Ministerial SHAPE, FIND, and FIT

I was talking with my son around 1:30 in the morning (we do tend to be night owls at times).  We were talking about ministry. He mentioned that when we first came to the Philippines he wasn’t sure whether we were really helping here or not (a very fair and understandable assessment) but that he now sees his mom and I as having an important positive role here.


I said something like this:

“When we first got here, we were students… trainees. We weren’t really doing anything that others did not do or could not do. We did, however, at least act as catalysts. We helped form a couple of mission teams. One was DPDM (a medical mission group). We helped inspire people to get this in motion, but others had talked about it before we got here, and people in the group were doing medical missions before we arrived.

We also cofounded a pastoral care group, but a couple of groups had been set up before we set one up. The others may have faded away, but we did not do anything that new or amazing.

The thing is that over the 11 years that we were here, we did some good stuff… but in the first 7 or 8 years, if we weren’t here, there is a pretty good chance that someone else would have done it. In the last 3 or 4 years, however, it seems like we have found the place where we fit into ministry… God’s work. A place where if we weren’t doing it, perhaps it would not happen. Over time we eventually found our ‘fit’ in ministry.”

My son thought that was a bit profound.  A lot of people focus on Passion as far as ministry. But maybe one should look more for Fit… where one Fits into God’s work.

That got me thinking. Consider the idea of SHAPE. SHAPE is often used to find what God as created a person to do ministerially. It stands for:

  • Spiritual Gifts
  • Heart
  • Abilities
  • Personality
  • Experience

I like to add a sixth, “Sphere of Influence.” That makes SHAPES. But I will go along with the singular form. I think there is much to be said for the idea of SHAPE in getting some idea of what God has made you to be and do ministerially…. at least initially.

However, as time goes on, our SHAPE changes. As we minister our Heart, Abilities, Experiences, and Sphere of Influence changes. Our Personality also changes, although many think of personality as invariant. And, yes, I believe our Spiritual gifts change… (I believe the idea that spiritual gifts are given at salvation and never change is a modern Christian myth.)

As one matures in ministry, I believe our place is less about our SHAPE. Rather the changes mold us to FIT into God’s work.

Certain ministries we discover are Fulfilling.  We find satisfaction in our place in God’s work. It is not always about Heart or Passion. Rather, one feels that one is where one is meant to be. Does this always happen? I don’t know. But it can happen and does happen. It feels, in many ways that it has happened with us (or at least is in the process of happening).

Who we are an ministry becomes more Interactive. Ministry affects our SHAPE, and SHAPE affects our ministry. We grow into roles and grow out of roles.

These changes are tied to Need. Over time, one discovers where one is truly needed. We are often told not to focus on where we are needed but discover how our gifting (SHAPE) informs us as to our role. However over time, hopefully, our SHAPE and a clear Need begin to come together. The need clarifies and our SHAPES becomes attuned to that need. When I say need, I am not talking about a warm body to fill a billet. Rather it is an understanding that there is a need that we specifically are effective at filling.  Additionally, we start to see what we are effective at. People sometimes like to say, “Don’t pray that God bless what you are doing, but pray to do what God is blessing.” I think there is truth to that, but perhaps it could be said, “Pray that you do what God will bless when you do it.”

These changes are also Dialogic. That is, they are part of broader “conversation” between each of us and God, as well as with others inside of and outside of ministry.

The result is that Our Ministry is always in flux as is our SHAPE. The goal is to help them FIND each other so that we know where we FIT into God’s Work.

Static Calling and Dynamic Pilgrimage

I have been a bit down on the concept of Calling to Ministry and Gifting. It is not that these are wrong, but I think they have developed some problems based on poor scholarship, and a tendency to envision ministry in static, rather than dynamic, terms.

Starting with Calling. Some problems with the way it is commonly viewed I see as:

(1) It doesn’t seem to be completely Biblical. There are evidences of people being called to ministry in a very miraculous sort of way… such as Isaiah or Moses. In other cases, however, the calling is done through people, such as Elisha (through Elijah) and Paul and Barnabas (through the church of Antioch). Some seem to simply be responding to the need, rather than answering a specific divine call (such as Daniel or Esther). Some are born into ministry (such as the Aaronic priesthood and the Levites). Some are called to obey or follow but only gradually does it develop into more specific roles (such as the followers of Jesus who gradually became his Twelve, and then Apostle/churchplanters). Some like Apollos appear to seek to serve ministerially before being called (if he ever did experience something we might describe as a call).

(2) It seems to be used more to justify non-service than for justifying ministry. People don’t serve God and use the argument that they were not called or do not ‘feel called.” I have seen it go the other way as well. People say they must serve in a certain way because they were “called by God,” even though the church had not called them. I consider this to be (at least normally) a contradiction. Calling is normative through the church.

(3) Calling tends to be applied to “professional ministry.” This seems to be a belief founded in Clericism than Scripture. Ministers are called. Teachers, Engineers, Bus Drivers are not. Does that actually make sense?

(4) A lot of theology has been dumped into this idea of calling. For example, some teach that if one was called to a certain position, it is for life. What is the basis for this? It does seem as if those serving God, served God for life, but it is far less clear that they did it in the same way. The Disciples in the Gospels served God very differently than in Acts 2-15, and far different still from when they (apparently) scattered from Jerusalem. I personally believe that the confusion about the writer of Revelation comes from the mistaken thought that Apostle John maintained his role as an apostle (traveling churchplanter) all his life, rather than “retiring” to a church elder (John the Elder). Could be wrong… but certainly, time, people, and circumstances change so anyone’s concept of calling should accept such flexibility.

We have a similar problem with the concept of Spiritual Gifts. That is why I have had to downplay them as it pertains to ministry.

(1) The Bible doesn’t really emphasize them. Roles in the body of Christ are recognized as important, along with the need for a proper fit between members and roles, but spiritual giftings are mentioned in relatively few places. They cannot/shouldn’t be ignored, but they should not be placed above equally important things.

(2) A whole industry has developed in theologizing this concept of spiritual gifts… people making dogmatic statements about what,exactly, they are, when you get them, how long they last, how do you lose them (if you can lose them), how many are there, and more. It is fine to speculate… but major ministry decisions are often made based on the idle opinions of some.

(3) There is no way that spiritual gifts should be placed as separate or above other aspects of God’s working in a person’s life… preparing him or her to serve. The idea of spiritual gifts in this case seems to be given higher priority because it is felt to be miraculous. Nothing wrong with miraculous, but it is highly flawed to place the miraculous as being more from God than other things. In fact, a whole lot of factors should be considered: One view looks at SHAPE

  • S – Spiritual Gifts – What has God supernaturally gifted me to do?
  • H – Heart – What do I have passion for and love to do?
  • A – Abilities – What natural talents and skills do I have?
  • P – Personality – Where does my personality best suit me to serve?
  • E – Experiences – What spiritual experiences have I had? What painful experiences have I had? What educational experiences have I had? What ministry experiences have I had?

I would add Sphere of Influence (Role/Status/Relationships). That would make it SHAPES

If one puts all of this together, I believe that it would be best to see

A.  Calling seen more in terms of Pilgrimage. Service (professional or lay) is a journey of following God as he serves.

B.  Gifting seen more in terms of Preparedness. God prepares us for our pilgrimage through SHAPES as well as uses SHAPES to give us insight for the path of our pilgrimage. However, as we go on our journey, our SHAPES change. Our gifts change and develop, Our heart changes. Our abilities change. Our personality changes, Our experiences change, and so does our sphere of influence. Ministry, then, is a dynamic

Since pilgrimage is a changing thing, and so is one’s preparedness for these changes, Ministry should be seen in terms of Dynamic Pilgrimage. There are other useful metaphors as well… but the static view that has seemed to develop from a doubtful understanding of Calling and Gifts appears to me to be clearly inferior.