In my last entry, I made a rather blunt remark that great expectations can be a terrible curse. I’d now like to pick up that thread and explain that statement.
It’s not that we shouldn’t strive for excellence, have vision and goals, or just go through life by the seat of our pants and all be under-achievers. That’s not what I mean. Great expectations are when people are so enamored with your gifts and your perceived potential that they fail to see the real you. And those kinds of expectations are so weighty that the greatest of men and women buckle under them. Why? Because there is no such person as super-Christian, and none of us were meant to carry that kind of burden. I’m convinced that this is a huge reason why we’ve seen so many high-profile “celebrity” ministers fail morally and financially. We just aren’t built to be worshiped that way.
The little bit of notoriety I found in making music for the church may have made me feel good about myself in the short run; but in the long run, what it did was set up a super-spiritual, uber-Christian image that I felt I had to live up to. Super-spiritual people don’t get tempted, right? Or lose their tempers? Or have moments of weakness, or despair, or need healing of the soul? So when I did show weakness–on account of being an actual human being and all–there was a great amount of shame attached to it. It made it more difficult to admit my need and get help when I needed it.
The other reason why great expectations can be a curse is not just because of the burden of being perfect; it’s also because modern church culture tends to exploit people’s gifts. We put more value on people’s gifts than we do their character. We consider someone great because they can prophesy or heal or preach or sing, not because they act like Jesus. And when someone has a gift, church leadership quite often bypasses getting to know that person and just starts looking for ways to get that gift “released”.
I do not know how many times I’ve had conversations with church pastors who, when they find out I lead worship–even though I am functioning in my own ministry–within minutes will try to find a way to interest me in coming to be their worship leader. I could be addicted to porn or drugs, or “like” little boys, for all they know. The dark truth is all people like that see when they are looking at me is a way to get good music into their church so more people will join. Let’s just call that what it is–it’s exploitation.
Over time I’ve realized that I’ve stopped identifying myself as a musician to people, even though that’s probably my primary gift. When they ask what I do for a living, I just say I’m a minister, and I usually don’t volunteer that bit of information. I used to think this was a good shift of focus for me, since there was a time when I was desperate for the attention being a musician and/or a minister got me, and I drew unhealthy identity from it. But I think there’s another side to this story. I think that perhaps I grew weary of the weighty expectations that came from those titles. If nobody knows I can do these things, nobody will expect anything out of me, and I can just be a normal person.
The truth, of course, is that these great expectations are really a myth. Oh, people have them and will try to place them on you…but they are not real in the eyes of God. And incidentally, when I say great expectations can be a curse, the gifts God gives us are not a curse. Anything God gives is good. But until we get free of the myth of false expectations, we may end up getting things confused and despising the gifts themselves.
I’m still grappling with my “great expectations”, but I’ve made a lot of progress. I still want to do great things for God, but not to prove my worth to Christendom. I recognize that following Jesus as His disciple is much more important than my ability to sing, play, preach, catch fish, or anything else. For the first time in many years, I am beginning to enjoy my particular gifts and to celebrate the possibilities of doing good with them. It’s like my journey is helping me press the “reset” button so I can see the potential without feeling the weight. Freeing me from my great expectations is one of the best things God is doing in my life.