On August 25, 2013, a young woman attempted to spread her wings, and the world rejected her. I didn’t personally watch MTV’s Video Music Awards (“VMAs”), but I observed my friends and other reacting to the risqué performance of 20-year-old Miley Cyrus, of Disney fame. I don’t mean to disparage my friends with this post—not my intention. But I do want us to use the unfortunate miscalculation of a 20-year-old as a mirror for us and as an instrument to gauge our empathy.
I attended a small Bible college in the south suburbs of Chicago. Upon arriving on campus, I learned that our college had four elected class chaplains. I ran, of course; and I won. Well, I hesitate to say that I really “won” anything, because I messed things up. I wanted to make it big. I wanted to knock the socks off my class and find myself beloved by my entire college. And so I decided to preach my first sermon without notes. I gazed into the smiling faces of my classmates. And their smiles turned to quizzical smirks. And smirks turned into scoffs. I had no clue what I was supposed to say, but I had the floor for another 15 minutes. You know how you feel really good when you preach a well-crafted sermon that resonates with the congregation? This didn’t feel like that. I felt like Miley Cyrus the day after the 2013 VMAs. I didn’t bother running for class chaplain the next year. I only felt shame and embarrassment.
I’m convinced that we beat-up on people like Miley Cyrus because we have all had Miley Cyrus moments. We risked it all, and we fell short. We tried to make it big, but we failed big. And we know people were talking about our howler for days.
So, first, an admonition: cut the ego out of ministry. In fact, know that your inflated ego precludes ministry, and vice versa. It is one thing to use spiritual gifts for a higher purpose, and it is quite another thing to take center stage and knock the socks of those to whom we minister. Just don’t.
Second, a devotional thought: we all are in need of mercy. When our voices changed mid-sentence, when we bombed that important exam, when we failed our children or parents or friends, when we forgot our sense of mission, we were humbled. But God offers a hand of pardon. We are all redeemed. In our pain and anguish and shame, we hear the voice of the Messenger say, “Rise up and walk” (Acts 3:6).
I will remember that failed attempt at a sermon forever, but I use that instance as a mirror. I can see how my own ego crippled my ability to minister to my peers. But I am covered in the mercy of God, and I am emboldened to share that mercy with others—especially Miley Cyrus.