When I was a new rector I came into the position all excited with ideas for helping people find their ministry. Quickly I heard old-timers saying things like, “I hope you’re not planning on having us do another Spiritual Gift Inventory,” or “We’ve all taken spiritual gift inventories before and nothing ever happened, it’s a waste of time.” Hmmm. That sort of put a damper on my excitement initially.
The good news is that in my previous position as an associate priest in Midland, Texas my primarily job description was to implement The Purpose Driven Church strategies into that Anglican Church. While doing that I learned, and saw in action, the practice of helping people discover more about themselves than just their spiritual gifts. Discovering spiritual gifts alone often led to people not knowing exactly where in the church to use those gifts. By helping people also discover things like what they love, natural and learned skills, their personality, and life experiences, they were able to find the right ministries for them to serve in.
I recently read this quote from Rick Warren, “The best-kept secret in the church is that people are dying to make a contribution with their lives. We are made for ministry! The church that understands this, and makes it possible for every member to express his or her SHAPE in ministry, will experience amazing vitality, health, and growth. The sleeping giant will be awakened, and it will be unstoppable.”
Regardless of what you think about Rick Warren or his Purpose Driven Church ideas, this concept of helping people discover their SHAPE is very effective in mobilizing members into ministry. Something every church could have more of! If you’re not aware of or have forgotten what SHAPE stands for, let me give you a brief explanation:
“Your hands shaped me and made me.” Job 10:8 (NIV)
Spiritual Gifts: When someone is born again, the Holy Spirit enters them and brings with him some supernatural spiritual gift or gifts. Discovering what they are is essential to knowing where God wants someone to serve.
Heart: What a person loves matters. God does not want us to be miserable in serving him. Ministry is often difficult. God uses difficulties to grow our character, but that’s not the same as being miserable. The example I always used was if someone discovered they have the gift of teaching but knows they can’t stand children, they probably shouldn’t teach in the children’s ministry! Have them teach adults or lead a small group or something. You get the idea.
Abilities: What God given or learned skills does someone have? The common example is that there is no spiritual gift in the Bible called “Audio Visual” but most churches today very much need someone who can run A/V well. It’s painful to be in churches with badly run A/V! Rather than simply finding a teenager to serve there just because they are a teen (although that’s often a good idea), how about finding someone who has the spiritual gift of service, who has a love for excellent worship and has the ability to do the technical A/V stuff. They’ll love it, be good at it, and all will benefit.
Personality: Someone’s God given personality plays a key role in what ministry they should serve in. An extreme introvert probably shouldn’t be asked to be a greeter. Someone who can’t stand routine probably shouldn’t be a part of the weekly bulletin folding and stuffing team. Again, you get the idea.
Experiences: Finally, life experiences are huge when it comes to helping people find the ministry God made them for. Their spiritual, educational, ministry, and painful experiences all should be factored in to their overall SHAPE for ministry. I’ve noticed both in my own life and in many others that our painful experiences often point us to our most important ministries. God never wastes a hurt and we are often able to comfort others in the same way we were comforted if we are willing to let God work through us in those areas. As the Apostle Paul famously wrote, “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NLT)
My ministry experience in that first church helped “shape” me in utilizing this SHAPE idea to help mobilize members into ministry more effectively over the years. Whether or not you utilize this specifically, my encouragement to you is that whatever you do, help people discover through self-assessment and trial and error, who God made them to be more than just what spiritual gift he gave them.
And if you know of other effective ideas or resources on this, please share them with me!
The Rev. Mark Eldredge is Director of Church Revitalization and Coaching for the American Anglican Council.