Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Not the Best, Just Faithful, by Faith Kelley


As I read through the Old Testament, God calls individual after individual to be part of his plan for humanity and almost every person has a similar reaction, “Sorry, God, not me.  You’ve got the wrong guy.”  Moses is probably the most famous example of this with his claim that his speech impediment disqualified him from God’s service, but there are other examples.  Gideon was so unsure of himself that he made God jump through hoops involving wool and dew.  Jonah said no by running in the opposite direction and then pouting.  Leadership is avoided. 
Sometimes, we seem to have a very different attitude towards leadership.  Leadership is something to be grasped and striven for, even in the church.  Often we don’t wait for God to call us, but hurry ahead mumbling “Well, someone has to do it.”  We set up meritocracies in our meetings similar in attitude to secular businesses and non-profits.  People must earn leadership and gain skills, rather than be called and gifted by God.  I’ll blame at least part of this on secular society’s expectations and values infiltrating the church, but a good part of it might just be unredeemed human nature.  I don’t think running from God’s call is a good practice (as it doesn’t seem to work and may get you swallowed by a big fish), but trying to earn a particular place of leadership in God’s denies God’s grace and wisdom just as much as Moses’s shrinking from the burning bush’s instructions.
            For many years I didn’t realize that God’s kingdom works differently than the systems of power of this world.  Or even if I knew it intellectually, I didn’t live it.  Throughout most of my schooling I was “Super Faith,” with extra-circulars, honors and all A’s.  I was very involved in youth group and service work.  I was busy all the time.   I enjoyed the challenge to do my best, but a big motivation was a desire earn others approval and love.  I longed to be recognized and put in leadership positions at school and in my meeting.  When I wasn’t a small voice in the back of my head would start to say, “They don’t like you.  You’re not good enough.  You must have failed.”  All my self-worth was tied up in being the best and being in charge.
I probably could have gone on like this for most of my life- striving for the recognition of others and only feeling loved when I was given leadership and honors.  I grew up in a Quaker home, had excellent models of faithfulness at my church and was taught about God’s great grace and mercy for each of us.  I had gone to the altar and confessed my sins and asked Jesus into my heart.  I know he was working there and I felt his living presence, but still had this compulsion to earn my salvation by leading and doing.  I, and most of those around me, seemed to all be part of the pull yourself up by your own bootstraps school of spirituality. 
Thankfully, after I graduated from college every single graduate program I applied to rejected me.  I had no backup plan; no idea of who I was if I was not the perfect student any more.  This crisis gave God an opening to begin the process of slowly stripping away what society had taught me leadership meant and where my self-worth came from.    A larger part of this work took place in the context being hired as an intern at the William Penn House, a Quaker hostel and seminar center in Washington, DC.  My coworkers there encouraged me to ask the question what was God calling me to and then to begin that work.  For the first time I began to realize that God was not calling me to be in charge of everything or to be the best at everything.  Tied up in this was the radical revelation that God’s love for me was not contingent on me “successful.” 
About a year into my internship I was part of a retreat in which someone asked me what gave me life, what filled my heart with meaning and purpose.  In a moment of divine clarity I was able to name was God was calling me to more clearly and concisely than I ever had before.  I answered that I have a burning passion for creating space for transformation to happen in other people’s lives.  Since then the question has always been does this job/event/committee/role fit with God’s call in my life.  The focus is no longer on doing and being a leader in everything.  Rather, I keep my eyes solely on God and the way he is moving me.  Being surrounded by others on a similar journey has been particularly helpful.  As a Quaker institution that strives to live what it professes to believe, the William Penn House has allowed me to explore how my call fits WPH’s mission and incorporate the organization’s call with mine where they overlap.  I still can be taken over by the desire to be the best so as to be recognized, but the basis of my identity is slowly being remade into something more Christ-like.  On my best days I no longer want to be the best, I just want to be faithful.

Faith Kelley is the hospitality coordinator at the William Penn House in Washington, DC.  She grew up in Evangelical Friends Church-Eastern Region and is now a member of Rockingham Monthly Meeting, a part of Ohio Yearly Meeting.  Together with her husband, Micah Bales, she has started Capitol Hill Friends, a Christian Quaker worship group in DC.


  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Faith!

    I do think that some confusion comes from confusing being a leader with being "the best." God certainly does call some to a ministry of leadership, based on God's own mysterious reasons!

    I would suggest, however, that having discerned a calling to leadership, it is important for leaders to spend time in discernment and gain the skills needed for their particular ministry. You wrote, "People must earn leadership and gain skills, rather than be called and gifted by God." as a criticism of the way leadership works in the world. I agree that this statement is flawed as it is, and I would say that's because the sentence is backward. Ideally it should read: "As a result of being called and gifted by God, people should work to gain the skills and develop the spiritual gifts needed for their ministry, as well as gain the respect and trust needed to lead.

  2. Yes, thanks Faith!

    I think if I understand correctly, what you are articulating is a juxtaposition of the divinely-called voices which are saying "not me, God!" versus the self-called voices which are saying to EVERYONE "pick me, listen to me, do what I say...ME ME ME"

    And yet so many of us (and even many of the same people who are worldly leaders) are -- in truth -- filled with the insecurity that we are not called, not chosen, not enough, not to be listened to, not God's...

    You raise a powerful question for me but it was the poster above who then put my mind at ease about it, offering the answer I was trying to articulate when she said "As a result of being called and gifted by God, people should work to gain the skills and develop the spiritual gifts needed for their ministry, as well as gain the respect and trust needed to lead."

    The ego is the wall that we can't get through and causes all this struggle. And having an ego that runs from God's power in us (as they did in these Bible examples)is still having an ego.

    I do not say this to your ego -- or to all your egos, readers :-) But to that which is beyond your ego,hear this:

    You are all leaders. You are all sacred. And you are all already enough.

  3. Dear Faith, your story rang true with me. I am a new convert to Quakerism and I have a lot of questions I. Have been only to one unprogramed meeting