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You’re Exceptional, but…

…I have exceptional teeth. But I will never forget the day my dentist smiled and said, “Your teeth are beautiful . . .  too bad they’re going to fall out of your gums due to lack of flossing!” My dentist had tried to get through to me many times beforebut in that semi-humorous moment, he finally had my undivided attention.

Because I had exceptional teeth I had taken my dental health for granted. While I always brushed at least twice daily, the thought of flossing even once a day, much less using one of those crazy power toothbrushes like my wife used, seemed inefficient and unnecessary. The way I figured, my exceptional teeth made me the exception and gave me a pass on the dental disciplines important for others.

Let’s face it, in some way everyone is exceptional. Sadly, that unguarded strength often sets us up for serious problems later. Entitlement is a slippery slope. Just think of those enjoying positions of uncommon popularity and celebrity.
  • The beautiful think they’re entitled to special privileges.
  • The powerful think they’re entitled to special honor.
  • The gifted think they’re entitled to special compensation.
King Solomon was in a category of “specialness” all by himself. The Bible describes him as the wisest of the wise. No one could match him; yet, at the end of his days he didn’t finish well. Why? Solomon clearly thought that since he was “exceptional”he was the “exception.” And why not? After all, being in a position of privilege seems to nearly always lead to taking pride in your position and all that goes with it!

Solomon is far from alone, this seems to be the besetting sin of countless leaders, even Christian leaders. Because we enjoy positions of remarkable influence, and at times embarrassing privilege, we often easily assume that we’re entitled to some sort of grace pass. That is, if we teach well, we don’t have to live well. If our public life is impressive, our private life doesn’t have to be, after all aren’t we all “broken?” Sadly, those who publicly talk the most about grace sometimes find themselves in need of extra grace from the very ones they have failed to lead with integrity.

The Christian world has recently been rocked by charges of “impropriety” against several more of our highly regarded national and international Christian leaders. In the aftermath of these sobering and shameful revelations, I have found myself grieving both for the fallen and those dealing with the fallout. I even descended into a season of sadness and personal malaise, it was sort of like I suffered from the spiritual flu. 

At my lowest point I was actually on the couch for an entire day struggling with a bug of some sort. Since I couldn’t do anything else, I decided to read the issue of Christianity Today that was entirely devoted to the exemplary life of Billy Graham. As we all know, Billy was both exceptional and exemplarymaybe that’s because he never saw himself as the exception. That’s why he and his team had early on agreed to safeguards to keep them from falling into the pitfalls of money, sex and power so common to those uncommonly gifted.

In one sense you and I are all “uncommonly gifted.”
  • I am God’s masterpiece. (Ephesians 2:10)
  • I am a child of God. (John 1:12)
  • The Spirit of God dwells in me. (I Corinthians 3:16)
  • Christ calls me friend. (John 15:5)
  • I am an ambassador of Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:20)

Although we are “uncommonly gifted” in Christ, it is essential that we not see ourselves as better than others, but as set apart to inspire them with our example. The day I spent pondering the life of Billy Graham didn’t prompt me to see him as a powerful man but as a humble man. That led me to think of others like him, men like the minister of my youth in Chicago, Fred P. Thompson, and the minister who married us in Indianapolis, Russ Blowers. Both of these men were extraordinarily gifted, but they never acted entitled. They and countless others like them have both served well and finished well and deserve to be numbered among our true heroes.

What’s the key? The key is maintaining the disciplines that safeguard integrity and promote humility. No matter how exceptionally blessed we have been, the success level of our business, or the size of our ministry, we are never exempted from practicing the ordinary disciplines common to our humanity. Whether it’s daily flossing and power brushing or daily praying and faithful living, it all comes back to accepting our humanity and therefore living with unrelenting humility.

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

Grace and Peace,
Alan Ahlgrim
Director of Soul Care Covenant Groups
The Center for Church Leadership