My Dad, Dr George O’Neil, is a very clever man. He has designed medical products which are used worldwide. His most significant invention is an implant which breaks the cycle of heroin addiction, and he has poured his life into helping almost 8000 addicts on the path to recovery over the past 15 years. He could have made millions out of his inventions – instead, every cent gets poured back into helping more people. He has received many awards along the way, and I’m always amused to find them in odd places around the house, rather than proudly on display. That’s not where he places his value.
Dad places value on the undervalued. He believes in people – even those who have proven themselves untrustworthy. He loves the unlovable. I believe there is more to his success than the clever design of the implant. I believe there is a significant therapeutic benefit from the way he treats people. Some of these people come to him at the lowest point in their life, when they are the least attractive in every way, and they are seen by the world as “junkies”, not worthy of value. Dad treats them with respect and honour. He invites them into his house and family. He speaks to them with hope and dignity. He places value on them, and for some, it is the first time they have ever been treated that way.
Of course he doesn’t have the time or energy to invite every single one of those 8000 people into his life. He doesn’t have to. You see, they tell each other the stories of what they have experienced. They know they are valued by George O’Neil, because he placed value on those who weren’t valued by the world. When he lifts up the weakest, he lifts everyone up. When he places value on the undervalued, he lets everyone know they are valuable. I believe it is the way he treats people that contributes more to their recovery than the implant itself. Time and time again, I have seen people take inspiration from being treated as human beings, with dignity and respect. People need to feel valued.
We live in a competitive culture. We place value on achievement and excellence. We celebrate the extraordinary. We hold up elite athletes and high achievers as role models, and aspire to be like them. We strive to achieve the look, the possessions, the status and the relationships that will give us value in the eyes of others.
There is a dark and negative side to competitive culture. On our way to the top, we have devalued ourselves and others. When we place value on “perfection”, we devalue everyone. When we aspire to “excellence”, we experience only criticism and failure. When life is a “competition”, everyone becomes a rival. When only one person can be the “winner”, that makes everyone else a loser. We seek for symbols of perfection, excellence and professionalism and give them value over ourselves (and we then critique them mercilessly to make ourselves feel better).
Church should be a counter-cultural experience where we lift up the weakest members, and place value on the undervalued. The Bible compares the church to a body with many different parts, and gives us instructions about where we should place value; “…those parts of the body that seem weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour … God has put the body together, giving greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.” (1 Corinthians 12:22-26). Jesus turned competitive culture on its head. He placed value on the undervalued – and in doing so, placed value on us all. He honoured those undeserving of honour. He treated children, women and foreigners with dignity and respect, in an age and culture where they were disrespected. Jesus showed us where we should place value, and it goes against our instinct and upbringing. “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” (1 Corinthians 1:27). God places value on the weak, on the foolish, on the less honorable, on the undervalued – and asks us to do the same.
The structure and layout of modern church services unintentionally places value on the people on the stage – the worship team, the lead pastor and ministry team, rather than on the congregation. Very few pastors go into ministry seeking to have all the focus and attention placed on them – it’s just part of the system. If we re-think the way we do church, we will be able to place value on the undervalued – just like Jesus did. And when we do so, we will experience a dramatic shift in the way people treat one another. When we place value on the undervalued, we place value on everyone. When we lift up the weakest, we are all lifted up. We will be released from competitive culture, and free to love and minister to one another, as Jesus modelled for us.