In the mid-90's, there was a popular (and dreadful) series of "Big Johnson" novelty t-shirts for guys. You remember—those sophomoric t-shirts that not-so-subtly touted the size of one's genitals with crude, witless metaphors.
At one point, the majority of guys at our school owned one. This could have been because of one of two possibilities:
1. There was a secret virus unleashed upon the public and undetected by science, that targeted 12-19 year old males resulting in gargantuan genitalia.
2. This was a display of adolescent insecurity that really had nothing to do with large genitals (perhaps actually indicating the opposite), and more a statement about the parents who let their kids wear such shirts than any actual anatomical abnormalities.
Option two seems more likely.
It makes sense that the perfect storm of adolescent insecurity would make high school males want to find identity with silly "mine is bigger than yours" rhetoric. If only this kind of juvenile comparison was limited only to boys in the 90's! But unfortunately, it describes the behavior of plenty of grown men and women, even those in ministry.
But comparison is never a good idea, especially when the actual measure of a Christian leader isn't anything other than faithfulness.
What defines us
That's easy to forget though, especially in our success-obsessed culture. You would think by now that in a world as stupid as our own, humanity would have learned long ago that whatever is big and popular does not equal "best." But we still buy the lie. (If you don't believe this, then please explain to me the phenomena of the Kardashians, "Jersey Shore," and Nickelback. Popularity obviously isn't a fair indicator of quality.) But it's also equally faulty to assume that something more pure, holy or "deeper" because it is smaller.
Christians are responsible to steward our influence for maximum impact within the communities we serve. Crass popularity or lack thereof does not make us automatically either successful or unsuccessful. But we often play games of comparison, feeling the same insecurities of identity evidenced by the "Big Johnson" crowd.
And here's the twist: while my adolescent schoolmates wore their "Big Johnson" insecurity visibly, we ministers are less overt. Our obsession with comparison comes out subtly, in our discussions and caveats about ministry. When we over-insist that ministry isn't all about this or about that, it betrays the fact that we are actually captured by what we're trying to convince others we're free from. To quote Hamlet on guilt: "The lady doth protest too much, methinks."
- Tablet and PDF editions of every issue
- Web exclusives and archives on Leadership Journal.net