On Joe Staley, writing scripts, and discerning gifts

San Francisco Offensive Tackle Joe Staley wasn’t always an offensive tackle. He was one of the players who tried to avoid getting tackled, after he caught the ball. In high school he played wide receiver. 

But everything changed in college.

I started out as a skinny 200 pound wide receiver coming out of high school,” Staley said. “I was a sprinter and all of that stuff. I was really fast. I ran a 21 in the 200. Then I got fat. I went to college. Brian Kelly came in my sophomore year. Played tight end my freshman year in college. Brian Kelly came in and said ‘We do not use tight ends in our offense but we want to keep you on the field in some way. We are going to move you to tackle.’ I cried my eyes out. I am not afraid to admit it. Almost transferred but then stayed, gained weight, busted my butt and got drafted.

He was a first round draft pick and is now playing a prized position Left Tackle, in the Super Bowl. Not exactly how he would have “drawn it up,” but I don’t see him having any problems with the “script.” Here are a few thoughts.

1.) Sometimes, or rather quite often, the scripts that are written for us by God are far different than the scripts we draw up for ourselves. But they are always better. Not better in a more lucrative, more high profile way (although they may be sometimes like this one), but better in a redemptive way. God will always make the script redemptive, and He will do it in at least two ways. First of all, He is redeeming you from the power of sin and using your situation in unique ways, which may not (I can’t prove this part but I think its true) be the case in a different situation. But secondly, and sometimes this is actually easier to see, your script is redemptive for others. This perspective is more easily forgotten.

In II Cor 1:3-11, Paul explains that his affliction (not the way he would write his script if he had a say), opens the door for God’s comfort, which can be experienced in all situations. But his afflictions and the comfort which follow has become part of Paul’s script SO THAT others can be comforted. The script God writes for individuals is not only for individuals but FOR OTHERS. My depression, and back surgery at young age, were/are intended not only for my comfort and redemption/sanctification but for the comfort, redemption/sanctification of others.

I’m aware of individuals coming to faith simply because of the affliction/comfort of another. Affliction/comfort is evangelistic at times. Our scripts aren’t over. We know the end. We just don’t know the middle, but we know that God has our good-and the good of others through us-in mind more than Brian Kelly had Joe Staley’s best interests in mind.

2.) Transition from the front to behind-the-scenes. No position in football is less glamorous then offensive lineman. They are usually fat, wear knee braces, and no one knows their names unless they give up a sack or get a penalty. No position is more glamorous then wide receiver. Running backs don’t last that long. Receivers get more miles, and thus more publicity, and contract extensions. Yet few positions are more important than offensive lineman. They can make QB’s and running backs look good. They can make wide receivers look good because they give them time to get open. 

Sometimes public spiritual gifts are more valued today, as they were in Corinth. Preaching is important, but without evangelists bringing folks, who would there be to preach? To go from a public ministry like leading a bible study to something more behind-the-scenes can be tough. I love this honesty.

I cried my eyes out. I am not afraid to admit it. Almost transferred but then stayed… 

It was hard. He cried. He almost left. I wish there were more “almost’s” in churches today instead of the quick flight to somewhere else that “truly appreciates me and my gifts.”

Now this transition may just be for a season. There may be new opportunities and gift development. Or it may be for a career (like Joe Staley). But remember behind-the-scenes-gifts are every bit as important.

3.) Gifts are best discovered and developed in community. It took someone else to recognize that Joe Staley wasn’t going to be a productive wide receiver at the college level. It wasn’t Joe. He wouldn’t have made that choice. Spiritual gifts inventory tests can be quite helpful. But they are no substitute for asking someone, “Where do you see me best serving and being used?” Other people are fallible. But so are you and I. The more folks involved in discerning spiritual gifts, the less fallibility (as a general rule).

I’ve never been a fan of Brian Kelly. But I’m thankful, as I’m sure Joe is, that he loved Joe (or perhaps the success of his offense) enough to tell him the truth and get the most out of his gifting.

The tension of spiritual gifts

The local church functions as a church only when its members are exercising their spiritual gifts. And below is a passage to remind us ALL gifts are vital for the health, mission, and multiplication of more churches.

1Cor. 12:14   For the body does not consist of one member but of many.  15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.  16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.  17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?  18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.  19 If all were a single member, where would the body be?  20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
We need constant reminders that the public positions like teaching and preaching are not to be viewed as more important than more behind the scenes gifts like encouragement, mercy, hospitality, discernment, etc….But I’m realizing that even when gifts are believed to be equally important, there is still an issue. Knowing that alone doesn’t help people get along. For instance, we can recognize the need for the diversity of gifts, but getting along within that diversity of gifts can become quite labor intensive. Someone gifted in teaching may not get along as well with someone gifted in evangelism; both can recognize the importance of the other, but they still don’t live harmoniously.
We know that the Spirit doesn’t give ALL gifts to each individual person. You wouldn’t need community if that were the case. Instead he chooses to gift particular people with particular gifts. So not everyone is gifted at everything. Nothing new there. But what I’m beginning to think is that what makes someone gifted at one thing, makes them not so gifted at another, and in turn makes them more annoying to another. 
The person gifted in evangelism may not be as gifted in discipleship. He/she may be great at meeting, and making new contacts, have a boldness in sharing his/her faith, and see great fruit in his/her evangelism (new disciples are made). However that boldness might make them less tactful within the body of Christ or less patient with others to grow in their faith. The adventure of sharing the gospel, could make the laborious work of teaching or teaching prep seem like busy work. When you put these two people together on a team, what makes them so uniquely gifted, can be the very thing that causes friction between them. One is more bent toward reaching those outside the church and the other toward building up the body (although all believers are called to play some role in both). 
The person administratively gifted paired up with someone who is more creative and merciful, can obviously bring some tension. The creative merciful person might get his/her feelings hurt simply because he/she is more empathetic. What makes him/her merciful, is the very thing that might make him/her not good as a leader/administrator And what makes him/her creative, is what will drive the administrative person nuts. 
 
This is obviously true with personalities, but I’m beginning to think its also true with spiritual gifts.
The solution is to recognize not just that we are different and need each other, but that the very gift that makes us effective in one area, makes us ineffective in another. The very thing that makes us good in one area can (it doesn’t always) then make relationships with those of differing gifts quite difficult.
But then we really do have to celebrate the gifts of others and recognize that if they were the way we wanted them to be, they wouldn’t have the same gifting and personality and wouldn’t bring to the body of Christ what we need them to bring (via the Spirit of course). And we need their gifts, even when their gifts will can bring tension.  We have to celebrate all the gifts, recognizing that differing gifts will bring both blessing and tension.