Three Troubles that come with Being First

Being first can be a huge advantage sometimes.  Sometimes.

But sometimes the pressure to be first can cause trouble for us...

1) Consistency vs. Rightness

Former President Clinton spoke at Sen. Byrd's funeral today.  I saw part of his eulogy on CNN.  At first, I was appalled that he brought up Sen. Byrd's former association with the KKK.  But he made an important point.  When politicians are in the wrong, they should change their views.

This is incredibly difficult for us, not just for politicians.  If we change our opinions or views, we are accused of being hypocrites.  I've never met a Small Group leader or someone in a Small Group who likes being called a hypocrite.  We want to be known to be consistent.  But no one can be right all the time.

So, why do we consider it hypocrisy if someone changes their mind?  Some of this has to do with the way we communicate our views in the first place: too absolutely, too ungenerously.  Some of this has to do with an under-value of learning.

In an age with YouTube and internets that never forget, the pressure to be consistent will only increase, even at the expense of adapting to lessons learned.

What would happen if we valued being right over being consistent?

2) Legacy vs. adaptation

InterVarsity is one of the oldest transdenominational campus ministries in the United States.  We were into Small Group Bible Studies before Small Group ministry gained popularity.  We trained Small Group leaders before my parents were born.

It used to be that being the first was an extraordinarily high value.  Seth Godin writes about this on his blog from time to time.  The first person to come up with an idea or create a product was laps around the track ahead of their competition.  But not anymore.

It's not enough to be first, anymore.  Legacy counts for little in a postmodern world.  People want to know if what you're doing is appropriately contextualized, adapted to them.  As the world changes and shifts, new ideas and new strategies are going to appear.  As much as I love Small Group ministry, Small Groups may not always be the best way to reach college students.  Inevitably, we'll need to adapt.

But adaptation is difficult.  Being the first in requires a lot of investment.  It involves inventing, creating, testing.  It's expensive and exhausting.  It takes a lot of life.  And all that makes it tough to scrap whatever it is you created, even if it's no longer relevant.

What would happen if - holding fast to our allegiances and mission - we scrapped the outdated strategies and structures that are holding us back?

3) Originality vs. faithfulness

I've been around academia for a decade now.  And in the publish-or-perish world, being the first to think of or articulate an idea has immense value.  Your dissertation has to be on something new.

Have you ever tried to talk to a new professor about his or her dissertation?  They usually don't want to talk about it.  It's not that they're bored with it (well...sometimes), it's that it's usually obscure.  In order to be new and first, people often ditch the relevant and practical.

And it's not just the academic world where the obsession with the original resides.  As a Small Group leader, I feel tremendous pressure to find an observation in Scripture that no one's noticed before.  I don't want to quote someone else.  And I know that my Small Group would be impressed if I created something new.

But the call of Christ is the call to faithfulness.  The gospel of Christ is the same gospel believed by Christians in all places at all times.  We don't have a lot new to say.

This doesn't mean that we don't have anything to say or that creativity is unfaithfulness, but this obsessive desire to be the first to think of something, the first to say something, this desire drives us away from the important, true things that have already been thought and said. 

What would happen if we focused our creativity to apply and communicate the ancient in original ways rather than to produce something irrelevant but new?

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