When I was young. I worked at a Christian Summer Camp, Bethay Campfor 5 summers. By the 2nd summer, I wondered whether I wanted to make Christian camping a life-long profession. By the 4th summer, I knew that it takes a special person to want to do camp ministry summer after summer, decade after decade.
My fifth year, we got a new camp director. He was great in some ways, and a bit annoying in other ways. After five summers I got into some ruts and did not always like his shaking things up with new ideas (poking a bit of fun at my traditionalism). Later, I found out that his new ideas weren’t new. They were just old ideas from his old camp. That added to my annoyance, but that’s neither here nor there.
Our new director put up a sign on the bulletin board that said, “NO ONE IS INDISPENSABLE”. Presumably, this message was meant to shake us out of a sense of self-importance. We were there to minister and serve God, but it is not about us. (We had a saying, “Camp is for campers, but staffers rule.”)
But that statement, “NO ONE IS INDISPENSABLE” has been on my mind for more than 20 years. It is generally true (though I am not sure the certified lifeguard at camp was “indispensable”) but it is only half of the story.
The other half of the story is that “NO ONE IS REPLACEABLE.” Each person is unique. No one can be an exact replacement for the skills, experiences, personality, and circumstances of another.
We like simple truths, but the profound is often found in the form of the paradox.
NO ONE IS INDISPENSABLE, and NO ONE IS REPLACEABLE. We need to grab hold of both truths. Recent works have been concerned about the loss of missionaries. A good example of this is “Too Valuable to Lose: Exploring the Causes and Cures of Missionary Attrition” by William Taylor. It is a very good book, recognizing that we need to hold onto missionaries… no one is completely replaceable. But we still need to reject the sense of privilege that some missionaries have… that God and locals cannot carry on God’s work without them. No one is indispensable.
The near worship of some Christian celebrities, be they preachers, musicians, writers, missionaries, etc., is destructive. No one is indispensable. However, church groups that mistreat their own workers because they are supposed to be “doing it for God, not for man” is also flawed. No one is replaceable.
The “creative tension” (to use a phrase popularized by David Bosch) between the two seemingly contradictory statements is where Christian ministry must function.