I’ve been thinking a lot about my upcoming sabbatical starting February 1. I’ve been thinking about how the staff and church where I pastor will fare without me. And I’ve been trying to do as Paul advises in Romans 12:3 – to not think of myself more highly than I ought, but rather to judge myself soberly. Paul’s Greek word for soberly can be rendered sanely. Have a sane, not a crazy cockeyed, view of yourself, he’s saying. Look clear-eyed at who you are, with neither hubris nor false modesty. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Know your limits. Know your place.
So I said to myself, self, you are not irreplaceable.
And self, or Spirit, or somesuch, answered back: No, you are irreplaceable. You’re just not indispensable.
I’d never before considered the difference between those two things, irreplaceability and indispensability. I always thought they were the same thing.
They’re not. Everyone is, by definition, irreplaceable. There’s no one quite like you, or me. If I died or quit, I couldn’t be replaced. There are just not enough short bald motorcycle-riding, scuba-diving, loud-mouthed 51-year old pastor-writers with 3 children and a wife of 26 years named Cheryl available to step into the role.
What a relief.
But none of us is indispensable. Everyone, by the unbending laws of nature, will one day not be here, yet the world will still turn, tides will still ebb and flow, bad movies will still be made, and somewhere, someday, McDonald’s will serve its trillionth hamburger (they’re now around 250 billion).
And all this without you.
If I died or quit, the church could easily find someone to take my role, better than me in some ways, horrifically, tragically inadequate in others (it’s hard to imagine, for instance, anyone doing a better impersonation of a Scottish highlander).
This little distinction helps me. We are all irreplaceable – which, to some measure, is good news: do we ever want another Idi Amin? If your dog died, and you got another, would you want every last quality of the last one replicated in the next one? If your spouse… well, you get where I’m going. We’re all irreplaceable.
But we’re not a one of us indispensable – which, by all measures, is good news: do you want the business or ministry or family that you are part of now to cease to exist, or to fall to pieces, when you’re not here?
So for five and a half months starting in February, I’ll have to miss my church, and they me, and realize that there’s no fitting substitute for any of us.
No one will replace you.
No one will replace me.
And for those same 5 months, we’ll all do just fine.