Afraid of my gifts

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

So far, this post could seem a little disjointed, because I’ve talked about two different things:
  1. My own tendency toward suppressing my own gifts so as not to make others feel small
  2. 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.

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  • Ann W

    Hi Dave. Interesting comment. I have one to add. Being under confident (as I often am) is also very unhelpful. My team leader at work says it prevents me being a higher band, even though I have the skills to do the job. As a christian it means I come across as apologising for my faith. I should not be apologising for our Lord Jesus (I hope he never has to apolgise for me.) So hears the thing too confident or under confident – both unhelpful.

    • Dave Criddle

      Hi Anne – thank you for your comment. Really useful.

      I completely agree! And I think both over-confidence and under-confidence in our gifts both have the same cause, which is seeing them not really as a gift but something we’ve achieved ourselves. So we either become boastful and arrogant about it, or overly ‘modest’. I’m trying to make sure that I am appropriately confident in mine, but in ways that don’t make others feel small.

      I feel that this – as with many things – is probably a tricky needle to thread!

  • Jdalewis

    When the going gets meaningful – bring out the Coach Carter: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do. It’s not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

    Great post Dave. I know exactly what you mean. For me there is another strand: When I start to acknowledge my own gifts I have a tendency to become arrogant, self-reliant, and prideful. And that scares me – because it often means that my gifts are then used to tear down the good work that God is / has been doing in my life.

    Something that’s helped me is realising that my gifts are, well… Gifts. They’re not mine. They were given to me through Grace – 100%. I don’t deserve them. And because this is the case it makes no sense for me to look down on others, or be prideful about them. I don’t need to suppress them, because they’re not actually “mine” in a sense. It helps me see them more as precious things from someone else that are given to me in love which I must take care of, nourish, and use – as a steward.

    • Dave Criddle

      Great stuff James! That Coach Carter quotation is brilliant – I really must see this film… And I have definitely seen the effect of that in my life. Through others exercising their gifts, it has really empowered and encouraged me to do so with mine.

      Also totally with you on the pride front! Really dangerous, perhaps more so with the sorts of gifts that are exercised in a more public way. But perhaps not.

      I’ve also found the ‘gifts are gifts’ thing useful in my own head. I’ve used the analogy of Mel’s engagement ring. For her, when we got engaged, to go round showing it off and saying “Hey! Look at me and how great I am, I’ve got this awesome ring!” would be prideful, and also a bit mean to me, the one who gave it. But if she went around instead saying “Hey! Look at this ring – Dave gave it to me. Isn’t HE wonderful?” then it makes a whole lot more sense, respects the giver, and still means people get to enjoy the ring.

      (I’m aware this analogy would make more sense if I’d got Mel a flashier ring. But I didn’t.)

      All this to say that – in part at least – I think that in my own thinking I’m tending less and less toward pride, and more and more toward being able to use my gifts humbly. Definitely not there yet, but getting there. What I’m more concerned about is that this comes across to others, that I neither create nor endorse structures which do the exact opposite of what I believe to be true and important.

      I’ve had one bit of advice which basically says, ‘Just get on with it!’ which may be right, and I intend to! But I want to ‘get on with it’ in a way that’s going to, as philosopher Carter puts it, ‘give[s] other people permission to do the same.’

  • Matthew Bryant

    I was arrogent once. 7 years ago I was a young Christian who was instantly good at preaching and obviously very intelligent. Then God happened. Over the last 5 years (straight after obtaining a first in Maths and believing that the world would be lucky to have me) God started to put a number of obstacles, challenges, and frustrations in my life. It worked. I remember praying fervently before this time for God to break me so that I could be used properly by him, but sadly for me I had no idea what that meant and the pain that came with it.

    It turns out (to my surprise) that a good degree and a passion for preaching and teaching is perishable, but that 3 things remain; faith, hope, and love. The greatest of these are love.

    Why are you preaching?
    How do you act when you’re not preaching?
    How do you empower and praise those around you?
    Are you effective at discovering and initialising the gifts of your congregation?

    I know you a bit (although I would like to know you more) and from what I know your heart is definitely right to master this balancing act. For all I know you’ve done it already! The fact that you’re asking the question gives me hope for the future of Christianity. We have a tough job on our hands and it needs those who really know how to love to step up and be leaders. Preaching and worship leading looks glorious from the congregation, but those people are learning more and more how they are servants.

    The trick with all this, I think, is to be proud of ourselves for what we have done (and not be horribly christian and say “it wasn’t me, it was God), while also being humble enough to know that you are a servant for Christ and not some big-shot running the show.

    Great post Dave. Keep up the good work!

    • Dave Criddle

      Thanks Matt!

      Some really useful reminders. I think I’ve been on a similar journey. I have had that arrogance, and have been challenged by God on that in a number of ways (I don’t claim to be over it completely, but I’m getting there). My real concern here is about the culture that can exist, and how I can demonstrate God’s gifts and God’s character in the midst of it, so that the dangers I discussed aren’t true in my ministry.

      I find your questions very useful. They are along the lines I was thinking, but I will keep thinking along them!

      I don’t think I’ve mastered this balancing act, but I’m getting there. I think part of my worry might be the result of negative experiences in the past. Part of it is probably just me. What I’m finding again and again in the comments I’m getting is that the real need is not to become unduly concerned with the potential dangers – instead just to love and value people as they deserve to be loved and valued. Mastering that is I think most of the battle.

      Thanks Matt – I enjoy connecting with you on t’internet!

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