Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Missing God’s Giftings

A few years ago I was involved with a church headed by a young pastor full of vim, vigor, and himself. His dad was prominent in the denomination and that was his ticket, so he felt, to ecclesiastic success.

Don’t get me wrong. He was an okay guy and not a horrible pastor; just rough around the edges. And not too skilled at matching people to ministries they were gifted for. In fact, he tended to ignore the “gifts” part of the equation choosing instead to apply his own blanket test.

Having seen a need, sensing God’s prompting to fill it, and knowing I had the gifting to handle it, I approached the pastor and shared my desire to address this ministry need. His response floored me.

He said no. Period. End of discussion.

However, he suggested, perhaps I could take over the coffee setup early on Sunday mornings. By doing this “menial” task I would thus prove to him my humility and true servant’s heart.

I initially declined and the need God placed on my heart went unmet. Yet, someone who was gifted in hospitality continued to manage the coffee setup. I’m not sure where the pastor would have moved this servant had I chosen to bump them from the task for which they were wonderfully gifted. (Later, when the person handling the coffee needed to step down I took it over.)

I wonder how many pastors and other ministry leaders are making the same mistake this young pastor did?

God does the gifting and calling

When God instructed Moses to build the tabernacle, He also instilled in various individuals all the necessary skills and giftings needed to complete the work. For example, Bezalel, who God “filled…with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts-- to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic craftsmanship” Exodus 35:31-33 (NIV).

Today, when it comes to building up the church, followers of Christ are also given spiritual gifts. These gifts enable each of us, as various functioning parts of the body of Christ, to share in the work of the church. Paul writes about these gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:5-11 (NIV), stating:
“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.”
There are several other New Testament passages addressing spiritual gifts. The primary points to grasp are (1) that there are many gifts, (2) they all come from God, (3) every believer is gifted in some way, and (4) how a believer is gifted plays into how they serve in the church. God does not call someone to something that He doesn’t also gift them to do.

Fitting people to ministry

While it may seem like a reasonable idea to require everyone to serve in a “humble” or “menial” role before taking on “bigger things,” I don’t believe this is what God intended.

First, there are no “menial” tasks in the Kingdom of God. Serving in any role implies a sense of humility and sacrifice.

While the term menial can imply something involving humble service, it also carries the implication of being demeaning, lowly, and even degrading. It’s the latter meaning that is usually meant when the word is used. Labeling a task as “menial” demeans the task and anyone doing it.

Cleaning toilets and other janitorial work often falls into this “menial” category. Calling it menial demeans the one doing it. Any work done for the glory of God is not tainted. Any worker doing work for the glory of God is not tainted.

Doing janitorial work in a church takes as much commitment and dedication as serving on the board.

Second, God does the gifting. To ignore this is to deny God’s knows what He’s doing.

Gifts are given through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. It’s the job of pastors and other leaders to work with individuals to discern their giftings and tap into them.

To force fit any believer into a task that is deemed menial merely to test their willingness to serve humbly insults the God who both gifted them and placed in their heart the desire to serve. It’s a false and unnecessary test.

For a new believer just beginning to find their way, suggesting they try out various tasks is not a bad idea. Through trial and error, they can begin to more clearly recognize how God has and hasn’t gifted them. However, this is not necessarily a good tactic for a seasoned believer who has a pretty good grasp on what their giftings are.

The gifting and the work are holy things, and when the worker is gifted for the work, amazing things can happen.

Where to start

There are a number of tools available to help someone discover their spiritual gifts, below are three simple steps that can at least get you started in the right direction.

Note: Over all of this there needs to be prayer going on. Prayer is not a “step” in any process when it comes to the church and ministry. Prayer is the essence of a church’s ministry and is ongoing.
  1. Are they an introvert or extrovert? When seeking to connect people to ministry needs in the church, the basic consideration is personality type: are they an extrovert or an introvert. Recognizing and acknowledging this basic characteristic can go a long way in avoiding burning out someone by pushing them into a ministry that grates against who they are. For example, an introvert is probably not a good fit for being in the public eye as a greeter, while an extrovert could be crushed by having to perform a quiet, passive task.
  2. What have they enjoyed doing and had success at? Next, talk to the person about the kinds of responsibilities they’ve had in the past that they truly enjoyed as well as those they hated. God isn’t a mean task-master who will make you do what you hate. He created you to enjoy how you were created. Doing a simple inventory of likes and don’t likes can help point a person to how they are gifted.
  3. Is there a need matching their perceived giftings? If a person approaches a pastor offering to address a need that truly exists, they need to be paid attention to. If there is no need, then that could be a red flag.
Every believer has value in the Kingdom of God and every believer has a role in His Kingdom. It’s the responsibility of every believer to work with their local church leaders to connect the gifts God has given them to the needs in their church. And no church leader should block what God wants to do. It really isn’t rocket science.

Just for fun

Below are two videos related to serving in the church. In the first, both the congregant and the pastor are missing the mark in the conversation; neither is “right.” The second video presents in a very blunt manner a common failing when extrovert pastors or leaders don’t “get” their introvert church members. (NOTE: One has apparently been removed at the source.)




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