We’ve been taught that good things come in small packages. If your husband presents you with a small box on your birthday, instinctively you know that it contains a piece of jewelry. We’ve learned that often the big boxes hold things like new bed sheets or a set of pots and pans. Or, your favorite candy bar that has been repackaged into umpteen dozen boxes because someone believes he has a sense of humor. Nonetheless, it is a conditioning that tells us that we can’t assume how good the gift is based on the size of the box. A gift that looks professionally wrapped may contain your one hundredth neck tie. The one still packaged in the shopping bag with the store logo on it, could be exactly what you’ve been wanting.
This is also how I see our spiritual gifts. You can’t necessarily look at a person and determine what their spiritual gift is, or where they are destined to use it within the context of the church.
A man who looks raggedly dressed may actually have a gift of stewardship. I think of a man who dressed modestly, people assumed he was poor, but upon his death it turned out he had several million dollars that were donated to organizations close to his heart.
The stoic looking man, who sits in the back of the church, may not say much. Yet, when he prays the words are like a sweet offering to the Lord. Full of sincerity and compassion, and a love of the Lord. My Father in Law was like this. He had a sense of humor, don’t get me wrong… but sometimes, he could be incredibly hard to have a conversation with. Yet, when he would pray… he would weep through most of it.
That woman in the long flowing dress, you may not realize it but she has a degree in advertising design. She is responsible for all of the materials the church mails out to the community, the signage in the church, etc. She joyfully works on her off days on church campaigns.
As you walk down the hallways of your church building, beautiful paintings fill up the what would otherwise be blank walls. There is an eighty year old woman, who has painted her entire life. She blesses the church with her talent.
You just never know what the spiritual gifts are that lie under the surface of the people we see before us. Yet, quite often… when it comes to areas of service like finances, construction, pastor searches, technology, et’al our church leaders look to the men in the body. When they need more volunteers in the nursery, Sunday School teachers, meal ministry, holiday decorators, greeters, and VBS volunteers… they look to the women. We have allowed ourselves to marginalize spiritual gifts by gender. We assume based on what the package looks like, what type of gift is inside.
A friend of mine shared a scenario where a group of men and women from her church were invited to a dinner to kick off that years ministry work. When they arrived they found the tables themed to different areas of services. Name cards were placed at each table. Someone in the leadership of the church had assigned all of these individuals to a ministry job in the church, without even discussing it with their volunteers.
This leader felt they could discern the individuals gifts and assign them tasks based on that discernment. No spiritual gifts tests were administered. No conversations happened between the leader and these various people to determine what gifts or interests they had for serving. Even still, the people were just assigned the task without even being given an opportunity to say yes or no to the position.
When we make these assumptions we are really marginalizing the spiritual gifts based on our human perception or need. We are too focused on filling holes in our volunteer needs than we are looking at the individual person’s gift and figuring out how to connect them to serving in the church.
Another way we can marginalize the gifts is when we allow ourselves to become hyper focused on our ministry goal. It is almost as if we put on blinders and the only way we can see that goal being achieved is through the methods we are comfortable with, what fits in our box. We can’t think outside of that box and any ideas that differ are cast aside. We may even get defensive and think that anything outside of that box will take away from our vision or goal. It too is cast aside.
If we are a body, made up of many parts, and each part having a job or purpose…
If we are all one in Christ, not Jew or Gentile, master or slave, man or woman…
If we all receive different gifts to be used for different purposes…
Then why do we hear of statistics that suggest that 80-90% of church needs are met by 10-15% of the body? Why are more people not serving? Why do we not have 100% of the needs being met by 100% of the body?
Because we are failing somewhere.
We are failing to recognize that spiritual gifts are not based on our genders. We fail to see our men as capable nursery workers and children’s teachers. We fail to see our women as capable administrative leaders, teachers, and staff members. We fail to see past the specifics of our own vision to value the gifts and vision of others who are serving along with us. It is almost as if we think the Lord is only capable of doing ONE thing, in ONE way, within our church or ministry walls. As if multiple ministries can’t coexist and support each other. We put all of our eggs into one basket.
We fail to put effort into connect with each of our members, helping them figure out what their spiritual gift is, and develop those gifts. We fail to give them a place to serve with their gift in our body or ministry. Then, we wonder why our gifted people leave our church or move to another ministry to serve.
When we marginalize the people in our church, we are taking control of something instead of surrendering it to the Lord.
Sometimes we need the reminder that just because a ministry isn’t something we understand… or something that we personally need; doesn’t mean it is not valuable.
Sometimes we need the reminder that just because a person doesn’t show up in the exact package we expect… or doesn’t fit our defined roles; doesn’t mean they don’t have value to add.