When I was younger I often struggled with the question of being good enough, and even now that I’m older the same is sadly sometimes still true. As a skinny, insecure kid growing up in Chicago, I never felt that I quite measured up. I was never good enough to make the high school team, impress all the cute girls or earn straight A’s. Maybe you can relate. But what’s worse is that I never felt that I measured up in the eyes of God either. When I was baptized at the age of eight, I wanted forgiveness for not being good enough and to avoid the penalty of hell. Most people today don’t seem to have that concern.
In many ways we live in a grace-saturated culture. These days few people, young or old, seem to struggle much with the salvation issue. Perhaps it’s just assumed that most everyone deserves an eternal trophy just for showing up at death’s door. Now, it seems, the issue of “good enough” has a new twist. Here’s how Anthony Bradley of The King’s College put it when describing the attitude of our time among young Christians:
It’s not necessarily, ‘Am I good enough to escape eternal punishment?’ It’s rather, ‘Am I good enough to fulfill the mission that I’ve been told constitutes being a good Christian or a great Christian?’ So, ‘Am I a good Christian if I’m not a senator, a judge, saving orphans from sex slavery in India? If I’m not doing something extraordinary for God, then I’m not good enough. So my life has to be Snap-chat or Instagram-worthy to be impressive and sufficient for the Lord.’
Few seem to be content with their level of influence. That’s not only true for young college students but also for seasoned leaders. For example, not one of the many pastors I know thinks his church is large enough, social media platform popular enough, or influence broad enough. We live in a world of constant comparison, and we often feel that we just don’t measure up.
This is a debilitating and world-wide problem. I recently read an article in World Magazine on the topic of Japanese “Shut-ins.” It wasn’t about old folks in their declining years confined to home; it was about young men who failed to succeed in the highly competitive Japanese business culture. These young men have become hermits, hiding at home in shame with no jobs, no friends and no hopes for their future. Sadly, their parents are also embarrassed by their son’s failure to excel and try to keep it a secret from the world. Christian missionaries are now seeking to reach these forgotten young men with the gospel—the message of acceptance that is not based on performance.
We all need to hear that message because we all have our limitations. No one is always going to be in first place in every category. That’s why we all need to hear, ponder and apply the gospel daily. Personally, if I am important to God only if I’m doing or leading something really big, then I’m in really big trouble! You see, I no longer lead an impressive and growing ministry because I now work behind the scenes as a sort of undercover pastor. That means I’m no longer in the lead role. Now I’m in a support role. I’m learning to embrace obscurity and find my fulfillment in service, not in leadership. My approval is no longer coming primarily through successful accomplishments, but through satisfying relationships, first with God . . . then with others. This is the gospel I preach daily, not to thousands, but to myself!
Everyone is valuable to God regardless of performance, even pastors, even you! The gospel compels us to strive, serve and even succeed – not in order to impress God and others, but rather because we are loved by God and have already been declared to be of immense value to Him. Here’s the shockingly good news: Our value is not based on our achievement, but on His acceptance. Jesus made that clear when He said, “. . . you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.” (Mathew 10:31 NLT). Since God takes note of sparrows and values them, then there is hope for us all!
I’m now accepting that only by the atoning death of Christ and God’s declaration that I am His beloved child will I ever have confidence that I am finally good enough!
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Alan Ahlgrim
Director of Covenant Groups
The Center for Church Leadership