My father’s father was a farmer turned preacher. He planted churches, was a traveling evangelist, and served as a district superintendent. He was bigger-than-life, much loved and admired. After my grandfather died, people would tell me with awe-struck voices, “Your grandfather was a great man!”
My father was a “Junior.” He felt honored to bear his father’s name, but with that honor came a curse: My father spent his whole life trying to become his father. My father had his share of joys, but he lived and died feeling mostly like a failure because he never became his dad.
Brian* served as an associate under Pastor Kelly. For many years Kelly was not only Brian’s boss, but also his mentor and spiritual father.
When Kelly retired, Brian became the senior pastor. Brian also preached internationally from time to time. God gave amazing fruit with many coming to faith and many experiencing physical healing. This mission work brought him joy, but when he returned to his church, he more often than not felt defeated.
“Late many Saturday nights,” he confided, “I lie on the floor beating my fists against the floor crying out, ‘God, why won’t you give me a sermon?’”
He described how gifted Pastor Kelly had been as a Bible teacher, and how what he wanted more than anything was to preach like his mentor.
That’s when I understood Brian’s frustration. “When Pastor Kelly preaches,” I explained, “he’s using the gift of teaching. When you preach, you’re using the gift of prophecy, the gift of hearing a word from God that God wants you to share with your people. Pastor Kelly’s approach is, “Let me help you understand Scripture.” Yours is, “Thus saith the Lord.”
God gives both the gifts of teaching and prophecy because the church needs both (Rom. 12:6-8). Brian nodded, but seemed no less distressed. So I asked him, “Who are you to tell the Holy Spirit he made a mistake when he gave you the gift of prophecy and not the gift of teaching?”
Brian broke down and sobbed. He saw what he’d been doing.
Paul asks, “Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into?” (Rom. 9:20-21 NIV).
Some of us are blessed to have wonderful role models. But if we try to become our role models, we set ourselves up for deep grief and miss out on the joy of being who God created us to be.
Have you ever felt like a failure because you weren’t like someone else? How do your God-given gifts point to ways God designed you to be different from your role model?
*Names have been changed.