I think many of us males get lost in our need for significance and success. We measure our lives against the expectations of culture and our closest peer group. In doing so we forget the crucial identity piece: Who are we? My closest peer group has been leaders in Pentecostal circles. Our conversations so often centered around what we did and how well we did it. I’ve most of my working life the pressure to perform well and be successful. The compulsion to impress any given audience was my only way to show how worthy I was of support. It came to a head while being a missionary in Thailand. I left for Thailand under a central funding model, but years later it was transitioned to a shared funding model where every missionary was responsible to find his own support, every penny! That’s when I did myself an injustice and began to worry too much about my performance. That’s when competition crept in too.
The Bible says the love of money is the root of all evil. Which is true. But so is the fear of not having enough, it can have detrimental effects on your life. I remember a seasoned veteran teaching me how to raise money. Since my wife at the time didn’t get a salary, but was very involved in what I did, he told me to tell congregations, “See, here you get two missionaries for the price of one!” And I would follow-up that statement with: “There’s no better deal than that, right?” Not only that, I would add that I was no newbie, and had sacrificed a lot to learn languages, cultures, and live in extreme weather! That’s how I presented. I actually don’t know if my new kind of talk helped or hindered the raising of funds. I think now it sounded ‘entitled.’ But in the moment I tried to impress. I became reduced to how one dictionary described performance: “the continual performance of a single task reduces a man to the level of a machine.” I felt machine-like wherever I went to ask, ask and ask again for support.
Now performance in itself is not evil and we all should do our very best with the hand God has given to us. However I had to come to my own conclusion as a ‘preacher’ and spiritual catalyst of sorts that I am not my performance on Sunday (or any other day when I am in front of some group speaking for that matter.) If you are a spiritual leader reading this, I encourage you to get this right; you and I are not ‘the great holy man of God’ that some want to label us with. We are not Moses, Billy G, or John Maxwell! And most of us are glad that we aren’t Bill Hybels right about now. But oh how we wanted, at one time or another, to be known as a successful world-shaker, right? But better watch out if you make that your identity! Here is a better more accurate picture of our identity, we are servants, we are lovers, and we are God’s children. That takes off some of the silly pressure that we put on ourselves to be something. Our roles and gifts are not our identity. They are simply the way we express our love to God and His world.
Since my brain surgery in 2012 I’ve tried to be more me, more authentic. Well, ‘try’ is maybe the wrong word, I’ve determined to be more me. That means not worrying so much about the expectations of others. It also has led me to being more open to the struggles of others. I’ve become more sensitive to the pain of others, more forgiving, more inclusive and hopefully more like Jesus. I now am also less afraid, too, of who I hang out with. I like people of all kinds from those who like to eat non-fat yogurt to those who smoke a pipe! And I’ve noticed people like to be around that kind of me, too. It is kindness, not judgement, that slowly changes people’s attitudes and lives.
But it is not easy walking this path. Many people in church leadership structures want performance reports with numbers about all aspects of ministry. The stress on uniformity and speaking the same language (doctrine) and the need to be successful and more successful than the guy down the street is real. In many circles uniformity is next to godliness. And this is where I return to my main point, if you don’t know your identity, you’ll confuse your self-worth with what you do and how well you do it. Performance. Yes, it is a good feeling to be able to show big numbers. However I believe the epiphany we need in life happens when we realize I am not my big numbered performance. There’s more to me than that. I am loved for who I am. And my life is about being true and faithful and generous and caring and not caring who sees me.
So stand up confidently and be different. Be quirky if it is you. Be engagingly outgoing if it is you. But please be unabashedly you.