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Monday, September 16, 2013

Diversity is Necessary

I mentioned last time that I wanted to compile a few hard-learned lessons into a survival guide; this is the second installment. 

The thing I want to write about is incredibly easy to forget, especially during all the highs and lows in the ministry field. But it's an incredibly important thing to keep open conversation about, so I'm going to break the ice and start writing about it. So get ready.

YL Leader Survival Guide, Chapter 2

Here's something you've no doubt heard before: Comparison is the thief of joy.

I would love to say that comparison's work stops at taking our joy. Unfortunately, this fun little phrase we use is the understatement of the century... ESPECIALLY for people in ministry like Young Life leaders. I wish it had stopped at stealing my joy. Comparison takes vibrant, green, growing ministry and turns it into rotten, dead wood filled with termites and other nasty little insects. It takes a beautifully diverse leader with the tools to connect with high schoolers no one else can, and turns him/her into an insecure mess, doubting the worth of his/her Original Design and trying to destroy or muffle his/her own unique song in order to instead become a cheap knockoff replica of someone else. 

I bought a pair of Beats by Dre (normally around $300) in China. They cost me $6. They looked similar until I held them, realized they were made of plastic instead of metal, and heard their $20 sound quality (I still came out on top. Thanks, China). I've noticed that when I try to be someone else, even though I'm dang good at imitation, I can only get about that close to the beauty of the real thing.

Out of all the strategies the Enemy employs against people in ministry, this particular tactic has to be the most terrifyingly effective out of any that I had the severe misfortune of experiencing first-hand.

Let me go ahead and show you a classic example of how this can play out as a YL leader, and you can decide for yourself if it sounds familiar.

You begin your Young Life tenure charging into the ministry field on your white stallion, pumped up both by God's call that you've obediently followed and the gratitude/celebration of your new ministry teammates. Everything is awesome; you're on top of the world.

You and the other new leader enter the high school for the first time with the same nerves as a UT freshman cornerback, straight out of high school, lining up to guard his first real opposing adult man receiver in front of 100,000 screaming Neyland Stadium fans. The older, more experienced leader you came with senses your anxiety and comforts you and your counterpart with some words of wisdom that he was told when he first entered the school. You and the other newbie pump each other up, pray a quick prayer together, and then launch off to start meeting people.

The bell rings and students flood out of the doors. As usual, the Young Life leaders move to intercept. You both meet about 60 people within the first 5 minutes, and in the flurry of mnemonic name memory devices and nervous bad jokes, you begin to notice something.

The endless waves of people you are meeting seem to be stopping to talk, laugh, and carry on with the other new leader significantly longer than they did with you. In fact, he already has a growing circle around him of people you wished had stopped to talk to you longer, because they were all really cool. After a while, the condemning deductions begin. He can talk better than you. He's more outgoing than you. They're all gravitating to him instead of you. Everyone's being polite to you, but they really just want to talk to the other new leader. He's got that something and you don't have it. And it all leads up to the climax, the end result, the sum of all the parts. Something's wrong with me. What's wrong with me? What do I lack?

This is the start of something super not fun...

From this point on its a downward spiral of trying to be more of someone else as much as you can every day, instead of trying to become more yourself every day. And this happens under the radar because we don't realize we're believing something untrue, and we DEFINITELY don't realize what the actual truth is. And here is the cornerstone lie that drives that motivation: Because of the way I am, I'm unable to bring Christ to these people in a meaningful way. I am failing, I'm not good at this, I'm not enough. My desire and efforts to help grow the Kingdom are in vain. If only I was like THAT, maybe I could actually make a difference and be worth anything on this ministry team. We get tricked into thinking we are failing both our teammates and those we are ministering to. And even worse, we get tricked into thinking we're failing God.

Here's the first of many, many problems with this way of thinking. When we think about ministry like this, we assume that there's an ideal person that everyone needs to be as much like as possible. In other words, we assume that in ministry (and in life... let's be honest, it bleeds into the rest of our lives) everyone falls along a 1-10 scale of how good you are.

I lived with that view of the world for a long time. But now that I have learned the things I've learned about God's Original Design for each person, that notion really just makes me want to go start setting things on fire (I have to hand it to arsonists; they seem to have a very effective way to vent their anger).

What about diversity? What about the body of Christ?

Everyone is most certainly NOT valued on a linear scale such as that. In fact, the reason why God doesn't want us to compare ourselves is because we don't even belong on the same scale. Instead of this completely inaccurate 1-10 scale, we need to compare people like this: that person is a painting, that person is a book, that person is a song, and that person is a movie. Nobody says "that painting's way better than that book," because they don't belong on the same scale.  And here's the best part: when you combine a movie and a song... both works of art benefit and become even better than they were before. That's how people are, and that's the beauty of the body of Christ. People are too different to sum up on such a linear scale, and we all know it deep down inside...

This is what I'm hoping to convey: Diversity is necessary. The stereotype Young Life leader isn't necessarily the "prototype" Young Life leader; the "prototype" Young Life leader is a person who is both called and willing to give themselves away to minister to high schoolers. Leaders come in all shapes, sizes, and types. Because that's how the kids come. You don't have to be like someone else, because if you do, you lose out on the attractiveness you have to kids like you who need you. Contorting yourself to fit into a cookie cutter dilutes your power to make a difference in the world, because it dilutes your Original Design. Be free to be yourself. If you feel the need to change, feel the need to change more into who you truly are, and grow into the unique skill set that lies latent within you. I guarantee you, your ministry team needs that skill set. That's how the body of Christ was made to work. If you believe everything in the Bible is true, you are literally required to believe that you don't suck.

Don't be afraid to be a trailblazer. Don't be afraid to be different from what a "normal leader" looks like. The best leaders are genuine leaders. Many of the most successful leaders I've ever seen were just normal people who were willing to get ridiculed for being goofy or weird, and simply kept coming back. And success doesn't mean campaigner's groups, and it doesn't mean high school popularity (when will we grow out of wanting it???). Success simply means obedience.

Romans 12:4-5: 4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

1 Corinthians 12:17-26: 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.21 The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

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