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We know about the cancel culture. These folks live on the left and right sides of the political, social, and cultural spectrums. They have views that contradict the Christian message, and if you choose to speak your opinions, they mobilize to cancel you quickly. Though most Christians do not live in the rarified air of popularity that gains these cultural folks’ attention, their power and influence scare us into self-censorship.
You don’t have to be someone’s target to sense the effect of this loud and proud culture. We’ve read of their antics, and like well-trained muscle memory, we conform even though there is no target on our backs. It’s a preventative measure; we don’t want to find ourselves in their crosshairs or a casualty of the culture wars. We self-censor without cause. We apologize for saying something that is not politically correct. We accept guilt when we’re not guilty. We buy into the hysteria by conforming to what others expect out of fear of retaliation.
During the COVID pandemic, to wear a mask or not should have been a decision based on conviction, discretion, other-centeredness, common sense, and biblical guidelines, not because we were afraid of what others said or did. Fear and worry conformed too many of us to cultural expectations and demands while distancing us from figuring out how to be Christlike to a culture that needs Jesus.
The Christian community is not much different from the secular cancel culture. Christians have preferences and expectations, and if you don’t conform to the group’s usual way of doing things, you will be on the outside, looking in. I have many illustrations of this type of cancellation mindset. E.g., here, here, here.
The good old boy network is alive and well within Christiandom, and if you choose to ride a different rail, you will not receive the perks like those who paint by numbers and never dare to color outside the lines. This unwritten code is powerful enough to tempt the believer to cave to the politics of acceptance, hoping for the possibility of upward aspirations or simply to be left alone.
This problem within our ranks makes it intellectually dishonest to speak against our secular cancel culture as though we’re not susceptible to the same sins. Our Adam tendencies and theirs are similar. The world needs fewer clones and more folks who know what they believe and are willing to share it according to the uniqueness of what God is doing in their lives. What’s needed are those voices who are kind, gentle, and humble but firm, direct, and courageous.
There are many ways we can succumb to quieting our voices while glomming ourselves onto accepted norms. Facebook is a common place where Christians are afraid to speak their minds. I’m not talking about those with no social filter, who are harsh, mean-spirited, and unkind. I’m speaking about those who know the words of Christ and can communicate them in gracious and effective ways. But they don’t because they fear retribution.
Another familiar context for failure to “grow your voice” is in discipleship contexts. How often have you thought you should say something to a friend or relative, but you were afraid of the potential blowback? The counseling office or the kitchen table are not places for the timid, insecure, and fearful soul. Sadly, we hear too much about the harsh person, not realizing the larger contingent are those with fearful voices who are afraid of the most boisterous in the room.
The most-oft repeated command in the Bible is “fear not.” Our natural instinct is to recoil from courage while conforming to the norms. Very few people are willing to stand out, explore the possibilities, and speak into the chaos with compassion and boldness that looks like Jesus. Each of us does a cost analysis, and typically it’s the fear of failure that wins the day.
Growing up into the person God calls you to be means you will fail many times and disappoint a few individuals, even those who have the power to bless your life. It’s the five-year-old T-baller who whiffs at the ball. If he quits, he will never realize his potential. He must keep swinging, getting his reps in, and pushing the limits of his capacity to mature into the best version of himself.
Show me a unique leader, and I’ll show you a person who has failed many times. Nobody fulfills their potential without many disappointing defeats. Those who keep pushing find that special place of usefulness in God’s world. They factor failure into the equation. They are not pessimists, but they understand the painful path to success. They have enough humility not to succumb to discouragement, groupthink, echo chambers or fear of retribution. They understand there will be failures on the first, second, and third tries.
Interview any successful person, and they will tell you about their many failures, missteps, and sins. They understand the path to success and how many defeats they endured. If you’re afraid of failure or the critique of not getting it right, you will conform to what everyone else is doing. Settling for mediocrity should not be the desire of any Christian. The abundant life that God offers is not about your self-esteem but about accomplishing wondrous works for the fame of God and the benefit of others, which brings us to the main question: How do I find my unique voice?
What is that thing you want to do? What do you believe God is calling you to do? That thing—whatever it is—is your burden; it’s an inward desire to do something for the fame of God. The list of possibilities is virtually limitless. What you must do is identify what makes you tick, and once you have dialed in on it, you begin to explore how to fulfill that passion. I’m speaking of an internal calling. Everyone feels a unique quality about themselves that makes them different from everyone. But few folks are willing to explore what it is or how they can impact their culture because they refuse to step outside of their fears.
As you explore your burden—your internal calling, you begin talking to those who have experience in what you want to do. These folks are a few mile-markers up the road from where you are today. These experts understand the process and the pitfalls. They also are not afraid to affirm your calling or disagree with your opinion of yourself. They believe in and practice loyal disagreement. You want to surround yourself with competent people like this who won’t flatter you as you talk about your aspirations.
What you’re trying to discern, with the help of a few courageous and compassionate friends, are your internal and external calls. Some folks feel called to a thing (internal), but nobody else agrees with them (external)—except those who don’t have the expertise in the field or don’t fully understand what’s needed to make the right decision. If you believe you’re good at something, there should be an objective presence of that gifting already operative in your life, though you have not perfected it yet. Also, there should be those who affirm what you believe you possess.
There are many options for finding that “unique you,” your voice—the person God has called you to be. Do you want to be a counselor, author, marketer, videographer, culinary specialist, mother, pastor, or production worker? You pick the field. The sky is your limitation. Once you have a general direction, you want to start carving the path to your preconceived goal. Don’t worry about nailing the final destination or the bumps along the way. The operative words are “general direction;” you make your plans and rest in the Lord to direct your steps.
Your two strongest temptations will be caving to the fear of what others think and imitating someone you admire. The fear will be anxiety over whether you will succeed or not. We all are afraid to fail. Imitation will be a desire to mimic others rather than being yourself. It’s easier to find a working model of what you want to be and do and imitate it. That person is not you. You’re cloning someone else, which will have an air of artificialness and hypocrisy. You also will not sustain being someone else because you don’t know how to be anyone but yourself. Don’t be an awkward copy of another person. It’s weird.
You regularly see this fear of failure and temptation of imitation in the Christian world in the books we read. Rarely is there a standout voice who is not regurgitating what others have said a thousand times. The best writers and speakers do not sound like everyone else—anyone else. They have their unique voice, and they are not afraid to rise or fall on who they are. Regardless of what you choose to do, you want it to be authentic. But you will never get there if you don’t step away from the temptation of imitation and persevere through your defeats. Do not fear being who God is calling you to be.
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