Your Gifts Aren’t a Mandate for Ministry

YoungpreacherNo one’s talents or gifts should be an expressway into ministry.

God has gifted each of us with specific talents and gifts from birth. But the fact that someone is musically talented, able to teach, or particularly inspirational is not a license for ministry.

With a modicum of biblical knowledge, an ability to speak Christianese, and some Christian living book titles under their belt, it’s easy for someone to make their gifts seem like a blessing to any church or religious organization. Out of need or desperation, churches will often fast track people into ministry before their ready—damaging both the church and the individual.

I don’t think many people infiltrate our churches with the intention of creating havoc. I think part of the problem is that we’ve created a culture that elevates ministry over faithfulness as a sign of Christian fidelity.

Instead of following Paul’s admonition to the Thessalonians to “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need” (1 Thess. 4:11–12), we push people to consider ministry the apex of the Christian life.

So, when people begin walking with Jesus, they’re not seeing communion with Christ as an end in itself, they’re seeing Christian spirituality as a gateway to Christian ministry with ministry being the ultimate goal.

The problem with gifts

When we elevate people in the church based on our need and their gifts, we put everyone in a precarious position.

Most people with musical gifts or any worship leading experience can tell you stories about walking into a church and having ministry literally thrown into their lap. But there’s a huge trap in promoting people based on their abilities.

If someone has amazing teaching/speaking skills or impeccable musical ability and you prematurely elevate them into ministry, there’s a great chance that they’ll be successful. You read that right—they’ll be successful. This isn’t necessarily a positive thing. Eventually their position is going to require a spirituality from them that they’re not going to be able to pull from their stockpile of gifts or fake their way through. That’s when things are going to start getting really messy.

I can think of so many public Christian figures and pastors operating out of their gifts and not their connection to the divine. Because they’ve been successful using their gifts, they presume that they’re operating out of an abundance of spirituality when, in truth, that are operating at a deficit. To draw on a Top Gunism, their abilities are writing checks their spirit can’t cash. This bankruptcy will catch up with them. Sadly, I speak from experience.

The problem isn’t, as we often presume, because they’re bad or have evil intent. The problem often exists because put people in positions of authority before they’re spiritually prepared for them.

Give me spirit-filled people

A problem shows up in Acts 6 when Hellenistic  Jewish widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food (think about that a minute . . . daily food distribution? Wow!). Because of this need, some people had to be chosen to ensure that no one was being overlooked. The disciples pulled the church together and made this decree:

“Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.”—Acts 6:3

What jumps out at me here is that the disciples had a pressing need, and still made spirituality a criteria in ensuring it got done correctly. I mean, come on—we’re talking about glorified waiters. Any organized person could have guaranteed that all the widows were getting their needs met.

I completely understand that there’s a danger in hyper-spiritualizing things like this. I mean, how do you create a rule for who is filled with the Spirit and who is not? That has great potential to become some new rule of law that become easy to manipulate. . . and then we’re back at square one.

On the other hand, to remove the spiritual component from the equation sets everyone up for trouble.

Tips for discerning someone’s fitness for ministry

First off, not every role in the church is equal. The prerequisites for a greeter are probably different from someone teaching Sunday school. The expectations placed on someone playing bass should be different than the person leading people into worship. It’s probably wise for your church to establish a ministry/maturity rubric. The intention isn’t to create an ironclad document with no flexibility, but tho have an important discussion about spiritual issues and how they relate to activities in your body.

*Can I just say that children’s ministry and nursery do not strike me as areas where less spirituality is required. I understand that this is an area with a lot of need and it’s difficult to get people involved, but we can’t let our critical need lead us into a precarious position. Our children represent the church at its most physically and spiritually vulnerable and the damage done by pushing people into that area has been catastrophic.

Beyond that, here are some tips for ensuring someone’s ready to begin ministering in your church:

Do they seem humble?

I’m not asking if they can mimic humility. I wrote a post entitled 4 Stupid Substitutes for Humility where I discussed some silly humility substitutes. Don’t be taken in by them.

No. What I am asking is: Do they generally care about the welfare and issues of others? Can they let a self-promotional opportunity pass? Do they need to be center stage and talking about themselves all the time?

Do they serve behind the scenes?

Will this individual do things that don’t display their gifts? Do they hang our after gatherings and help clean up? Do they have a reputation for joyfully doing what needs to be done?

There’s no “spiritual gift” for cleaning toilets, but toilets need to be cleaned. You learn a lot about people by what they’re willing to do.

Are they happy to volunteer?

I had a pastor say to me once that he likes paid staff more than volunteer staff because paid staff will respond to expectations—volunteers do the bare minimum. That just struck me as wrong.

If someone won’t volunteer their gifts or will only perform when you dangle a reward or title in front of them, they’re not ready for ministry . . . or staff.

Are they jockeying for leadership?

We need to be very careful not to promote people who are dead set on seeing themselves promoted. Generally, spiritual people are operating out of their gifts whether or not they’re in a recognized position. They’ll often shy away from someone trying to elevate them.

That said, just because someone turns you down for a position, doesn’t mean their spiritual. Maybe they’re just smart. It’s wise to discern the reason someone doesn’t want to be in ministry.

One sure sign they’re not ready for ministry is how important a title is to them. If they’re super excited about having “pastor” or “leader” attached to work they’re already doing (or want to do), it’s a red flag. It’s probably good to figure out why they’re attaching so much significance to it.

I remember how excited I was when I started ministry in my early twenties. If I just met you, you’d know within 5 minutes that I was a “youth pastor”—a sure sign that I was ill prepared for the position.

Are there any spiritual indicators?

This one’s difficult, and I’m nervous to give any examples. It’s relatively easy to display a spirituality that isn’t entirely real or to assume a lack of spirituality in someone based on our own personal criteria.

You do want to look past shallow measurements and find the fruit of someone plugged into the vine (John 15:5). Do they seem to draw quiet confidence from a deep reservoir? Are they Loving? Kind? Patient? Joyful?

Part of the responsibility for spiritual leadership is to find people with gifts and equip them to grow into people who can wield them effectively. We’re not just here to plug people into positions; we’re here to take people and prepare them to serve in a way that edifies everyone involved. We do ourselves and them a great disservice when we promote them prematurely.

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