By Bishop John R. Schol
In an effort to use more of the gifts and grace of the entire congregation, the leadership of one of the churches I served voted to enact a policy of rotating elected church leaders. This was met with some concern because there were a few people that had been in the same positions for a number of years.
Tom, the investment and reserve treasurer, had served on the finance committee and trustees for a long time. Tom did his ministry with such dedication and commitment that he and the position he held had become one. Tom did not agree with the new policy.
I was concerned for Tom. He continued to attend worship each Sunday, but I wondered if he would find a new ministry that would be fulfilling.
Early one early morning I took some food to the Salvation Army. The building was not open, but I knew there were people inside because the Salvation Army operated a homeless shelter. I knocked on the door and Tom answered.
“Tom, what are you doing here?” I asked in a surprised voice.
Tom replied, “I serve here every morning from 5:30 – 9:30.”
He shared with me his disappointment about leaving the Finance ministry but took the congregation’s challenge to discern one’s gifts and engage in a ministry seriously. He then said to me, “finance was my skill, but serving here is my calling. It uses my gifts.”
Wow! He got it.
Tom was a blessing in the community and he was blessed when he discovered his calling and purpose.
Sometimes I wonder if the church is really robbing people of the joy and purpose God intended by keeping people stuck in a job that serves the institution rather than unleashing them for the purpose and joy to which God has called them.
So what gets in the way of people discovering their gifts and engaging in the purpose to which God called them? Committees.
Committees have a purpose, but the church tends to overuse committees. Committees get in the way because they:
• Focus on institutional maintenance rather than transforming people and communities;
• Primarily talk about ministry rather than engage people in ministry;
• Gather people around tables rather than gathering people to use their gifts for ministry;
• Keep people in the church building rather than moving them into the community and world;
• Deplete energy rather than building passion around people’s callings and purposes.
Building up the body of Christ uses committees sparingly and the gifts of individuals and teams regularly. Teams have a specific ministry objective in the community or a specific objective to build up the congregation. Creating understanding and a culture for gifting, calling and purpose is the role of pastors and key leaders within the congregation.
There are important strategies for calling, equipping, sending and supporting disciples to engage in ministry in the community and to build up the congregation. The following are a few of them.
• Worship/preaching – Provide at least one worship series a year on calling, purpose, gifts and serving in ministry to teach and inspire people to explore their gifts and calling.
• Congregational witnesses – One to two times a month have a person share a witness during worship about their ministry and how God is using them to make a difference in people’s lives.
• Bible study – Twice a year or more, provide Bible studies that teach about gifts and calling and use a gift inventory as part of the study.
• Newsletter and bulletin announcements/stories – Each week share community ministry opportunities or ministries that build the body of Christ (committee announcements do not fulfill this strategy).
• Ministry fairs – Two to three times a year hold ministry fairs after worship in which people can receive literature on ministry opportunities and talk with disciples who are in ministry. It is important not to have information tables for committees but ministries that will serve the community and ministries that will build the body of Christ.
• A minister of calling, sending and supporting people in ministry – Identify and equip a volunteer whose ministry is to help disciples identify their gifts and passion and assist them in serving in the community or in disciple-making ministries.
• Celebration – Celebrate those who are engaged in ministry through receptions or banquets or special worship services in which you honor God and the ministry being done through disciples in your community.
Tom got it when he said, “Finance was my skill, but serving here is my calling. It uses my gifts.” What will you do to help others identify their gifts and engage in ministry?
Schol serves as the episcopal leader of the Wash-ington Area, which includes the Baltimore-Washington Conference. This column appeared in The WebConnection.