Yes, you are right: I did say that in ministry God brings out gifts in ordinary people. And that can lead people to do extraordinary things. That is true everywhere in life, actually.
But please don’t let that lead you into thinking that ministry makes you special. That dangerous way of thinking is what I call “Specialness B.”
“Specialness A” was my name for the tendency of some people to think
“God called me into ministry because I am special.”
“Specialness B” is thinking the opposite way:
“Because God called me into ministry, now I’m really special.”
I say all of this very slightly tongue in cheek. Maybe people don’t think this way consciously.
Still, I suspect most of us in ministry find at least a smidgen of “Specialness B” within ourselves.
At the outset, we secretly hope that pursuing the calling will make us special in others’ eyes. That just might help us feel less inadequate.
So what happens to those of us afflicted with “Specialness B”?
There are at least three possible paths.
I suppose many special people weed themselves out of the ministry after a while.
When I was a pastor, from time to time I had to unclog the church’s toilets.
That took a bit of the shine off of my specialness.
If a sense of specialness gets you started, what will happen when the less-than-glamorous aspects of the work strip it away?
I do observe that a lot more people start their first year of ministry than finish their fifth, or tenth, or thirtieth.
A second possibility is that special people cause trouble for those around them.
It may not be big things.
It may just be interpersonal friction. An ordained minister (who knows he or she is therefore special) has to work constantly with non-ordained members (whom he or she presumably, if unconsciously, sees as not so special). Who ends up feeling awkward?
Then again it could be disastrous.
Preserving the pastor’s sense of specialness might become a secret driving force of the congregation’s life — rather than, say, the mission of God.
Friction can become conflict. Conflict can become division.
The best outcome, though, is a change of heart. If God was really at work in calling us, then God will still be at work in healing and reforming us.
Repentance from “Specialness B” leads to “Servanthood.”
Paul said of his own ministry
“Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.” (1 Cor. 4:1 NRSV)
Paul is not the host of the feast, but the waiter, or the maître d’. He serves a banquet belonging to Someone else. He serves it to the Host’s cherished guests.
And as Jesus pointed out in Luke 17:7-10, servants serve, without even expecting thanks. The very best we can offer is merely following our Master’s instructions.
So don’t let specialness be a part of the discussion. You aren’t called because you are special, and you are not special because of being called.
If you can have that conversion now, you will be better off. Take up the towel and serve.
By now, though, I suspect you think I’m being pretty negative. I do think there are some much better ways to think about God’s call to ministry. But I’ll save those for another time.
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