I once served at a church where many transitions were required. Lots of the administration aspects of the church had to be strengthened and brought up to the modern way of keeping data. All these transitions meant that certain people had to be phased out of roles and positions that they had held on to for years. A few understood why it was necessary. In fact, they were relieved to let go of their responsibilities. But that wasn’t the norm. Most were hesitant. Some were confused. Others were angry.
And a few left the church because they couldn’t hold on to the roles that they’d had for decades. But these changes were necessary for the sake of the overall church and I couldn’t understand why a few folks were so upset that they would leave the church, uprooting themselves from a community that they’d been part of longer than I’d been alive.
A season or so later, while we were moving to a healthier place as a church, something hit me. I remembered someone saying that they loved the fact that they could perform a role for the church for such a long time; that they felt that they were helping the church the best way they could. I don’t know why it took me so long to get to the bottom of what they were trying to tell me: Their position was something that they felt validated them — proved their worth to the church and ultimately to God — something they did to earn their keep, if you will. And being transitioned out of that — no matter how slow or how grace-filled the process may have been — perhaps many felt that their worth and value to church — and to God — was being transitioned out to the “newer” way of doing things. They couldn’t find the grace in the situation.
Of course, I realize the generality of this statement. Each person/situation is unique and different. But, we all have a tendency to place our worth in what we do, in what we can provide; we often let what we do define us rather than who we are.
What’s one of the first questions we ask when we meet someone new? “What do you do for a living,” right? And we feel like we can get a better sense of who that person is based on what they do.
Pastors aren’t immune to this. We also have a tendency to place our worth in tangible things like numbers. When the pews are packed and the budget is healthy, we’re proud of ourselves and the work that we poured into the ministry and we feel affirmed about our role as pastor to the church. But when attendance is declining and passing the budget is a struggle, we often begin to second guess ourselves and question our effectiveness as a pastor.
Change is rarely easy. It’s even more difficult if someone thinks their worth and value is being challenged and/or undermined.
The challenge is to remind people — and ourselves — that our worth to our church and to God is not found in what we can provide, in what we can do and/or accomplish. It’s not found in our particular set of skills, or in our roles, titles, positions and achievements. Those things are important and can help the community — but our value isn’t found in the things that we can produce.
The Egyptians found worth in the Israelites by how much bricks they could produce. But God didn’t find worth in whether the Israelites could meet their quota or not. God loved the Israelites because they were God’s children. No matter how hard you try; no matter how many “bricks” you produce, you simply won’t be able to get God to love you any more than God already does. God’s grace and love cannot be earned. It’s already given. I know that is easier to say than to actually believe. But it’s true.
You are worthy and valuable to God not because of what you do, but because of who you are: God’s child.
May that define you.