For four years I was an Assemblies of God minister and a monk with the Brothers and Sisters of Charity at the Little Portion Hermitage. This is an excerpt from an unpublished book I’ve written called Taking Off My Comfortable Clothes.
Blaise Pascal said, “We must learn our limits. We are all something, but none of us are everything.” Or, as that wise 20th century philosopher Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) said in the movie Magnum Force, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”
A key component in being transparent with who you are involves acknowledging what you are not. Admitting your strengths as well as your weaknesses will allow you to be true to yourself, live the life God created you to live, and enable you to say no to those things that are not your calling.
I acknowledge that I am not an apostle, prophet, evangelist, worship leader, business entrepreneur, engineer, chef or bank president; I’m a teacher of Scripture. I also know I thrive teaching the 18-30 year old group, so I can easily say “No” to any request to teach children’s church. At the same time, there are people in the church who love to work with children but would be scared spitless if asked to teach the Tabernacle of Moses to a group of twenty-somethings for twelve weeks, an assignment I would relish with only one regret — we couldn’t stretch it to twenty-four.
Furthermore, I understand that God has given me a certain amount of musical ability, and I’ve played piano on numerous worship teams. However, I also know there are many men and women who are better musicians than I am. Although I enjoy playing piano, I know teaching Scripture and equipping people to be better ministers, not leading worship, is my primary avenue for ministry. The problem for many of us, especially church leaders, begins when we forget Pascal said, “None of us are everything.”
Even while I lived at the Little Portion, my heart’s desire was to teach the Word. Hospitality and service were not my primary virtues, and I had to be taught to be nice to people and look to another person’s needs before my own. Fortunately, my wife tells me I’m gaining in this area. But she has a servant’s heart and rates higher in the area of “pastor” on a spiritual gifts test than I do. For instance, if she receives a gift from someone, she’ll write a thank-you note and send it before “Thank-you” even enters my mind. And then I begin to think, So now what? Is the other person supposed to write a thank-you note back to my wife acknowledging the thank-you note she sent thanking her for the gift? When does it all end? And aren’t thank-you notes, like Mother’s Day cards, just another media invention used to make someone lots of money? When I bring this up to Barbara, she gives me THAT look again.
Everybody has a part to play in God’s Church, but nobody, especially the pastor, is required to play every part. I encourage you to acknowledge your gifts, admit your limitations, and focus on your strengths. What a relief it is when you learned to say “no” to those areas that were not your gifts.
“But,” some have argued to my face, “You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.” This is true, but God did not strengthen me to be a children’s pastor, throw a ninety-five mile an hour fastball, invent a cure for cancer or write a symphony like Mozart. He did strengthen me to have faith (Rom. 12:3), love and take care of my family (1 Tim. 3:4-5; 5:8) , consider others better than myself (Phil. 2:3-4), and teach the Word (Rom. 12:7) and prepare God’s people for works of service (Eph. 4:12).
Holiness is not being an expert at everything you put your mind to; it is being truthful and transparent with who you are while not trying to be something you are not. Furthermore, I’m discovering that transparency and holiness is a gift of getting older, because pride and the need to prove myself successful isn’t the precious commodity it once was.
An interesting thesis and I commend you, however, we have no limits.
Let me digress. In times of human tragedy or extreme need, people who never thought they could did.
People communicated with words they never knew they could speak.
Love and hate illustrated their extremes.
When one is called, one never knows where the limits begin.
Thanks for the inspiration, from a non conformist.
I agree that, in times of tragedy or extreme need, people can and do rise to the occasion. However, that wasn’t what I was talking about. I’m acknowledging that although I “can” teach children, it is not my gift and I don’t spend time pursuing it. I don’t try to fix my every weakness; rather, I focus on my strengths. Furthermore, it is acceptable to admit I know my limitations. Much harm has been done in churches by people who thought they were gifted for a ministry position but were not. A good leadership principle is “hire your weaknesses.” Being transparent with who and what you are is a type of holiness that is often lacking in the church setting.
I apologize, I took it out of context. You are right about pursuing that which you are not suited to do. Unfortunately, it is the lack of honesty by friends and other influential people who allow a person to fool him or her self.
Sometimes it is difficult to discern what talents a person truly has, isn’t it?
It can be difficult to tell what some talents are, especially if the person is not honest with their self or others. However, most of us know if we are gifted with music, athletics, drawing, etc. It’s the unseen talents that are harder to discern: leadership, courage, faith, service, etc. Those are also gifts that many overlook because of the obvious talent that may overshadow the person. It has been said that our gifts and talents can often take us farther than our character can sustain us. I’ll take honesty and integrity over obvious talent any day!
Good topic. There is a relatively recent focus in this area within the business community. The Gallup organization (polls and such) and a gent named Tom Rath have put together a program called “Strengths Finder.” I don’t know if I’ve acknowledged all of the people that I needed to, but now no one can sue me.
Anyway, the idea is that companies used to focus on finding employees’ areas of weakness and finding ways to make them better at those things. Now the focus is shifting to finding and focusing on people’s strengths and building those up.
Some of the theory behind it is that chances are that if you are good at something, you probably like it. Maybe you were okay at it a few years ago, but you’ve put some time and effort into it because you liked it and it brought you some satisfaction. So putting some more effort into an area that you already enjoy will make you happier and, assuming that this is an area that the company also values, then the company will be happier too.
They also acknowledge that, particularly in a corporate arena, folks might need to find out if any of their weaknesses are “derailers” – you know, those things that, if they aren’t improved, can cause you your job, or ruin your career, or permanently sideline you in terms of promotions or recognition, etc. These could be things like poor communication skills or shyness around top management.
So, the point is, focus on and build up your strengths, make sure that “fatal flaws” are addressed and improved, and this will make you a happier and more valuable employee.
Not exactly your message, Jim, but close 🙂