“Stay in your lane!” We’ve all heard it. I’ve even said it myself. It’s something we throw out there when someone appears to be changing their venue or ministry in some way. They might be advancing, they might be doing something different, but we are quick to throw out “Stay in your lane!” to express our grave disapproval of whatever it is they are doing. We give the metaphors, the so-called warnings about what happens when we change lanes: we’ll hit another car, we’ll be in someone else’s way, we’ll cause an accident, we won’t be where we should be. There is no end to the endless calamities that will result from simply changing lanes.
We all know this is a driving analogy, so after watching a program last week (which I will discuss in detail in a moment), I started thinking about the “stay in your lane” message we give to the church, especially ministers. The word that is given is one against change, against movement, against doing anything different. If you are driving, however, is staying in your lane throughout the duration of your trip even possible? Maybe it’s from driving in a metro area and through several major metro areas in the course of my life, but it’s near impossible to “stay in your lane.” Staying in your lane, at least around Raleigh and Durham, will get you killed a lot of the time. If you’re in a turning lane and you don’t need to turn, then that means you are in the wrong lane and you need to switch lanes. If you are on an off ramp, you need to merge into the interstate traffic. You can’t stay in that lane or you will run off the road all together. If you are going faster than the car or cars in front of you, you need to switch lanes so you can pass them, safely. Staying in your lane will mean you run into someone. If you are driving and the lane ends, shifts, changes, or work is done on one of those lanes, you need to change lanes. The whole point of driving, driving safe, and driving alert is the mere fact that driving conditions change and, inevitably, you need to change lanes.
Of course I am not advising that people take up the practice of being bad drivers. Swerving all over the road, being reckless or careless, texting or distracted driving, or inconsiderate of others doesn’t make a good driver. It doesn’t make a good minister, either. Yet I see tons of these ministers telling other people to “stay in your lane!” They have messy household situations, their homes look like they’ve never seen a mop or a broom, their children are out of control, they have no members to their church or ministry, and they aren’t going anywhere. But they want to make sure someone else “stays in their lane.” (Maybe these types need to find a lane…of course I really think if you don’t have a car, you don’t need a lane in the first place!)
In other words: our driving analogy doesn’t measure up. We chant “stay in your lane!” because we don’t have anything new to bring to the table because we just plain aren’t listening to God. We want to listen to what big-name preachers are doing, we want to hear what’s popular, and we hope following trends will keep us current. It’s a bad example, with no basis in fact. It’s just another excuse for us to embrace when we get angry that people are moving on, moving ahead of us, trying something new that challenges us, or something that is just different from what we do.
On Empire last week, Jamal Lyon (played by Jussie Smollett) meets his musical idol, Skye Summers (played by Alicia Keys). When Skye talks about doing something new with her music or venturing into a new area, Lucious Lyon (played by Terrance Howard) is quick to tell her that she’s great at girl-power pop and to “stay in your lane!” As the show unfolds, however, and Skye works with Jamal, she plays the beginning of a ballad that she has been working on for Jamal, which he encourages her to continue. Even though the traditional, safe advice was for her to “stay in her lane,” the result of what she did was the song, “Powerful,” which was indeed, definitely powerful.
Even though her character was good at what she did in her own “lane,” when she switched lanes, what she did was even better. It was even more of who she was, her own abilities, her own empowerment, and gave her a voice, a creative voice that brought something out that was better than what she’d had before.
I’ve spent years operating in the “stay in your lane” mentality. I’ve always been good to other ministers. I’ve tried the networking thing, the connection thing, the fellowship thing, the event thing, the covering thing, all of it. If I am going to sit here and be brutally honest, I can’t say that “staying in my lane” has gotten me anywhere that I want to be. Every time I have an event, someone needs to be somewhere else, or is too busy, or doesn’t want to commit. Better than that, if something is wrong, I feel so brushed off by people, it disturbs me. It’s like they want to say they prayed so they can say they did something and be done with it. If I have a book, people will like the status about it, but they won’t buy it. “Staying in my lane” means that I keep doing the same things that I have always done, for the same people who don’t appreciate it, and who clearly, quite honestly, don’t even want it.
That means it is time for a change. If I want different results, I have to do something different. Just like Alicia Keys’s character on Empire, there is more within me than this. There is more within me than staying in one place forever for people who don’t really understand or appreciate me as a person or as a leader. I could spend my entire life trying to minister to those who clearly think they don’t need it. Or, I can change lanes, and offer more to those who want and need it.
If you feel that your “lane” is adequate for you, then great, stay there. But don’t tell me or anyone else that we need to “stay in your lane.” I’ve outgrown mine. Maybe other people have outgrown theirs. Maybe if you haven’t outgrown your lane, there’s a reason God wants to keep you where you won’t impact very many lives.
Think before you speak. None of us are God, and none of us have the right to impede or stop what God wants to do in someone else.
Think about that. Think about what it truly means to be “powerful.” Then go encourage someone to get out of their lane.
© 2015 by Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.