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Out my window…

Ever feel overlooked? C’mon, you know the moments I’m talking about. For a pastor, it can be easy to tie your sense of self-worth to the awareness others have of your tireless efforts. And when nobody notices or when someone else gets all the attention, it can be easy to feel…well, not just left out, but something worse. But I hope you’ll never forget that though yours and my best efforts may never make the denominational magazine, that doesn’t mean they won’t be eternally heroic to our remarkable cause and the lives they affect.

You see, a lot of us live in life’s middle–more than the number living anywhere else. We’re never called on to pastor the biggest churches or manage the mega-budgets. We live more anonymously, and sometimes feel the sting of such a hidden life. Sure, maybe it feels like my ceiling is someone else’s countertop, but being unable to reach as high as others doesn’t excuse me from reaching for my best. Those positioned more in life’s middle don’t exist just to hold up those at the top of the pyramid. There’s some big stuff we’re supposed to do too.

There’s a man in the story Jesus told of three servants (the so-called Parable of the Talents), that we never talk about, but His role in the story is no less important than others. Still, somehow, he comes across as the least important.

And yet, if there’s a guy in the story we can identify with, it’s him!

Honestly, it’s not the first servant – he’s the top gun; big success story. He’s the guy we wish we were, but many of us know we’re not. He’s the guy who sets the curve for the class; Everything he touches works—the best looking, most athletic, the superstar of the organization. In high school he was so cool—we wanted his life. Those who hung with him thought they were better than us, but our spot in the lunchroom wasn’t at his table.

For most of us, the key guy in the story’s not the last servant either – he’s the failure. He’s the guy that doesn’t get it; the guy that’s allowed attitude to block truth. He’s the guy who finds excuses to avoid his responsibilities, and he tries to pull everyone else down with him. Most of us know to stay away from the slackers. We can’t afford the failure he will lead us to.

So we live somewhere in the middle and that’s where servant 2 starts looking familiar. He’s the guy for the masses in the middle and yet we never talk about him. But, there are truths in his story we absolutely must grasp.

Now I know that the story isn’t really about him. It’s more about the Master and the failure of the 3rd servant. The previous parable also highlights those who aren’t ready for the Master’s return. Like the foolish virgins, he’s not ready—the third servant’s failed his mission.

But there’s this other guy. He’s the third guy we think of, though he’s actually he’s the second guy, and you have to wonder why he’s even in the story. I mean, if this is a story about faithfulness and doing your best, the five-talent guy’s got that covered, right? And if it’s a story about avoiding idleness, the 3rd guy with the shovel gets that across, doesn’t he?

What’s the point of adding a two-talent guy to the mix? He’s not going to outdo the first guy or be left holding the bag like the third guy (sorry, bad pun). Why would Jesus include a guy like this in His parable?

I’m not really sure, except that most of us are that guy, aren’t we? We live somewhere between superstar and slacker, trying to do our best with what we’ve been given, even though it’s not as much as some and maybe a bit more than others.

If you’re a pastor or church leader who feels like you’re living somewhere in the middle, then this is our guy!

In more than 50 yrs of Sunday school, I can’t remember ever focusing on this guy. Since I wrote a bunch of those lessons, I can’t really blame anybody, but it seems we have looked passed this guy for years, maybe even centuries.

No, he’s not compelling; he doesn’t lead the league in investment success. Five-talent guy had five extra bags of gold when the master returned and this guy had parlayed his two bags into two more. The stats guys will call his performance an equal success, but we all know who will be interviewed during the post-game show, don’t we?

Still, you have to wonder why the story needed a middle guy. And, like any good Bible student, I’ve got three possible answers and each contains a piece of the whole.

  1. Distinctive Assignment – 15 And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability

As the story unfolds, the Master is making plans to be away. How will the work get done; how will responsibilities be managed. Who do I trust with what assignments? We can understand this. We leave a list for the kids while we’re at work. We give others our assignments while we’re away.

So the Master is making his travel plans, and he needs to entrust his resources to his team. But he won’t be careless—in fact, he tailors his assignment to their abilities. Now we see a 5-2-1 split and applaud the five guy. After all, he must be the cream of this crop. But if it’s that simple, giving him all 8 would make the most sense, wouldn’t it?

Somehow I think the Master felt guy #2 would do better with the two than guy #1 would do with seven. Perhaps guy #1 wouldn’t manage seven well. It seems there are things that guy #2 might do better. There has to be a reason all the eggs aren’t in one basket.

I see that and I think about the smaller church. That’s the church that seldom finds the limelight or the buzz. They seem to function in the shadow of bigger places and can begin to question their value to the Master. But there is a distinctive ability in the smaller church.

Often relationships can reach a level that isn’t easily achieved in big places. There’s a depth of impact that demands intimacy w/spiritual leaders. Most great missionaries & spiritual leaders were shaped in such places. There’s a value in being a place where everyone knows your name. Frankly, there are some folks who’d get lost in larger settings. Others who might be overlooked by a larger crowd. More than 80% of churches in America – fewer than 200. As some wise fellow once said, “God must have a plan for smaller churches—Look how many He made!”

Yet I meet many pastors in small places who question the value of their effort. Who are so convinced that bigger is better; they think small is waste. But we have a Master who didn’t invest all the talents in the first guy, and He didn’t invest all the talents in the big place either!

Servant #2 has an assignment that’s tailor-made to his capacity, and each of us have been given gifts for God’s greater purpose too! There is a distinctive assignment that God has placed before your church. He hasn’t designed you to follow the five-talent place around. He hasn’t designed you to be like them on a smaller scale. He has invested uniquely in you for His unique purpose, and there is a distinctive assignment God has for your life.

Others may be “better” or seem to reach higher, but everyone of us have been given gifts to develop. I wish we could stop wishing we were the other guy and start doing what we’re called to do.

Now, that’s just point 1, and there are two more equally compelling points about servant #2 in Jesus parable, so stay tuned…

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