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5 Truths About Empowering People to Change the World

People

Photo by Tim Pirfält.

In the Bourne series, the assassins (who are the central characters) are referred to by their controlling agency merely as “assets.” Sometimes I fear that within Christian ministry, we fall into the terrible habit of treating people as assets – instruments to help us get ministry done successfully rather than people with souls. One of the values I remind myself of often is that people are not a means for getting ministry done. People are the ministry. And those who volunteer are not placed in our path to make us successful, but so that we can help them to grow and to move forward.

To keep ourselves from the edge of the slippery slope of using people to get ministry done, it’s important to remember some hard, unchanging truths…

1. Ministry is about relationships, not results.

If we think like much of the surrounding corporate world, as much of the western church does, then we see goals and figures without seeing people. I’m all for looking at numbers to celebrate and evaluate, but never for the purpose of determining who is and isn’t useful to the kingdom. It isn’t about what a volunteer or staff member can produce in the way of results for us. It’s about what kind of growth we can help to produce in that leader. Growing leaders typically have growing ministries, but numerical success is the byproduct of healthy relationships.

2. People are souls, with or without roles.

If we ever leave someone in a role because of their talent while their personal life is falling apart, we’ve failed. As leaders and shepherds, it is our calling to create healing and health deep within the souls of people. So when people walk into the room, our first question shouldn’t be are you ready to get to work? It should rather be something like how’s life going? How’s your soul doing?

3. Jesus modeled people empowerment perfectly.

Jesus wept over people, prayed over people, and eventually died for people. He gave up His time and His comfort to serve others. And He accepted the rejection, criticism, and abandonment that He would receive from His people, even knowing full well that it was coming. Then at the end of His earthly story, He released His people to go change everything with the gospel. If you want to know how to empower people, start by looking at Jesus.

4. Everybody matters, and every life has dignity.

To use anyone for what they can produce, or to reject someone because we doubt they can produce, is to insult the One who created all people with inherent dignity. Moses even learned this lesson when he questioned his own ability to be a persuasive speaker. God responded simply, “Who made your mouth?” In the business world, we select the most qualified. But in the Kingdom, everybody gets to participate!

5. I’m a people too.

Some awesome mentors and friends have poured into me, expecting nothing in return. Someone is waiting for me to pay it forward. It’s the way this idea of ministry is supposed to work. Don’t use people, empower them.

How To Discover Your Spiritual Gifts

ShapedEvery believer in Jesus has been granted abilities that are empowered by the Holy Spirit. We are all born with various talents, but spiritual gifts are given to us when we become a Christian. The seeds of those gifts are often evident from birth, but the Holy Spirit empowers believers for ministry in supernatural ways.

In one sense, spiritual gifts are overrated. What I mean is that we often fail to examine the other aspects of how God has shaped us for His purposes. He has also given us passions, talents, a unique personality, and both positive and negative experiences from which to draw. In another sense, spiritual gifts are underrated in the sense that we allow our feelings of personal inadequacy to convince us that we couldn’t possibly be “gifted” even though the Scriptures explicitly state that we are.

Spiritual gifts are by no means a simple subject. There are plenty of beliefs and opinions about the subject. Cessationists believe that certain “sign gifts” (such as speaking in tongues) were for a season of the early church only, and now have ceased. Continuationists believe that all of the gifts named in the Bible continue today. Then there are different evaluations of the various “lists” of gifts named in Scripture.

Romans 12:6-8 1 Corinthians 12:29-30 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 Ephesians 4 1 Corinthians 12:28
prophecy  apostles  word of wisdom  apostles  apostles 
ministry  prophecy  word of knowledge  prophets  prophets 
teaching  teaching  faith  evangelists  teachers 
exhortation  miracles  healing  pastor-teacher  miracles 
giving  healing  miracles  healings 
ruling  tongues  prophecy  helping 
showing mercy  interpreting tongues  discerning of spirits  governing 
kinds of tongues  diverse tongues 
interpreting tongues 

Let me point out an important word of clarification about the above lists. I’ve included all of them for the sake of being thorough, but some of the “gifts,” such as apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher are actually gifted people given to the church, not gifts given to people.

Furthermore, one reason why cessationists and continuationists can’t get along is because we feel we have to number the lists and define an exact set of gifts by those named in Scripture. But in the passages mentioned, it doesn’t seem to me that the Apostle Paul was trying to nail down an exhaustive list but rather was offering up examples of gifts. In other words, there could certainly be other gifts not included in the New Testament verbiage.


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Why I Don’t Care for Spiritual Gifts Tests

Call them tests, surveys, or assessments. I’m not font of most of the existing diagnostic tools available to help people determine their gifts. I have several reasons why…

  • Spiritual gifts tests will always be written according to the particular viewpoint of the test creator, using the lists of gifts defined in the author’s mind as definitive.
  • Explanations and definitions of gifts vary from one test to the next.
  • Questions written for gift tests are written against the backdrop of the modern church context and current ministry trends, which change from age to age.
  • We tend to take tests according to what we’re thinking and feeling at the moment. I’ve taken a dozen of these tests over the years and the results change each time, depending on what I’m passionate about.
  • We tend to want perfect knowledge about perfect gifts described in God’s perfect word by submitting to rather imperfect, man-made assessments.
  • And the biggest reason of all… spiritual gifts alone present an incomplete picture of the particular ministry ability God has given to a beleiver.

Is there a better way? How can you discover your spiritual gifts and put them into action? How in the world did any believer ever serve God before the first spiritual gifts test was produced a few decades ago?

Study the Scripture

Dig into the passages mentioned above and read the contexts of the gifts named so that you’ll understand the purpose and scope of spiritual gifts. Also study how gifted people served. You’ll probably notice that most of the apostolic-era believers jumped in and started ministering without much mention of any process of discovering their gifts beforehand.

Look at the Bigger Picture – Your God-given SHAPE

The SHAPE acronym has been around for a while now, and I think it’s a highly valuable piece of evangelicalism. SHAPE is an acronym that summarizes five aspects of how God has wired us to serve. It stands for:

  • S – Spiritual Gifts.
  • H – Heart, which refers to our God-given passions and interests.
  • A – Abilities, which can often include non-spiritual, natural gifts.
  • P – Personality – the unique ways we think and relate to the world around us.
  • E – Experiences, both positive and negative, that provide us a context from which to empathize with and minister to others.

If you look at spiritual gifts alone, you’ll probably conclude that only those with the gift of teaching should be teaching the Bible to anyone. But when you look at the bigger picture, you’ll realize that someone with the gift of mercy can certainly teach others, from their personal experience, how to be more merciful.

In other words, gifts alone don’t determine what we can do for God in a fulfilling way.

Talk to Wise Believers

Often the best way to determine how we are shaped to serve is to ask other believers who have had an opportunity to observe our lives and who can usually affirm things about us that we may not realize ourselves. I also think we serve best alongside others in a mutually-sharpening, discipling relationship.

Before I joined the staff of Saddleback Church, I went through a “theological interview” with Erik Rees, author of S.H.A.P.E.: Finding and Fulfilling Your Unique Purpose for Life. In fifteen minutes, Erik was able to spot tendencies in my own heart and make accurate predictions about how I would feel in my ministry role six months later. He was right, and it was a positive learning experience.

Answer the Big “What If” Question

If you could do anything for God knowing that resources wouldn’t be a problem and with a guaranteed of success, what would it be? Usually how we answer that question can propel us in the right direction. Don’t stress about what your gift is, jump into something that appeals to you.

Jump In and Get Your Feet Wet

In other words, begin serving. Many churches make it difficult to get out of a particular ministry role once we’re in it, which unfortunately usually leads to burnout, frustration, and confusion. We should be able to serve in a variety of areas on a short term basis until we discover that place that really fits with who we are. And we’ll grow through this process of “trial and error” as we understand ourselves better.

Perhaps this is the crux of the issue. God has shaped you for significance and service. So launch out today, get started, and be flexible along the way allowing God to tweak your plans until you find that sweet, satisfying, kingdom-expanding and Christ-exalting niche for which you are divinely wired.

Graphic by Marian Trinidad via CreationSwap

7 Promises We Should Make (and Keep) to Volunteers

SHAPE by Erik ReesWe pastors often struggle to ask people to give their time and talent to Jesus. Perhaps we’ve been rejected before and don’t like to hear someone say “no.” Perhaps we don’t like volunteering ourselves and we transfer our own rebellious attitudes to others. Or perhaps we know, when we make “the big ask,” that we’re going to exhaust another servant. If the latter is true, we need to change our volunteer culture.

Creating an environment in which people will gladly and readily give their time and talent to the kingdom involves making the right promises, and of course even more important, keeping our promises.

If you come from a denominational tradition similar to mine, you’ve experienced the church-by-committee syndrome where we somehow wind up with more committees than the church has members, yet they’re all full because every member serves on multiple committees. Baptists have found a good way around the issue of finding volunteers. We nominate people during public meetings when they will either be too embarrassed to say “no” or not present at all, in which case they’re helplessly drafted into a role for which God never gifted them.

Thankfully, we’re learning and the culture of volunteerism is improving in many churches. If we’re going to keep improving that culture, we need to set the tone and decide what our volunteers will definitely be able to count on. For example…

Your Time Will Mean Something

If you volunteer here, your time will be invested, not wasted. At the end of the day, you’ll know you met a significant need and that if it weren’t for your sacrifice, that need would have gone unmet. We won’t tie you up recording minutes for a pointless meeting. Instead, we’ll actually have you serving someone.

Your Family Will Come First

We won’t have you at the church more nights of the week than you’re at home, and your spouse won’t think you’ve left them for the church. This is especially needful in the case of a volunteer with a spouse who isn’t a believer. Having volunteers with strong families is better for the church’s growth than having volunteers whose homes are stressed because of us.

You’ll Be Free to Lead

You will be able to make decisions. We’re here to help guide you in the right direction, but you won’t have to complete any forms in triplicate and have the entire church body vote to buy a chalkboard for your classroom. And, you’ll be free to lead people around you, always mentoring the next generation of volunteers.

You’ll Be Encouraged to Rest

If you need a break, we won’t treat you as though you’ve gone AWOL. We’ll understand that everyone needs rest to be effective long term. We will ask you to serve for a set length of time and then offer you a chance to take a break.

We’ll Help You Serve According to Your Shape

God has granted all of us spiritual gifts, a heart, abilities, passions, and experiences, and we’re here to help you discover your shape and find the best spot in the kingdom to serve. We’ll even let you move around and try different things until you find the spot for which God has uniquely equipped you.

We Will Celebrate Your Accomplishments

Heaven throws a party when someone gets saved, so we will join that party and recognize every contribution you make to expanding heaven’s population. That doesn’t mean we’ll hand out buttons and pins. It just means that we will always acknowledge and appreciate your time, realizing how valuable it is.

We Will Always See You As the Hero

There is no such thing as someone being “just a volunteer.” Instead, volunteers are the heroes. We who are on staff are on staff because of our passion for ministry, but we’re also compensated for the time we spend leading. What we really celebrate the most is the contribution of someone who expects no compensation (here on earth anyway).

Can you make these promises to volunteers within your church? Or are there structural changes you need to make in order to value volunteers appropriately? And the more important question is, can you keep these promises?

This post originally appeared on Pastors.com and is re-printed here with permission.