it very useful as I try to grow and use the gifts God has given me, while also trying to grow into the character and likeness of Christ, who I’m certain never made people feel worthless. And he raised a guy.