“Plain folks” is the term Willard uses to describe the kind of people God chooses to use in his Kingdom. Surely it was this way with Jesus in choosing his disciples. And it has been true in my life. I come from such a position, raised in Swartz Creek, Michigan, by parents who had no college education or families of prestige. However, the Lord was at work in both of my parent’s families. God was transforming people through both of my lineage families. Now, God has gifted and called me to do his work, despite me just being a “plain folk.”
I recently came across my report cards from elementary, middle, and high school. One thing is readily apparent; I was ordinary. I had plenty of C’s and B’s…even had a C in physical education! How does anyone get a C in PE? I was not anything special. However, I used to tell myself that I was someone special who was going to do great things.
At this point in my life, I no longer feel as if I have been selected to do something special. I am not sure if this is a result of my age or maturity. I grew up with a sense of destiny. I thought I was going to be an astronaut, president, or famous in some sense. We call it ego inflation! I had retained that perspective most of my life, the only difference was as I aged, I tended to change the venue where being famous would take place. Eventually, it became leading a large church.
I think this was broken for the most part during the time of church planting for me. I think this is why the breaking which took place over those years (14 to be exact) was so significant in my life. I was slowly coming to terms with the fact that being famous was not in my destiny. Then as a statistics professor at the University of Central Florida, my teaching and research accolades again fed that sense of destiny somewhat. A famous psychometrician was my mentor, and he reinforced this with his encouragement.
I do think I could have had a significant career in academia, but not necessarily in fulfilling the destiny that I had always sought. A new dean and my refusal to relocate ended that sense again. I again embraced being a “plain folk.”
Healthy Growing Churches was somewhat of a reduced attempt to be big within the Church of God movement, but that failed to fulfill this destiny. I wouldn’t have said that being large and impactful was part of my strategy, but it was in some sense. As I now realize, impact often happens behind the scenes in small ways. However, at HGC, we were always trying to scale.
Slowly within Healthy Growing Leaders, I have come to see that sense of destiny die. I now am very, very comfortable being a “plain folk” in Willard’s terms. I do most of my work behind the scenes. And actually, I relish the role at this stage of my life.
Having watched the movie Elvis recently, it is obvious what pursuing fame did to Elvis Pressley, his family, and many people around him. It was a sad 2.5-hour movie to watch. I was almost depressed as it ended. MK and I sat in silence as the credits scrolled by. It was sad to see how both Elvis and Colonel Parker both pursued popularity, fame, and fortune at all costs. I, too, am saddened as I watch many famous Christian idols come to fame and fortune, then experience consequences in similar ways. May we all learn to work on the depth of impact and let God be in control of the breadth of our impact. As our roots go deep in our understanding of ourselves and abiding in our Lord, I do think we can trust God with whatever place we find ourselves. It is a fun place to arrive at but a difficult journey to make.