The Next Faithful Step
Belonging to God
Scott Cormode, Fuller Seminary
How then is the Christian leader to respond to the dual temptations to pride and fear? These observations about fear and pride are important, of course, because they help us to see why we have such a temptation to blame others when we fail. But Argyris points out that providing knowledge is not usually enough to get people to embrace their weaknesses. He observed that when he worked with professionals—accomplished adults who genuinely wanted to improve—that “the inevitable response to the observation that somebody is reasoning defensively is yet more defensive reasoning.” Knowledge is not enough. What then can help pastors to get past the fears that often keep them from taking the next faithful step?
The antidote to these temptations is theological; it requires a spiritual discovery that creeps into our bones. This theological insight is captured in a famous formulation from the Heidelberg Catechism. “I belong—body and soul, in life and in death—not to myself but to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.” A theology of belonging makes two powerful statements that militate against the temptations that plague leaders. When I say I belong to God, I mean that I am indelibly etched into God’s family tree. I cannot be removed or cast out. God has adopted me into God’s family. And it is a gift of God, and not the result of some heroic act that merits my inclusion in the royal family. I did nothing to become a part of God’s family and (here’s the best part) I can do nothing to get kicked out of that family. Belonging is the antidote to fear. I know that God promises that nothing can separate any of us from the love that God lavishes on each person in God’s family. And I know that belonging to God gives me an identity that derives from God’s love and specifically not from any action I take to prove myself worthy of that love. In short, I have nothing to fear because I belong to God.
Belonging has another meaning as well. Scripture says, “You have been bought with a price.” In other words, I belong to God in the same way that vintner owns a piece of land. This fact sometimes offends American sensibilities. We don’t like to think of anyone belonging to someone else. But my time is not my own. When that vintner buys a plot of land, he makes that purchase so that the land will become prosperous. He tills the soil, plants the vines, and waters the plants. And, when he harvests the fruit, the grapes belong to the landowner, who makes something from them that they could never become while still on the vine. I belong to God. I cannot be prideful about what I do. I do not get to choose where to go or what matters most in my life. If I end up a seminary president it is because God has called me to it—just like God calls some people to move across the sea and others to be youth ministers. And just like God calls some people to work in the development office, or to be administrative assistants. I cannot lord it over other people in the school because I am just doing the part of God’s ministry that God has assigned to me. And I cannot credit because, as the Apostle Paul said, one person may plant the seed, and another water, “but it is God who gives the increase.” There is no room for puffed-up pride because I have been bought with a price; I belong to God.