Grudgingly Faithful

My son was in college recently and a fellow student walked up to him and introduced himself. His name was Benjamin. My son did not recognize him at first. He mentioned that he lived near the church we used to be involved in. He attended the Friday night youth activities He was wondering if we were still doing them (no we are not). He really enjoyed them and was happy that we had committed to doing them.

I remember Benjamin even though that was over 7 years ago, and I led the youth activities for only a few months.

In 2007, Celia and I joined a churchplanting activity. We are not churchplanters generally. In Baguio City, one can hardly throw a rock up in the air without it landing on a church. But we had finished our field education at seminary for one church and we felt it time to go elsewhere. When an opportunity came up to join a new churchplant, we were excited. As a pioneer in the new church we got more involved in church activities than we had before. Our main ministry was mostly parachurch, at the time working on organizing medical mission events, and a local children’s ministry.

At this new church we were on the board of elders (we had a very relaxed governance). I was on the praise team (playing saxophone) and was a Sunday School teacher, and part of the preaching rotation.

All of this was fine, but the church needed someone to lead the Youth. I was asked.  I don’t like youth!! Teenagers annoy me. I like to say that I was never a teenager (not true, I suppose, but I never felt like a teenager).

Despite the stress of organizing and running medical missions, overseeing Kids Club activities, some cooperative work, leading Bible studies, preaching, and being a student in a doctoral program… the most emotionally tiring activity for me was the youth events. I did it for several months, but eventually the time came that I stepped out of it (I can ‘t remember the argument I used).

It is strange that Benjamin was not the first who had talked about the impact of those youth nights. I have had others also talk about it as important in their growth.

SOOOO… what does this ultimately mean?  To me it means this:

1.  We are designed by God to serve in certain ways and on certain things. God has given us giftings, talents, temperaments, passions and skills. Understanding these helps us know what we are supposed to do to serve.

2.  But God also gives us circumstances, opportunities, social connections, spheres of influence as well. Sometimes these are not in line with the things listed in #1. That does not mean we automatically say “NO.”

Sometimes we need to be available, even if grudgingly faithful, when God needs us. God used Jonah, a very grudging servant. Jesus called His disciples and pushed them to their limits and beyond with regards to their comfort zones as well.

God can use us in these grudgingly faithful moments. God can still change others through us. And God can also change us.

Not Gifted at

We just finished Vacation Bible School Week 1 at our church here in the Philippines. Celia, my wife, is the primary organizer, working with the WMU (Women’s

VBS in Baguio City, Philippines
VBS in Baguio City, Philippines

Missionary Union) and Youth in holding VBS. We did one in a community on the other side of the mountain, and next week we will do one at our church. Celia is supervising CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) so she is pretty busy during the VBS hours. I finished teaching a missions class a few days ago, and my next class is a couple of weeks away… so I am overseeing the VBS “in the field.”

SO WHAT????   I am not gifted at Children’s Ministry. I am not against children. I used to be a child (although I was never a teenager). But I clearly have no special gifting to do children’s ministry. I find it amazing how easily some people embrace the role of working, communicating, and ministering with children.

So maybe I should have simply said “I am sorry, I am not available to help with VBS. I am not gifted in that area.” It’s an option.

Plan A.  A church or ministry team is looking for volunteers. They look for the people with the most time on their hands. With a bit of arm twisting, some of the people agree to help. This is commonly a path to failure. Many people with time on their hands, have such time because they are not found to be reliable. Unreliable people often have time on their hand.

Plan B. A church or ministry team is looking for volunteers. They have heard the saying that if you have something that really needs to get done, ask a busy person. This is counterintuitive, but is built on the logic that busy people are reliable and are not quick to say NO. Generally, I haven’t found this method so hot either. For on thing, churches have used this method for years… and church hallways are littered with the figurative corpses of members and former members who have burned out due to overwork. For another thing, busy people still have a limited resource— time. No matter how much one plays with time management, eventually, limits are hit. I know many people who are so busy that they simply cannot juggle more responsibility. This is pretty common in the Philippines where the percentage of highly competent, self-driven, people is a bit low. So these people tend to wear a lot of (ministerial) hats.

Plan C. Another method is not to focus on availability or capability, but rather on susceptibility. Susceptibility to shame or guilt that is. While being shameless or sociopathic (resistant to guilt) is not a great quality trait for ministry, one cannot assume that a higher level of susceptibility to guilt or shame does not necessarily correlate to competence (but does often correlate to burnout).

Plan D.  More recent has been the focus on spiritual gifts. Thus, one should be asked to serve in those areas one is gifted. I think there is good in this… but some problems as well. First, there is some fairly poor theology behind spiritual gifts, I believe. Many churches separate strongly between spiritual gifts, talents, skills, and experiences. There seems to almost be the idea that spiritual gifts are from God and are to be used for ministry, while the others (talents, skills, and experiences) are not from God and don’t have much of a place in proper ministry. This makes no sense… and should be tossed out immediately. When evaluating a person for ministry, the whole person should be viewed as from God and the output of God’s working. Second, spiritual gifts are often limited to 13, or 22, or 27 or some other number… as if God limits his gifting (a ridiculous concept). One should see the inconsistency in the lists of gifts in the Bible as clear that the number and types of gifts are not well-defined. And that is good since there are a lot more tasks in ministry than there are gifts as listed in the Bible. Third, while a church may be a “body” of many members. No church this side of heaven is perfect… there will always be ways in which gifts and roles don’t line up perfectly. Fourth, the wisdom that for a new hire you “fake it until you make it” is true. You have to sometimes give people a chance to learn, grow, and prove who they are.

I would say that there is no set rule. I would say that for long-term ministry roles, it is good to focus on their gifting (recognizing talents, skills, experiences, and such as also part of God’s gifting) and passion. Doing long-term what is outside of one’s gifting or passion will bear little fruit and a lot of stress. But for short-term projects (or rotated roles) passion and willingness to serve should be strongly considered.

I spent a few months being a youth leader. Although the real work wasn’t that hard I suppose, it was hugely stressful for me because it is far outside my skill set and a bit outside my passion. But for short-term or occasional ministry, willing to do one’s best for the church and for God is important. Long-term? I am so glad that I no longer have that role.