Every story of Peter Pan starts the same way. Peter is chasing after his shadow, which is causing mischief and trouble for him. In the same way, we all cast shadows that cause problems for us if we are not careful.
One of the saddest and most concerning features of the modern church is the fall from grace of some of our most prominent leaders. I read an article recently about another pastor who had an affair and was forced to step down from his position. I wish that this was shocking but it isn’t. It has happened so many times. We see it in the tele-evangelist asking for money for miracle potions. We see it in the abuse of children in the Catholic Church and we wonder how does this happen? How do people who started out with the best of intentions (and we should presume that they did) end up like this? Of course, this isn’t a problem that is unique to spiritual leaders, they just have the gift (or curse) of visibility.
What I have come to realise is that the problem almost always seems to be in the same shape as their greatest strength. This is because every strength has a shadow.
Think about it… why did that pastor have an affair? Because they loved so much and something got confused. Why do so many evangelists end up disconnected from church? Because they love the lost so much and something got confused. If your gift is communication then be wary of manipulation. If your gift is worship be careful of becoming the object of worship. If your gift is innovation be vigilant against heresy. Perhaps you have an incredible business mind and the pursuit of wealth has started to consume you. You forget why you even had the gift.
Surprisingly, it isn’t when your gifts are weak that they are the most dangerous. It is when your gifts are strongest, most pure, most noble; this is when their shadow is largest and most dangerous. We watch tv preachers of mega churches with baited breath, hoping desperately that they don’t fall. Yet, we remain totally unaware of the shadow that is cast below us.
For some the response is to drive to mediocrity and a stay safe in a quiet life. If we keep our heads down we have nothing to fear. If that is the way that you are living I want to be as clear as I can – hiding away is far worse than missing the mark. Jesus told a parable about a man who hid his talents and the result was severe. God has not invested so many gifts in you for you to hide them away. We all know that driving a car has dangers (deadly ones) but you still need to get to work. We don’t have the luxury of not risking the road, the destination is too important. In the same way, your destiny is too great for you to pull your head under the covers. You were made with a plan and purpose and to avoid it is to deny the world the impact that your life was created for.
The key is to recognise our shape and identify our shadow. This way we can put boundaries in place to guard us from our danger zones. This could look like a commitment or a caution. For example, I have a friend who is an evangelist. He tours the world and plays in huge arenas and often gets home at 3 or 4am on a Saturday night. However, he would rather fall asleep in church than miss it. He has created a law in his life to protect him. It isn’t a moral law, it’s a wise one. Another friend will never give girls lifts home in his car. This may seem strange, he’s not a sexual deviant and has never had a problem. However, he recognises that he is someone who connects deeply with people (it really is a gift!) and he has placed a rule to guard himself from things that he never wants to happen.
What is the shape of your shadow?
How will you guard your greatest gifts?