In the business world this is known as the Peter Principle, named after Lawrence J. Peter. People will tend to be promoted until they reach their level of incompetence, said Dr. Peter. That is, you can keep giving someone work to do – more and more and more – and finally the work will exceed his or her abilities. Then, none of the work will pass grade, not even the work once performed with excellence. The Apostle Paul calls this dynamic the Body Principle.
He wrote in Romans 12, via Eugene Peterson’s folksy translation from the Message, “Since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t.”
My experience in the church is that we violate this very principle, and attempt to force individuals “to be something they aren’t,” demanding that everyone do everything. We create fine “animal schools” that foster frustration, shame, and false competition. Everyone ends up tepidly average, and we fail to allow individuals to develop their unique gifts and callings.
Not everyone can go on a mission trip, nor should this demand be placed upon them. Not everyone can preach a sermon or sing in the choir, nor should this be required. Not everyone can order life around the appointed worship and service times on the church sign, nor should this be a non-negotiable mandate. Not everyone will fit into the church’s well-ordered, highly structured, cookie-cutter curriculum, nor should there be the expectation otherwise.
We are all gifted differently – radically so – and people must be allowed to explore, expand, and enhance their distinct talents. People must be given space and place to “to their part,” whatever part that is. It’s a principle that works, not only in the animal kingdom, but also in the kingdom of God.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author. His newest book is “The Gospel According to Waffle House.” You can read more at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.Cornerstone Christian Fellowship