Are You In Or Out?

Oh, that there were even one among you [whose duty it is to minister to Me] who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on My altar to no purpose [an empty, futile, fruitless pretense]! I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, nor will I accept an offering from your hand. For from the rising of the sun to its setting My name shall be great among the nations, and in every place incense shall be offered to My name, and indeed a pure offering; for My name shall be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts.

– Malachi 1:10-11 (AMP)

One of my all-time favorite designers is Christian Siriano. I discovered him when he was designing a shoe line for Payless several years ago. To this day, I have two pairs of Christian Siriano For Payless pumps in my closet, among my favorite pairs of shoes, that people always comment on when I wear. (Now if I could just afford a Christian Siriano suit, right?) So, imagine my delight to learn that Christian Siriano was a success story launching from one of my favorite shows, Project Runway. Christian Siriano was the winner of season four’s Project Runway back in 2008, not to mention the youngest winner in the history of the show (he won when he was only 21 years old!). I didn’t watch the show when it was on that far back, so when the repeat of that season was on last Friday, I was delighted to learn there was a connection between my favorite designer and that favorite show. Watching him develop as a designer to become the leader of that series – and now hear about him beyond – was very intriguing for me, for one simple reason: the majority of people on Project Runway are people we never hear from again.

I have long-been curious as to why this is. Most of the designers on the show are talented, to one degree or another. They know how to draw sketches, match colors and fabrics, follow patterns, and design their own clothes well enough to come and compete on the show. Yet, if you watch the show carefully, you will note that through each and every one of the challenges, the judges don’t focus on the talent or “giftedness” of the contestants. Nobody fusses over them as people. The total focus is on the product, the clothing designed, and whether or not it accomplishes the feat of the specific challenge.

This lack of fuss was also a curiosity to me, because it’s the opposite of what we consider to be “encouragement” today. People think that every little thing they do should be praised and they should constantly be reminded of gifts and talents they have, even if they don’t follow the instructions or complete an assignment within the specified dictates. People do not like hearing they did not do a good job, or are not doing things right, and they do not make any efforts to correct what they are doing wrong, because they feel their giftedness or abilities make up for the fact that they cannot follow directions.

In one particular episode from last season, one of the designers crafted a hideously ugly outfit for a child. While designing the outfit, Tim Gunn, who serves as mentor to the designers, told her it wasn’t right. He told her it was not going to work. She was told that the palate was unattractive and he didn’t understand her color matching abilities. She blatantly told him, “I don’t care, I am doing it my way.” Then she got nasty, pouted and cried like a child, and when no one puffed her up, she said how “it would be nice to receive some compassion.” I am not sure where “compassion” fit in to her protests. She did receive compassion – Tim Gunn told her what she was doing wasn’t working and she needed to re-think the project. When she decided she was going to do it her own way, she got herself voted off the show and was then mad that nobody felt sorry for her.

In every episode, Heidi Klum makes the statement, “In the world of fashion, one day you’re in, and the next day, you’re out.” The reason the judges don’t focus on the talents or gifts of the contestants is because the talents and gifts they have are there. They are just there, by a power that none of us can explain or understand, and their giftedness alone is not anywhere near enough to sell a line or compete in the professional market. It’s enough for them to pursue sewing on their own or make a few outfits for some friends, but it is not anywhere near enough to make them successful in the fashion arena. In a world where you are in one day and out the next, all the talent in the world is not going to give a talented individual the ability to note trends and transcend seasons, fashion shifts, and competing with other designers that have made the efforts toward professional work when they have not.

As I watched the woman from this past season cry and pout like a child, I heard the church for the past ten years. You try to tell people the way things are, the steps they need to take, they have a course they are hell-bent on pursuing and you try, with as much patience as you have, to explain to them why what they are going to do is not going to work, and they get mad at you. We are forever hearing, talking, musing, going over and over again how “anointed” everyone thinks they are and how “gifted” they feel they are, over all these things they feel they have the ability to do…but every single time you suggest that maybe they need to get a minister’s license, or incorporate their ministry, or go to seminary or study ministry, or that they need to be under the right leadership, or anything that they don’t want to hear…you are met with protest after protest after protest, defending themselves, unable to see past themselves and into the reality that when we do ministry, sometimes we have to do things we don’t like to do in order to obtain the vision we say God has given to us.

Just like in fashion, talent, anointing, gifts, and ability aren’t enough. If we were to outline all the passages about anointing and gifts that are found in the Bible, there are far fewer verses about these things than there are about the character that we are supposed to have as leaders and focus on how to develop that character in our lives. The reason for this is simple: the Bible gives us just enough information about anointing and gifts to help us identify them, know what they are, know what we have, and know the fruit of them, but we have them by a process that none of us can explain or identify. Character, however, is something that is developed. Every one of us has to walk out the fruit of our calling, making choices and decisions that decide the kind of people we will be and the type of leaders we will be beyond our gifts and abilities. Having great ideas, great visions, and yes, even gifts and great calling doesn’t mean much if we do not do the necessary things in order to develop those within us.

I meet many, many people who have some level of the anointing, who may indeed be very gifted, but I am thoroughly unimpressed with them because they can’t produce anything with what they have. They refuse to make their calling and election sure, and they refuse to train themselves in the disciplines of ministry, under another established leader who can educate them as they need, because they are too busy thinking they know everything. And, paralleling Heidi Klum’s comment, in ministry too, one day you’re in…and the next day, you’re out. Education, training, and development helps us to distance ourselves and our own feelings about what we have been given by God and see the work of ministry as more than just something for us, but a profession that has requirements, changes, and the need for connection and an eye that is more seasoned in the calling and ready to help us as we go through our work in the ministry.

Christian Siriano had his tantrums, ups and downs, and disagreements with the judges during his stint on the show. He also won and turned his talent into something that could be marketable, simply because he took the judges’ advice. He made it in a competitive world that the majority of other contestants on Project Runway, including the winners, didn’t make it in, for one reason and one alone – they did not listen. They allowed being enamored with ability to overshadow the ways they could make their abilities productive.

History is full of “big-names” that we still talk about today because they were so “anointed.” We marvel at their signs and wonders, even compare ourselves to them, feeling as if we pale in comparison. The reality about many of those “big names” is far paler than we might ever consider. The history of “big names,” people who got notoriety due to their anointing, gifts, and talents is loaded with drug addiction, alcoholism, adultery, spousal and child abuse, sexual abuse, betrayal, and even those sins on our “big list,” like murder, robbery, even forgery, at times. They became drama queens and kings, forgetting the anointing is about God, and making it instead about themselves. Most of them had untimely ends, tragedies beyond what we can fathom, but we don’t talk about that because we are allowing abilities to overshadow the fact that they didn’t have good character.

I think the reason we are allowing this to occur is two-fold: we like the idea that God doesn’t immediately withdraw His presence from us when we fail, but the second reason is more sinister than the first…we like to overlook our own faults, failings, and sinfulness…the things in our character that we don’t want to deal with and do not want to take the time to correct. We’re hoping our abilities will overshadow the fact that we don’t have the character we should. We want what we are able to do to overshadow the fact that we interfere with its productivity, we interfere with God’s ability to move forward in what we do. Being in ministry is about a lot more than being able to draw a crowd or impress a lot of people. Very little of it is about what goes on in the pulpit. You can be the most engaging preacher with the biggest mega-church and the best offerings, but if you don’t develop what is needed behind the scenes, you are never going to move in ministry in an effective way.

If you believe you’re called, gifted, anointed, etc. stop talking about it so much, especially if you are at a place where you can’t make your abilities productive. Stop going on and on about how unique and special you think you are, and realize there are a lot of other people out there who think the same about themselves. Find yourself a good leader who can help you to take those gifts you have and make them fruitful in life, get some good training, and in the meantime, be around people who can help you develop some good character. If leaders are worthy of double honor, that means they make themselves worthy of that as they exemplify something that is truly honorable. Focusing on how gifted or anointed you are isn’t going to get you anywhere except on a lot of people’s nerves and sitting in a lot of seats while you learn how to be humble.

In ministry, just as in fashion, one day you’re in…and the next, you’re out. If you’re in in ministry, God put you there for that time and because you have worked with Him to develop what is needed. Thus the difference between the two: in fashion, you can sometimes make a comeback. Once God puts you out of ministry…You’re OUT.

© 2014 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.

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