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The Rev. James Ellis III The Rev. James Ellis, III

The Rev. James Ellis III is Chaplain of Discipleship at Hope College in Holland, MI.

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No Superheroes Allowed

February 02, 2010

It has taken some time to arrive at this point in my walk with God, but I can honestly say that I am comfortable in my own shoes. I understand that while we all have certain traits in common, God has given me different shoes than he has given to you. They are not better or worse than your shoes, only different. My writing may penetrate people's hearts more than my preaching, and that is okay. You may develop wonderfully thoughtful and earthmoving sermons in your sleep, even as I spend countless hours crafting manuscripts that may rarely invoke an otherworldly, celebratory response. And, that is okay.

I would like to think that I am adept at building genuine relationships with people and addressing conflict in a responsible manner, regarding pastoral ministry. However, I am probably not the person that you want managing the church's capital improvement campaign or coordinating the senior high school mission trip to France. I enjoy spending time with people, but don't fall to pieces when they aren't around, nor do I need them around in order to feel valued or energized.

We all have strengths and weaknesses, and that is okay. An integral mark of mature Christianity is, because of Christ in light of the imago Dei, a healthy self-image, along with recognition that we aren't superheroes. You and I can't leap tall buildings in a single bound. We are not always the smartest or most gifted person in the room. You and I can't save the world. By the way, Jesus already did that. We can't be everything to everyone all the time, and that is okay.

Contrary to what many of us tell children, you can't do anything that you set your mind to. Moreover, even if just for mere discussion, even if could do anything that you imagined, the real question would be should you, and is what you would gain in that quest greater to God than what you would lose?

I am at peace with who I am in Christ in recognizing that I am a human being not a human doing, which illustrate that God loves me because I am me not because of my vocational aptitude. I don't have to prove anything to God. Therefore, I don't have to prove anything to others. I am an introvert and very much the idealist, which I suspect may not sit well with those who believe that pastors should be the life of the party. I have found encouragement in the notion that good, quality ministries, and thereby ministers likewise, don't merely compete as athletic rivals. Nor are they merely interested in maintaining the status quo in order to survive. Rather, they want to get it right.[1] Getting "it right," whatever the specific category, always necessitates an acknowledgment that "building family is more important than building ministry."[2] This is precisely what Christian servant leadership ought to be about for those in ministry especially. It is imperative that we pursue a healthy relationship with God through the imago Dei, and a theologically and psychologically mature self-image. Because of God's unconditional love we should have a sense of priority in our vocation that is fundamentally different than that of the secular society.

Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matthew 16:24-26) Because of sin we always want more out of life. We think that bigger is better. We value quantity over quality. We value things more than people. We are enamored with being known as "somebody." In our thinking, to be somebody is to be counted, to be valued by God and others, yet it is an age-old addiction, one that, with the unheralded materialism that is popular today, we must aggressively detox ourselves from with the Holy Spirit as our eternal sinner's anonymous sponsor.

According to Henri Nouwen, "The leaders of the future will be those who dare to claim their irrelevance in the contemporary world as a divine vocation that allows them to enter into a deep solidarity with the anguish underlying all the glitter of success, and to bring the light of Jesus there."[3] On July 14th, 1974 while serving at a Trappist monastery in Rochester, New York, he wrote:

I have always had a strange desire to be different than other people. I probably do not differ in this desire from other people. Thinking about this desire and how it has functioned in my life, I am more and more aware of the way my life-style became part of our contemporary desire for "stardom."...In all these situations you end up with applause because you did something sensational, because you were "different." In recent years I have become increasingly aware of the dangerous possibility of making the Word of God sensational.[4]

Some of the most helpful resources that I have encountered on this subject are Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome (Crossway, 2008) by Kent and Barbara Hughes and The Emotionally Healthy Church: A Strategy for Discipleship that Actually Changes Lives (Zondervan, 2003) by Peter Scazzero, This Odd and Wondrous Calling: The Public and Private Lives of Two Ministers (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2009) by Lillian Daniel and Martin Copenhaver, and Hustling God: Why We Work So Hard for What God Wants to Give (Zondervan, 2001) by Craig Barnes.

It is my hope and prayer that we will move forward as human beings fully devoted to the work of God, thus moving away from living as emotionless automatons that are hell-bent on prosperity and celebrity by any means necessary. Remember, on God's salvific locomotive no superstars are allowed, only nobodies who have been redeemed by the resurrected Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.

Amen.


[1] George S. Babbes, Michael Zigarelli, The Minister's MBA: Essential Business Tools for Maximum Ministry Success (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2006), 69.

[2] Ronnie Floyd, 10 Things Every Minister Needs To Know (Green Forest, AR: New Leaf Press, 2007), 54.

[3] Henri J.M. Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership (New York, NY: Crossroad, 1989), 35.

[4] Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Genesee Diary: Report from a Trappist Monastery (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1976), 65-66.


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