Entitlement vs Generosity

This heart-searching post comes from Dan Higgins. As he processed his own transition, he wrote to other leaders who are experiencing and leading change.

Dear Brave Leaders,
This is something I have been pondering and felt led to put thoughts to paper. In the midst of challenging transition with our ministry, I have observed within myself and others the propensity for feeling a sense of entitlement. It is a subtle and dangerous situation, but it is all together understandable. Entitlement leads to conflict and an increasing dissatisfaction, especially with the changes and the people involved in the change. Entitled people are obstinate, proud, stubborn and critical. They are no fun to be around or work with.

What is entitlement?

Entitlement = The belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment.

Synonyms: rights, privilege, dueness, preemptive declaration, prerogative, pretension

Where does it come from? 

I think much of entitlement in Christian ministry context is often below the surface where many people are unaware of what is actually going on in their hearts. A lot of it comes from a simple equation.

Because of __________, I deserve _________.

Because of:

  • My past performance
  • My unique abilities
  • My position
  • My sacrifice
  • My contribution
  • My work in building the previous version of our organization
  • My ethnicity
  • My hard work
  • My connections
  • My intelligence
  • My gifts
  • My suffering and long term service
  • My loyalty
  • How you or the organization has hurt me

You get the idea. The list goes on and on.  The “deserve list” can be equally long.

I deserve:

  • Respect
  • Authority
  • Position
  • To be heard
  • Special privilege
  • Influence
  • A seat at the decision table
  • A healthy budget
  • To get to do what I want

To be clear, not everything in both lists is bad. It is the combination, in addition to a spirit of pride and demandedness (a new word made up by me), that makes it destructive for everyone, but especially for the person with the sense of entitlement. That person can be very destructive and spread pain and discontent liberally.

I have found that although the person is causing harm and destruction, often times it is because of past hurt or injury. If you picture a cornered and wounded animal that kicks wildly at anyone who comes near, that is a pretty good picture of what can be happening in the heart. The person is kicking and damaging and hurting others but it comes from a place of hurt and woundedness.

What is a better way forward?

Only by deeply experiencing the Gospel on an ongoing basis can one be set free from a demanding sense of entitlementEntitlement says “because of me, I deserve.”  It is self-centered and mostly centered around works. The Gospel says because of the incredible love of God through Jesus Christ, we are forgiven and free as children of the Father.  The Gospel redeems us and sets us free. Our sins and past misgivings are forgiven once and for all. We do nothing to deserve this amazing love and grace, but it is freely given to us by God’s good pleasure. Philip Yancy says:

When God looks upon my life graph he sees not jagged lines towards good and bad but rather the steady line of goodness of Jesus Christ captured in a moment and applied to me for all of eternity. (paraphrase)

Not only do we get forgiveness because of the work of Jesus, but we also get credit for all His righteous acts. When we are viewed from heaven, we are seen with the purity and goodness of Jesus Christ. We don’t deserve it, but we are given it because God loves us.

Deeply pondering and applying the truth of the Gospel sets us free from our  entitlement.  It turns us from being demanding, self-seeking, and self-protecting to free leaand generous people. Generosity and gratitude are great markers of someone who is experiencing the Gospel. We get to move forward ministering from a place of stability and security in the midst of transition and change.

Insecure people fight to protect what they perceive to be theirs.
Secure people can believe the best in others and give power and authority away.

We are God’s children and should be the most free and secure people on earth. The Gospel sets us free from entitlement.

That is not to say we do this perfectly. That is not to say that change has not brought about real change and real hurt. I am not advocating that we allow anyone and everyone to run roughshod over us in midst of change process. There are likely lots of times in midst of change that we need to stand up and voice what we believe to be true. However we need to do this hard and good work work as free, Gospel centered people.

I write this not mainly for you, but rather for me. I am in the midst of challenging change, and my reactions and anger and entitlement have often surprised me and left me feeling untethered and insecure. The Gospel is my only hope.

Some questions to ponder:

  • What from the “because of” list connects with you? Where have you seen it played out in you? In others?

  • What from the “I deserve” list connects with you? Where have you seen it played out in you? In others?

  • What helps you to experience the Gospel and love of Christ?

  • How do you respond when you fail to experience and trust in the Gospel?

  • Do you need to resolve conflict and/or apologize to another? Go!

For more heart focus sessions, please check out The Heart of the Leader tab in the Leadership Framework area.

Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

Dan Higgens

Dan serves as the Executive Director of International Missions with Cru US. After serving many years in Asia with his family, he lives now in Orlando, Florida. Dan has a huge heart for the people of the world and for the staff who reach out to them.

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