You are exceptional. Everyone else is exceptional. Exceptionalism is a mark of your created destiny and identity. Uniqueness and exceptionalism have limits, however, and should not become excuses for refusing to be accountable or justifying bad behavior and disobedience. You aren’t exceptional in the sense of being the exception to every rule.
We recognize and celebration exceptionalism because it relates directly to the one-of-a-kind purpose of individual life. We recognize the ‘fingerprint’ and DNA individualism that defines personal destiny uniquely; we also recognize the protocols of the kingdom of God that apply universally. There are several “everyone” notations to the Message!
God loves to use unique people. God loves to produce uniqueness in “ordinary” people just as much! God celebrates exceptionalism and shows this tendency in Mary, Elijah, David, and Paul, for example; He often chooses to use someone uniquely as He did Simon Peter: “I have prayed that you (singular) will restore the disciples; satan has received permission to sift you (plural).”
While the Bible helps us understand that God can do things uniquely and exceptionally as a matter of strategy: He does something that doesn’t become a principle. He speaks through a donkey but doesn’t make the donkey a prophet, for example. In any case, God never breaks His own rules in the sense that His makes exceptions to protocols and principles: “Now, you are an exception shepherd of the sheep and unlike every other shepherd you can abuse the sheep. Or, your prophetic words won’t need any judging. Or, as an apostle you have no peers.”
Exceptionalism that becomes “I’m an exception to the rule” is dangerously dysfunctional and deceptive. It can become a demanding desire, a work of flesh, a continuous impulse to stand out or be seen uniquely. Exceptionalism can be an extension of an expectation that the entire world should celebrate you as much as your momma did, the demand that the world “get with the program” about how awesome you are, or an unquenchable need for being seen as “special.”
Leaders with the unfortunate luxury of surrounding themselves with people willing to play to this deception often move into silliness and oddness that causes others to look on with dismay, puzzled by the “don’t they know they look silly?” appearances of a faulty exceptionalism.
Usually, exceptional people are bit disinterested in their uniqueness, don’t recognize it, and are surprised when someone mentions it – that is, really exceptional people are so naturally exceptional they make very difficult things appear easy and effortless. The other extreme is people demanding to be treated as exceptions when they are not, and people convinced of their exceptionalism by well-meaning parents or leaders. There is a big difference between building a person’s real strengths, gifts, and abilities and giving them a lasting impression that the level at which they function will cause them to “blow everybody’s minds.”
Unhealthy and unrealistic exceptionalism produces extremes of discontent and dysfunction.
Consider the exceptionalism of Saul and David. Both are exceptional: they share a specific, kingly anointing, or perhaps we should say they have the same anointing. Yet, the exceptionalism of Saul leads him making an exception for himself in very dangerous and deadly ways while David’s exceptionalism leads him to function on principle. Both were certainly exceptional. Both were anointed. Both were set in place by God to do mighty things. Yet, the exceptionalism of Saul produced a demand to be treated as an exception and the exceptionalism of David seemed to produce a healthy and realistic faith in his purpose and assignment. Saul’s exception cost him the kingdom. David’s exception won him the hearts of the people. Saul made himself an exception and offered the offering, failed to fully obey by making Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle exceptions. David made his anointing and assignment exceptional by faithful obedience in protecting his father’s sheep and His Father’s sheep.
Exceptional vs Being an Exception
In some ways I see these two extremes as polar opposites. Each of them appears as an extreme consequence of a opposite personal motivations. God’s design makes you an exception. Your design makes you “an exception.” The latter is often excused by the former with no support for the assumption.
Jesus replaced Himself with a team and designed the Body to be led by team ministry. He didn’t replace Himself with an exception to the rule but with exceptional people. While I say “Amen” when someone says God wants everyone of the members of the Body to do great things, I also know that some of them are exceptionally different from others in terms of destiny, disposition, anointing, gifts, and assignment. They are all equally unequal because they are all exceptionally unexceptional. [Now, that is either exceptionally confusing or enlightening.] They are all children but each a unique child. They are all born anew and Spirit-filled but they are all uniquely functioning in this new life and anointing. They are all kingdom citizens but uniquely assigned within the kingdom. They all have the same Spirit but the same Spirit is functioning in and through them uniquely.
“Do all have…?” “Are all…?” Well, yes and no. Very few people have a good grasp of their uniqueness so as to function exceptionally, and the leaders in their lives should be able to help them with that. Many people wish to be treated as exceptions, and the leaders in their lives should be able to do something about that as well!
Some people demand to be “accepted for who I am” when “who I am” ain’t “who they are.” In some way, they will attempt to be an exception when challenged about this unhealthy deception, and their sense of exceptionalism will become a barrier to breakthrough. At some point, they establish an exception for themselves as a basis for resisting personal transformation when that “exception” is actually a barrier to the fuller release and establishing of their real exceptionalism.
For example, Saul of Tarsus showed himself to be exceptional as a terror to early believers based upon an exceptional pedigree of Judaism. Exceptionally zealous for his exceptionalism, he outdid himself doing God a favor, destroying believers’ lives. As an apostle he did exceptional things, even saw God do “unusual miracles” through sweat rags and work aprons taken to the diseased and demonized. He was a stand-out. Yet, Paul also made it clear that he was not exempt from suffering, attack, oppression, persecution, betrayal, and controversy. He experienced both abundance and lack, ship wreck and discomfort, snake bite and prison.