I was doing everything I could, everything I knew how to do. But it wasn’t enough.
It seemed so easy for others. As far as I could tell, they were teaching the same lessons, singing the same songs, and planning the same events. But their ministries were so much more effective: packed meetings, thriving small groups, huge mission trips, changed lives. They were getting it done.
I think I was doing my best. But what if my best wasn’t good enough?
I’ve heard many sermons on the Parable of the Talents (Mt 25:14-30). You know the story. Some rich guy takes off on a trip. And before he goes, he entrusts a lot of money (talents) to his three servants: one gets 5 talents, the second gets 2 talents, and the third gets 1 talent. After his long journey, he returns and discovers that the first two have doubled his money. So he blessed them with even more responsibility. But the third was a bit of a lazy coward, and he simply hid his money while the master was gone. He gave the master his original money back, but no more. And the master was displeased to say the least.
Like the parable, most of these sermons I’ve heard have focused on two things: (1) the faithfulness of the first two servants and (2) the unfaithfulness of the third servant. And there’s a lot of good stuff in there. But I’ve always wondered about something else: What about the second servant? What was he thinking?
Hey! Why did he get five talents? I’m a good, faithful, and responsible servant. Why can’t I have five talents?
And, as time goes on, did he grow even more frustrated?
Great, the master will be home any time, and now that other servant has ten talents! I’ve done everything I can, but I only have four. That’s not fair.
If the second servant had any of these thoughts, I think we can sympathize. We live in a five-talent world. Bigger is better. And the person (or church) with “more” has greater value or significance. If you doubt, just look at the list of Christian best-sellers and the lineup of speakers at the next big conference. How many of them pastor churches with fewer than 100 members? (Which, by the way, would describe more than half the churches in America.) No, we want to hear from five-talent pastors, those who have been blessed with more.
That can be very frustrating if you’re a two-talent Christian. What’s so special about them? Why should they get all the attention? Or, if you’re more prone to self-criticism, What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I be like that?
What do you do if you’re a two-talent Christian living in a five-talent world?
1. Pray for five-talent Christians
Some people today make it sound like there’s something wrong with being a five-talent Christian. They decry the “celebrity pastor” and look askance at Christians who own large businesses. (Money and influence, by the way, are just a couple of the possible resources God might entrust to a person.) And such people definitely face unique temptations, hurdles that have taken down too many Christian leaders and make us understandably cautious when we see another rise up.
But that should just make us pray all the more. God has entrusted much to 5-talent Christians. And, therefore, they can be either blessing or bane for the church. It’s a daunting task, and one we should bathe in prayer.
2. Remember that you’re the servant
When I get frustrated that I don’t have more, it means I’ve forgotten who I am. I think my frustration often comes from the fact that I think I should have a larger role to play in the story. After all, this is me we’re talking about. Just think of everything I could do if I just had the chance. It’s like I think I’m Frodo, the star of the story whose time just hasn’t come yet.
But I’m not. I’m the servant, here to serve the Master and make sure that his name is glorified wherever I go. That’s my role in the story. And it’s a good one.
3. Be faithful with your two talents
The real focus of the parable is being faithful with whatever God has entrusted to you: big or small. Even the one-talent Christian would have been a “good and faithful servant” if he had served faithfully and returned a mere two talents to the Master upon his return. “More” and “less” really aren’t an issue in the story. “Faithful” and “unfaithful” are.
Maybe we should worry less about what we don’t have, and focus more on being faithful with what we do.
4. Trust the master
What does it mean to be “faithful” with what I have? What if I’m not doing enough? What if the Master comes back and I find out that I’ve not done enough? What if I’m the wicked servant?
To some extent, I suppose these are fine questions to ask. It doesn’t hurt to do a little self-examination and make sure that you’re not being a lazy, fearful servant. We should all check ourselves like this.
But let’s not overdo it. Questions like these often flow from thinking that the Christian life is ultimately about what I do. If I do enough, I’m all set. If not, I’m toast. But that’s not how it works. We serve a God of grace who is always faithful to his people. It’s not about doing “enough” but about being faithful. One is about keeping score, the other is about trust. There’s a huge difference.
Trust the Master.
Are you a two-talent Christian? Or even a one-talent Christian? That’s outstanding! You’re a servant. And there’s nothing better.
About Marc Cortez
Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.