Going first is awkward.
It hit me during the usual awkward moment at a Tuesday potluck I had organized with friends, when the food was blessed, when everybody opened their eyes at the “amen,” when nobody proceeded to move forward to grab a plate. It was as happens at so many gatherings — not that people weren’t hungry or that they didn’t know what to do; it was just that nobody wanted to go first.
Going first means that all eyes are on you.
In a time and place in the life of the Church, we need more men and women to dare to step into that place of awkwardness, where all eyes are upon us.
So why are many of us afraid to go first? We need more men and women to dare to step into that place of awkwardness of going first. Click To Tweet
Why Are We Afraid?
Most of us didn’t start out to be fearful of going first. When we were kids, we thought going first was something to aspire to, something that real-life superheroes did. In elementary school, my friends and I dreamt of being the first female professional baseball players and fighter jet pilots. In class, we read glossy books about people like Madeline Albright, Thurgood Marshall, Amelia Earhart, Tom Flores, Joan Benoit, and Jackie Robinson. In an eight-year old brain, it felt like if there hadn’t been a first yet, it just could be you.
But then we found out that going first isn’t glossy. In fact, it’s dirty. Those of us who came from a church background began to interpret going first as having a me-first attitude—one you weren’t supposed to have if you followed Jesus. We quoted Philippians 4. We attended services. And when we started serving, we fit into expected roles. Anyone who deviated from the realm of expectations was tapped on the shoulder and talked to in the corner. It was easier—and expected—for us to sit on the comfy couch with everybody else, to wait our turn. The world, after all, was always chasing the ideal of being first. We weren’t supposed to.
Called to be First
When we did venture into the sacred space of going first, picking up a plate when everybody else decided to sit a while longer on the comfortable couch, we experienced the gut-wrenching, sweat-inducing, fear-ridden first steps towards a goal, a position, a way of doing life and ministry that left us feeling alone on the frontier.
After being called to ministry in my twenties, I was the first woman I heard preach. And then I became the first for others, too. It was weird—and often uncomfortable when someone came up to me and told me that, or said “you preach really well for a girl.” I knew they meant it as a compliment, yet I was singled out, designated as curiously different than the other pastors I knew. At times I didn’t want to be. At times, I just wanted to do what I was called to do, without being different, without anyone taking notice. There are times now that I still actually don’t want to be the first.
So why is it necessary for someone to be first?
Without a first, there can’t be a next.
Risk and Obedience
It’s funny that when we look back and tell the stories of those who went first, we tend to admire the people who had all eyes upon them, yet who continue to influence those who have come after them. We recall men and women who had plenty of problems, who encountered opposition both internally and externally in their time and place in history, but yet made the impossible possible and opened doors in our minds, careers, ministries, and society for those of us who came after.
In the history of my tribe, I’m thankful for women like Sarah Crosby, Barbara Heck, and Phoebe Palmer, who dared to follow God’s call on their lives and impacted thousands. In the history of the Church, I’m thankful for people like Paul, Timothy, Lydia, James, Peter, Mary Magdalene, Phoebe, and Thomas who ventured to new places and brought the Good News of Jesus to new people in new ways. Their risk-taking had nothing to do with being in the spotlight but everything to do with being obedient to God. Their stories show me that putting others first sometimes involving taking first steps. Their paths reveal that in His process of making all things new, God calls to those of us who have been the most hesitant to walk to the front. Their risk-taking had nothing to do with the spotlight but everything to do with being obedient. Click To Tweet
How might your hesitancy to go first or support someone else in going first be getting in the way of the new thing God wants to do?
There’s a cost to the person who humbly goes first. You might trip up over rocks and roots, plowing through the rough terrain towards a table that nobody in the room really thinks you should be at. You might be told by those in authority over you that they don’t know what to do with you, that they’ll have to “look into that,” that nobody has ever tried that before. And you might also find the carnage of discarded plates along each step of the way.
Where are you willing to go first for the gospel to be heard first?
The Church and the world are in need of firsts. They’re in need of women and men who stop just talking about change and reading about change from their places on the couch and are willing to step into and live in the uncharted territory, unfamiliar religious landscape, and unknown cultural identity of 2016.
Going first means following Him who went first— He who promises us that the words on this story we are in are not the last.