Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Being Replaced By the Summer Temp

Suggested Reading: 3 John 5-10

During the summers when I went home from college, I tended to work at temp agencies a lot. There was one particular assignment that I will never forget. I was filling in for two weeks so that one of the company’s salesman could go on vacation. The first week I spent training with the lady I would replace, who, in turn, would fill in for the salesman. I thought it was overkill, but they were paying so I didn’t complain. But two days in I had a firm grasp on the duties I would be performing for the next two weeks and the lady I was filling in for went a little nuts. She was convinced that the company was bringing me in to replace her and so she went out of her way to prevent me from doing my job. She sabotaged my projects, prevented me from fixing a paper jam in the copier, yanked things out of my hand like I was a child, and generally made it impossible for me to do my job effectively because she was scared I would look good, which would make her look bad. She was so afraid that I would steal her position with the company (even though I was going back to school in a month) that she prevented me from actually doing the company any good. I don’t think she did a very good job filling in for the salesman, either, because she was always watching over my shoulder making certain I couldn’t do my job.

In the book of 3 John, the apostle wrote about a similar situation that had developed in the church to which he was writing. The apostle wrote, I wrote to the church about this, but Diotrophes, who loves to be the leader, refuses to have anything to do with us…Not only does he refuse to welcome the traveling teachers, he also tells others not to help them. And when they do help, he puts them out of the church (3 John 1:9-10, NLT). Diotrophes was a man who liked being in charge and so he refused to allow anyone to have any influence who might actually help his particular church. When other people did well or provided something of value, Diotrophes felt threatened, and so he stopped them from even showing up.

Diotrophes’ attitude, sadly, is not uncommon. Quite often we feel insecure and threatened when other people do well or provide valuable assistance. We fear becoming obsolete or dispensable. Divorced parents feel this keenly when their children begin to like their ex’s new spouse. Teachers and preachers can experience it when the person that fills in for them gets rave reviews. When we see someone else who is just as good (if not better) at that one thing that we used to do best for the PTA or the church, we can get jealous and begin to guard our territory, becoming very defensive about the duties or positions that we feel belong to us.

Discovering others who can serve the people and organizations that we love should never threaten us. And living in constant fear and insecurity will eventually exhaust us, alienate the people we are trying to serve, and backfire in our faces dramatically. Rather than getting insecure, we should be glad that someone else is working alongside us, that we might have someone from whom we can learn to improve ourselves, or that we have someone who can help carry the load when things get tough.  But refusing to let others help because we are worried about losing our prominence, position, prestige, or control is selfish and hurtful to the people we claim to serve. If someone else can do something better than we can, letting them do it and learning from them is the essence of wisdom, and it demonstrates that the people we serve are more important than our own feelings of importance.

If you find yourself worrying more about preserving your position than about doing what's best for the people you serve, take a step back. Intentionally set aside your insecurity and self-doubt. Doing so will probably scare you to death, but doing the right thing often counts far more than we know.

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