From early childhood, we all adopt roles. I am the compliant one, the rebellious one, the academic one, the sporty one, the one who lets others down, the one who always screws up. We reinforce these roles and we hold on to them, even though they put unnecessary pressure on us, even though they may cause us anxiety and suffering. We hold on to them because they are the means through which we get attention, the role we are loved because of or despite of. We hold on to them not only because we fear losing connection from other people, but also because we fear that if we let go of our role(s) we will lose ourselves. To do so would result in the death of the self: a false self, but one that keeps telling us, in glaring tweets in our head, how very real it is.
The all-encompassing gifts of being an apostle or prophet or evangelist or shepherd (pastor) or teacher are not roles. True, they are often seen as such; people often try to develop them as such—but when we do, we inevitably twist something far more precious out-of-shape. We find ourselves acting out, playing up to, living down to prescribed scripts, such as ‘I am an apostle. I create collateral damage in the organisation or community or family I belong to. Deal with it.’ or, ‘I am a shepherd. I am always needed, 24/7/365.’
No, these are not roles to take upon ourselves, but gift: specifically, the gift that gives us life.
One of the questions I am regularly asked is, ‘How do these different people-gifts work together, in a team?’ In my opinion, the question misses the point: there are as many different apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers as there are people, who are unique and constantly-changing expressions of vast humankind.
The way to work out how a group of people might best work together as a team is to care enough about each member of the group to get to know them well enough to discover what makes them come alive. And then, to help them to keep coming back to that.
When we do that, we discover that each one is a gift that brings not only the person but the body-corporate alive.
At one time, the team I was part of included a colleague who was a gifted shepherd or pastor. She cared deeply about people, paying deep attention to their hurting and, so doing, nurturing room for their healing. Before being ordained, this vocation had been expressed through nursing. This is what brought her to life—something which would drain me deeply. By this I do not mean that shepherds never get overwhelmed by the volume of pastoral need, nor that they do not need space of their own to retreat and close the door on the world. Nor am I saying that the rest of the team could thankfully excuse themselves from pastoral concerns. My point is that we saw something to be cherished, to be encouraged, to be unearthed at times.
It takes time, and the deliberate choice to value one another, to learn to work well with others. There are no shortcuts. But the longer, slower road offers the most wonderful views.