Note: The article Life-Giving through Gifts-Based Ministry was originally written for a series called “What My Church Does Well” for The High Calling (now at Theology of Work Project).
Today, I’m excited about serving at my church. But it wasn’t always that way.
My heart to serve is pure. I truly want to make a difference in the lives of people in our community. However, there have been times when serving felt like a burden. I’d spend most of my free evenings at church, attending one meeting or another.
After all, I reasoned, it takes a lot of work to manage everything a church wants (and needs) to accomplish. And if I don’t jump in, who will? What kind of Christian am I if I don’t sacrifice my time to meet those needs?
Churches everywhere are filled with people like me, sacrificially serving because there’s a need—any need.
Serving like this often leads to burnout. Volunteers start to feel overwhelmed by the tasks on their plate and take time off from the very area they believe God called them to. Others leave to find another place of worship or leave the church altogether.
Either way, the end result is not good. And it doesn’t have to be that way.
shifting the focus from needs to gifts
Examples like these describe “needs-based” ministry. When there is a need in the church, leaders look for a willing body to fill that hole. Some churches spend time during the Sunday morning service making a call for volunteers, waiting until they get enough raised hands to fill the need. Others do things like requiring parents with small children to serve on a rotation in the nursery.
This type of approach results in people serving regardless of their interests. Church members develop the skills they need to fill a certain void and hope they’re making a difference. Usually, they quickly tire of the job and end up feeling drained by the work.
My church tries to break the cycle of “needs-based” ministry by shifting to “gifts-based” ministry. We guide people into the kind of jobs that utilize their natural abilities and passions. People are more energized by the work and are more confident that God is using them to make a real difference.
One of the tools our church uses is the Discovery Seminar—a one-time session where we discuss the “Motivational Gifts” that Paul mentions in Romans 12:6-8.
Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.
Before coming to the class, participants are asked to take an online spiritual gifts assessment. Then we focus on the top three gifts for each person from these seven Paul speaks about in Romans:
The goal of the program is to help people understand their God-given gifts and match their gifting with potential ministry opportunities where they can put their passions to work. Participants engage with leaders who assist them in finding the right place for them to serve.
As a result, people volunteering in the nursery are the ones gifted in working with little kids. As you can imagine, this approach not only lessens frustration in workers, but it also elevates the excellence of the children’s ministry. The people serving there are the ones who are super passionate about their roles.
becoming life-giving through gifts-based ministry
Church ministry should be life-giving. Believe me, there are few things as life-giving as launching someone into a ministry they are both gifted for and passionate about. People blossom in that kind of environment.
I mentioned that I’m excited about serving at my church. Why? I’m in a role that uses my gifts well: I am privileged to teach the Discovery Seminar. I get to look people in the eye, tell them how God made them awesome in certain ways, and connect them with outlets where they can realize their potential. As we like to say at our church: tell someone what they can be, and watch them grow.