After 25 years of ministry it is safe to say that I have had a few successes and failures. The journey has been a trail of God sized dreams, mixed with failures and incredible God stories. If I draw a line back to many of my failures there would be one common denominator – I have a very ambitious heart to reach my full potential. On the surface, reaching my full potential sounds noble and a worth-while pursuit, but in the ministry world it can lead to some very unhealthy thinking and possible pitfalls.
In the parable of the talents found in Matthew 25:14-30 Jesus tells of three people who were given various sums of money to steward for the owner while he was away. Two of the three did a good job, but the third buried his talents and did nothing with it. When the owner returned he praised the first two and scolded the third for blowing the opportunity he was given.
I was taught my whole life that this parable was about potential and maximizing the return on what God had given me. I believed that fulfilling my personal potential was the best way to please God with my talents and ministries. However, here is what I begin to observe on this path about myself, and others: we were not becoming more Christ like. We were becoming increasingly competitive, self-centered, and dissatisfied. I also noticed that when it came time to make major life decisions, the compass called potential always pointed to the bigger platform, the more challenging task, and the greater rewards. It seldom pointed toward sustaining a long-term relationship, a slower pace, a lesser role, or an old-fashioned concept called loyalty.
Maybe I have read this parable of the talents all wrong. Could it be that Jesus is not teaching about potential at all, but is really teaching us about assignment? He gave each of them an allotment of talents to be faithful over.. It was not about their advancement in growing the talents, but simply about doing what the master assigned them to do. This is a very freeing revelation when I began to apply in my own life. I don’t have to perform. I don’t have to have the biggest church, the most baptisms, the biggest budget, or any of the other boxes checked that point to fulfilled potential. Potential seeks greatness in being all I can be, but God has called me to be His servant. A servant carries out an assignment and gives all the glory for the increase to the Master. In turn, the master rewards the faithfulness of the servant.
If I am assigned by my master to be a pastor then I want to be a hardworking, faithful steward of that calling until my master returns. If I am assigned to be a kid’s ministry volunteer than I want to be a hardworking, faithful steward of that calling until my master returns. It is not up to us to determine what assignment we are given, but it is up to us to honor God until He appears at His second coming or when we draw our final breath.
Just for a moment visualize what this means when we grasp simply living out our assignment. Stress is gone. Burn out is gone. Joy in the calling returns for the servant seeking to please the master.