“Most of our people know their spiritual gifts,” the pastor said, “but they don’t know what to do with them.”
This comment, which I’ve heard at several churches, grows out of a common misconception–that our spiritual gifts tell us what ministry to do.
I sometimes ask church leaders: “I have the gift of teaching. Where would I fit in your church?” Someone always says, “Sunday school teacher.”
“But I don’t teach Sunday school,” I say. “So am I missing God’s call?” I then list ways I teach–writing, preaching, consulting, leading retreats–and they tell me it’s okay if I don’t teach Sunday school. Knowing your gift doesn’t tell you where to use it.
Look at this from the other direction. Say your church is starting a Habitat for Humanity ministry team. How many of the gifts listed in Romans 12:6-8 will that team need? Giving? Encouragement? Serving? Leaderhip? Compassion? Speaking gifts?
The team needs all seven gifts, but so do many ministries. Knowing your gifts wouldn’t tell you whether to join that ministry.
Gifts and calls are related, but different. 1 Corinthians 12:4-5 says, “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.”
How can I know what service (ministry) God is calling me to for this season? Pain and joy are major clues.
- PAIN: What breaks God’s heart that also breaks your heart? Where in your world is the pain you most long to heal? Is it homelessness? Latchkey children? Racism? Students who don’t know God? Unhealthy marriages?
- JOY: What kind of ministry would you love to do, along with others, to touch this pain with God’s love? What is the better world you dream of in response to this need? A world where homeless people have food and shelter? Where the racial groups work together? Where troubled marriages find healing? Can you imagine yourself as part of a team meeting that need?
Frederick Buechner writes, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”* We encounter God’s call at the intersection of the world’s pain and our joy.
Your passion points to the ministry God is calling you to. So, if God is calling you to join the Habitat team, you’ll be passionate about providing better housing. But whether your primary role on the team is to pound nails or recruit volunteers depends on your spiritual gifts and other abilities.
Bottom line: Your call (passion) tells you which ministry team to join; your gifts and other abilities tell you what position to play on that team.
- What breaks God’s heart that also breaks your heart?
- What would you love to do, along with a group of others, to heal this pain?
- What gifts and abilities could you bring to a team responding to this need?
* Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC (New York: Harper & Row, 1973), 95.