I am not…

Here’s an example of how we shape our own “personality types” which then shape us.

I went to bible college saying very strongly both outwardly and inwardly “I’m not a linguist.” Why would I say such a thing? Well not on the basis of terrible school grades or any nightmare disputes with snooty French maitre d’s. When it boils down to it, my problem is this: language learning requires simple hard work – learning declensions and conjugations and endless vocab.  Basically I’d far rather invest my time finely tuning some doctrine essay than learn a list of irregular verbs. The pay-off simply seemed much greater. After all I’m a big-picture, artsy kind of guy. I’m not a linguist. (Note well the strong sense of a cultivated identity driving things).

So what happened? Well the indicative “I’m not a linguist” translated (as indicatives always do) to action. In this case: retreat from languages into other areas that I found naturally easier. So my efforts in languages were very ordinary. And guess what? So were my grades. So what did I conclude? “I’m not a linguist.” These things really do become self-fulfilling.

Surely I should have been telling myself: “I am a linguist.” The Lord has called me to be a teacher of His word and therefore He has equipped me to be the linguist I need to be. Whether I’ll wow people with my brilliance in the subject is an entirely different (and irrelevant!) matter. The fact is, when it comes to languages no-one gets away without hard work and no-one gets to play their ‘personality type’ as an excuse to retreat from it. From the indicative of ‘By the Lord’s strengthening I am a linguist’ ought to have flowed the imperative ‘Be the linguist He’s called you to be.’ Instead I retreated into my type.

I’m fighting a similar battle at the moment with an extremely deep-seated self-identification “I don’t do admin.” Is this some morally neutral, hard-wired fact of my ‘personality’? No, it’s a sinful pattern that I’ve fed for years. Any help gratefully received.
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Posted on by Glen in pastoral theology, Uncategorized

About Glen

I'm a preacher in Eastbourne, married to Emma.

21 Responses to I am not…

  1. Matt

    Hi Glen,

    I think you’re highlighting something really important. I remember one child I taught at the start of the year school told me, “oh, I’m not good at geography, I’m useless at reading maps”. Now I found out that she’d never done any map reading before (and geography is more than maps anyway) so her belief was baseless but very powerful. When I met her mother at the parent’s evening and she repeated the same thing I then knew where the daughter had got it from!

    On your statement, “I don’t do admin.”, I think you are right to be suspicious of yourself here. Everyone has some capacity to do those things which reflect our being made in God’s image. That said, I think that we can bring in something from Paul’s writings on grace gifts (Romans 12, Ephesians 4, 1 Corinthians 12-14). You can do admin but that is different to being ‘graced’ to do something and for it to be done with reference to a proportion of faith.

    So Paul can say, “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.”

    So we should not expect everyone to do everything to the same level and that God does give different gifts (such as administration – 1 Corinthians 12:28) for the strengthening of the body. It’s part of the joy of being in a body with Christ as the head.

    I think then the question becomes not “is admin me”? But instead, am I seeking God for the grace by faith to do what he asks of me? Is this a gift I have been given by grace to exercise by faith to strengthen the body or is this an opportunity to practise humility and belonging to one another in receiving the benefit of the gifts that God has given others.

  2. Missy

    Well, I don’t do housework.

    That’s not true.

    What I really mean is that I don’t do housework as well as most of the people I try to compare myself to. And, of course, I tend to compare myself to those who do it the very best. That leads to a lack of initiative to even try to do my best – or any at all. So then it BECOMES a truth that “I don’t do housework.”

    It seems that comparing my gifts to others’ is what gets me started not doing the things I don’t do.

  3. Otepoti

    Kia ora, Glen,

    I find that nothing gives me quite the same kick in the pants to get on with doing the books of the Reformed Church Ladies’ Fellowship (formerly the Sunshine Circle) than Luke 16:10, “he that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much.”

    He “in whose book my days were written while there were as yet none of them” obviously doesn’t despise careful record keepers or small matters.

    Cheers

  4. Otepoti

    Three chequebooks! How did we manage to end up with THREE chequebooks?!

  5. glenscriv

    Hi Matt, welcome to the comments – and an excellent comment it is too. Yes the gift passages have been in the background of my thinking, they definitely need brining into the foreground, which you’ve done very well.

    You’re right that I shouldn’t expect myself to be a Spirit-gifted administrator. And it’s been very helpful for you to point me to those body verses – my inadequacy should drive me to greater dependence, not only on the Lord but on His people. But of course whatever my gifting I’m still called to certain levels of admin. (Just as all are called to some form of evangelism even though not all are Spirit-gifted in the proper sense).

    Perhaps a good test for whether my issue is a mere lack of gifting or whether it’s a sinful refusal to be faithful is how I handle my inadequacy. Do I confess it humbly and openly, seeking to draw other members of the body in. Or do I proclaim it with a degree of anger (either at self or others) and/or pride that keeps others at bay. I’m aware I can proclaim ‘I’m not an admin person’ with both self-contempt (like your ‘I’m not a geographer) and pride at the same time (e.g. “I’m too cool for spreadsheets”). I also sense in my flesh a deep seated outrage that bills should have to be paid and forms filled in at all. It’s not really that I recognize the broad scope of life’s demands and the broad scope of Christ’s manifold giftings within the body and humbly say – ‘I am but a small cog in a much bigger wheel, but praise the Lord that we have each other.’ Instead my flesh screams out: “Anything I’m not naturally gifted at is a waste of time and should never cross my desk!”

    At that point my flesh has given the game away!

    But yes, a greater reliance on my brothers and sisters (including an open confession of my inadequacy) is definitely what Christ is calling me to.

    I look forward to more interactions Matt, glad you stopped by.

    Glen

  6. glenscriv

    Missy – yeah it’s like we don’t want to do something unless we can gain some approval/justification/brownie points from it – even if only from ourselves.

    But that’s where Otepoti’s verses come in – Christ calls us to be *faithful* not necessarily successful. And He tells us that *He’s* watching – even if no-one else does. Isn’t doing admin / housework to the glory of Jesus enough?

  7. Otepoti

    If you want some accountability, you could always announce on your blog, “There will be no blogging tonight: I’m struggling with paperwork.” Then you would certainly be prayed for. Plus, if we see you blogging on your admin night, we can all shout “Oi! Back to work!” from our various quarters of the globe.

    Your blog is not your only friend.

    Best to the family.

  8. Matt

    Hi Glen,

    Thanks for your writing and your blog! I’ve been reading for a bit, but as you say I think it was my first comment.

    I think your points show that although the gifts thing and body things are important that there can be sin patterns too. I don’t know about you but sometimes when it comes to some types of admin (or fixing things – DIY type stuff) for me the issue isn’t the action itself but my desire to avoid responsibility/avoid failure/avoid mediocrity. For me these drivers are the root and the DIY/admin is just the surface issue. It’s then easier for me to go – oh, I’m just not a DIY guy rather than face the fact that I’m just lazy or scared of messing up! Thank God for the gospel!

    Matt

  9. Missy

    I’ve had Otepoti’s verse posted directly above my monitor for several weeks and forgot it was there in mere days. I thought it sounded familiar when I read it and looked up.

    I should look up more often. ;-)

    Thanks, Otepoti – and you too, Glen.

  10. Dev

    “I made a decision to serve – that was the last decision I ever made”

  11. Dev

    I am no longer my own but yours,
    Put me to what you will
    Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
    Let me be employed for you or laid aside for you.
    Let me be full, let me be empty.
    Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
    I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to Your pleasure and disposal
    And now glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
    You are mine and I am yours. So be it.
    And this covenant now made on earth, let it be satisfied in heaven.

    – John Wesley (Methodist Covenant prayer)

  12. Marc Lloyd

    And it can be a defence mechanism too, can’t it? I’m not a linguist and I don’t like doing it so I don’t so my rubbish grades in Greek were to be expected. Of course if I worked really hard I might be brilliant at Greek – well, not me but, you get the idea, perhaps? My natural brilliance is in doctrine so my bad Greek grades don’t touch my brilliance… etc.

  13. glenscriv

    Wow Dev, who’s that first quote? Or is it just a wise anonymous proverb?

    And what’s more Marc, while there’s much of my pride that would like to be known as a brilliant linguist, there’s much of me that doesn’t want that at all because that will raise everyone’s expectations and force me to engage ever more with the frustrating work of furthering my languages!

  14. glenscriv

    And Matt – Men and DIY – now there’s a whole sermon series worth of examples of Adamic retreat from the thorns! And that’s just my own cowardly inadequacy.

    Indeed thank God for the gospel!

  15. codepoke

    Conflicted!

    I’m INFP through and through. I am also a professional admin now. Seriously. It’s the most out-of-character thing I could imagine, except that it’s been happening to me all my life. I actually joined the army as a mechanic with the bold declaration, “At least they can’t make me a clerk.”

    Wrong.

    They made me 3 different types of clerk over 4 years. I only mechanicked for 2 months of those 4 years.

    And now I’m a programmer who’s been almost forcibly railroaded into full time admin work. And I’m good at it.

    The thing is, I’ll never be great at it. My daughter is great at this stuff. She naturally sees a disorganized stack of numbers and starts salivating at the chance to organize them. I start kind of crying. We both get the job done. (We don’t work together, or even in the same field, but the ideas are true.) She gets it done with gusto, speed and perfection. I get it done adequately.

    The thing is, I’m an admin who brings really non-admin skills to the job – and I don’t check them at the door. I start rewriting the position until it begins to look like something an NF can live with. It’s not forced. It’s just breathing. I see a stack of numbers, and pretty soon I’m seeing breakdowns of numbers and ways of dicing them, and that a computer could do it for me, and next thing you know my fellow admins are doing only the work my computer program doesn’t do for them.

    If I go too long doing that stuff, I don’t want to come to work any more. But as soon as I see somewhere my natural strengths fit, I get excited and start doing voluntary overtime.

    I don’t know if any of that directly addresses your thoughts, but it’s what you stirred in mine.

  16. glenscriv

    Very encouraging Codepoke! A fellow NFP *and* making admin work. And showing us that there’s more than one way to do it.

    I think, having been so negative about ‘personality’, I should balance things up and affirm real difference in natural temperaments (as well as grace-giftedness). And to rejoice in those things that we, the ‘naturally un-admin-minded’, can bring to the admin table. Your approach seems to be just right – i.e. not to say ‘I’m *not* an admin person” but to say “No matter what my natural inclinations I am called to be faithful in doing this admin and, praise the Lord, He has wired me in certain ways that mean I’ll do this admin differently (but no less diligently).”

    kinda thing

    Well said code!

  17. Will

    I am not sure this should be your only motivation, but perhaps try to think of admin as the unavoidable condition of one day being a rector in charge of your own congregation.
    That will be a great blessing to others, so you must strive towards it!

    Another observation would be that the part of my ministry apprenticeship I feel least gifted at – teaching scripture to (largely unchurched) state primary school kids – is consistently the most rewarding part of it, and possibly the most “strategic” thing I do in terms of long-term gospel growth.

    Also out here in the Australian bush everyone is incredibly practical, and the christians really like the fact that Jesus was a tradesman before he started his public ministry. However I was wondering the other day whether Jesus would actually have liked his job. When we think “carpenter” it almost sounds as if Jesus was able to do his hobby for a living (ain’t that the dream?). But I was told the other day that whatever greek word we translate as carpenter is probably closer to what we might think today of as a brick-layer (linguists please confirm – including you Glen!) – essentially a rough and difficult labouring job, whatever it was. So maybe Jesus hated his job!

    Perhaps we can only guess about such things, but I’m quite attracted to that idea. If Jesus loved his job then those of us doing something similar (and enjoying it) could take a sort of exclusive pride that we’re more like Jesus than anyone else. But if Jesus hated his job, then surely all of us can relate to him! (including desk-workers, which is what I used to be). And as we do the parts of our job we like least, we can think of Jesus sharing our humanity with us, so that it might one day be redeemed. So in the new creation, surely admin will be a pure joy!

  18. glenscriv

    :-) Perhaps for the joy set before Him He endured carpentry. I’m sure it brought Him a good measure of joy but also frustration too.

    And yeah Bibleworks tells me Jesus was a techton (where we get architect from). But it wasn’t the skilled artisan word (technites) nor the city worker word (demiourgos), it was more the builder’s labourer type word.

    Tangent: interesting thought (that I only just had) – the first Adam tended the garden, the last Adam built (the city). Probably obvious to everyone else but only just occured to me!

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