The past couple of months have been the “results season” in India. The results were declared for different grades and boards, bringing joy to many while making many others think that their future is nothing but uncertain and bleak. The declaration of results has also set into motion the next chain of events based on merit—admission into the desired programme, admission into the desired school/college, and finally getting that coveted job/position as a career point. Many others who are not “up to the mark” will now be forced to pick the path they are assigned. Whether they are up for it or not isn’t even a factor to be considered. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (2015 data), a student commits suicide every hour in India, either due to the pressure of “succeeding in exams” or due to the failure in achieving so-called success. In the five years prior to 2015, around 39,775 students committed suicide. With many suicides and attempted suicides being unreported, this number is likely to be much higher. This huge crisis has led to a hue and cry all around to address this problem and to break away from this system of evaluating everyone on the same scale of merit.
This season, in a way, is a microcosm of what our society, the human society, looks like throughout the year. Any society, irrespective of the system it follows for its social, political and economic arrangement—capitalist, socialist, Marxist, autocratic, aristocratic, or democratic, to name a few—is essentially a meritocracy as it evaluates and classifies each and every person in that society on the basis of their level of conformity to the rules and norms of what constitutes a merit. In the run-up to the recently concluded elections in India, almost every speech of our current Prime Minister was based on his oft-repeated assertion that he is a self-made man, someone who has come up because of his own efforts, as opposed to his principal opponent who is merely born into a position of privilege. We often tend to admire the former kind and abhor the latter. The former is seen as typifying someone who has nothing handed to him and has to work hard for everything and is often summarised in a rags-to-riches story. The latter, on the other side of the spectrum, is born with a silver spoon and has everything handed readily to him. But both these storylines are essentially meritocratic in nature. One accumulates merit on the basis of his work, claims that merit and is lauded for it, while the other is born into a position that comes with certain merit, and is often ridiculed for being a naamdaar.
The church, and those who are called to ministry, are struggling unseen under this burden of expectations to match up to standards that are entirely misplaced. While we are very eager to emphasize the role of grace when we talk about salvation, we lose sight of the same when we think about ministry and the call for it
More often than not, we are also caught up in a similar system of merits, and we tend to evaluate everything and everyone on those lines. We love to admire (and aspire to become like) certain people who are in full-time ministry such as pastors, preachers, worship leaders and leaders with certain traits, skills or talents, on the basis of the norms that we have set individually or as a community, while ignoring those who do not fall within those lines. Therefore, it’s not surprising that books like Good to Great are often recommended to Christian pastors and leaders to help them learn leadership and self-betterment principles. As such, we are not very different from the Corinthian church (as we see in 2nd Corinthians) who compared Paul with the eloquent and popular peddlers of the gospel, and deemed him inferior to them. All this while, these books, and most of us, forget or undermine the fact that the Christian call, for ministry or otherwise, operates on a wholly different plane.
Paul’s assertion in 1 Corinthians 15:10, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me,” serves a strong reminder to us that God calls us not on the basis of our innate gifts and talents or the potential talents that we may exhibit after responding to the call from God. When this statement is juxtaposed against the list of Paul’s credentials in Philippians 3, the nature of the Christian call is starkly evident as not based on any human factor at all. The verse clearly shows how Paul does not limit the effect of grace to his personal salvation but rather extends it into his ministry as well. Paul also seems to anticipate here, to a certain extent, the Corinthian complaint that he addresses in 2nd Corinthians—the core of which has to do with Paul not being as eloquent and talented in stature and use of spoken word when compared to other preachers.
The church, and those who are called to ministry, are struggling unseen under this burden of expectations to match up to standards that are entirely misplaced. While we are very eager to emphasize the role of grace when we talk about salvation, we lose sight of the same when we think about ministry and the call for it. Those called for ministry are often caught in the web of tools and techniques, of “10-steps” and “5-ways”, while forgetting that the core of what we are called to do is not based on any principle or rule—it is based on grace. And the sooner we realize this, the more fruitful we will be in living according to the holy calling which is “not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Jesus from all eternity” (2 Tim 1:9).