Not so long ago I was faced with a choice. An attractive offer, in some senses, I suppose. And it came with a large side order of encouragement.
But I said no.
I said no without needing to think. My brain engaged only concerning how to communicate the why of this no. How to do so with the nuance that others appreciate, the explanations which soften what might otherwise present as inflexibility and closedmindedness.
For what might have been attractive to one who wanted to climb a ladder had no pull for me. It fitted gifting, this thing. For sure, it did. It was also a sparkly possibility, in one way. And though it would have been a stretch, I could have reached upward far enough.
Yet it did not align with call. It wasn’t joy to me.
The other week my Pastoral Leaders were, as you know, engaging critically with the thought of Bill Hybels. He talks about self-leadership. It’s key for any leader and, I think, particularly for those who lead within the church. For we talk there about gifting, as if gifting is all that matters when saying our Yes to God and inviting others to do the same. Hybels presents the core task of self-leadership as one of focus, focus upon identity in relationship to God and upon his call.
Jesus was practicing the art of self-leadership. He knew he needed to go to a quiet place and recalibrate. He knew he needed to remind himself who he was and how much the Father loved him. Even Jesus needed to invest regularly in keeping his calling clear, avoiding mission drift, and keeping distraction, discouragement and temptation at bay. This is self-leadership. And nobody—I mean nobody—can do this work for us. Every leader has to do this work alone, and it isn’t easy.
Bill Hybels, Courageous Leadership
Yes, we talk in the church about gifting as if this alone matters when finding our place or leading others to find theirs. But in this life of mine, a life in which fourteen years have seen three ‘careers’, I have learned something profound.
Gifting is not all. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
And perhaps the Lord knows I am slow, for I have learned it twice over. Once when I left the law and they told me, with regret in their voices, that I had the potential to be a really excellent lawyer. Then again with the church, when I diversified to add doctoral study to my working week and eventually left leadership there. I was told that I was throwing away my life when I could have been an outstanding minister.
Not everyone said those things, of course. But some did. And their words were life to me. Because when I wrestled with the pain of them, I saw that gifting is not all. Just because I can doesn’t mean I should. For what use gifting when the Yes he speaks is elsewhere?
And so fourteen years have made me clearer. If there is no Yes, I will not speak mine for it will be no Amen.
To discern this, of course, means knowing the one with authority to speak the Yes which demands our obedience. For if we do not know his voice, then we may confuse it with the word of another who offers something sparkly and yet less. Not knowing this one who speaks, and not knowing who we are in his love, means navigation of our future based only on gifting – for we will be deaf to the call.
What about you? Do you hear the deep Yes in your life to which your heart responds in joy, or are you navigating by gifting alone? And, for those whom you lead, are you listening to their Lord and yours in order to discern his call, or are their gifts the stars by which, in the church, you plot their course?