Unwrapping a Spirituality of Ministry
The world is filled with people who seem really committed to the good of others but have no joy in their lives. They have a need or a desire to serve, and this is expressed in word or action but the service they provide drains them and leaves them lacking somehow. You may feel like this yourself - at least from time to time. Service can easily become servitude.
Perhaps the key to understanding this phenomenon is to consider what often motivates people to serve:
Duty: A feeling that a burden has been placed upon you. Your service is something that you must do - or you have failed. This is linked closely to...
Guilt: A feeling that you can make up for your own failings by doing something good.
Responsibility: A feeling that only you can meet a particular need. If you don't act - all will be lost. This is usually a self-delusion.
Self-worth: The need to be needed. Some people want to be indispensible and make themselves essential - in organisations, families, businesses and churches...
Your Country doesn’t need you! The key to escaping from the servant trap is to recognise that you are not essential. If you were not there, someone else would fill the gap. The work that you do could be fulfilled by someone else. You are not as crucial as you may think.
The Gifts of the Spirit
In the New Testament, acts of ministry are described as a gift given by God - usually through the Holy Spirit. The gifts of the Spirit are given to the world through the church.
There is a tendency to think of these gifts as things that we are given in an objective way - for which we have to act as stewards. The parable of the talents is often read as a moral warning not to waste the gifts/talents that God has given...
The gifts of the Spirit are not packages to be used by those to whom they have been given. In fact, they are not actually given to those who seem to exercise them. They are given through individuals to the whole people of God - and through the Church to the whole of creation.
We are God's gifts
I believe that the key to a healthy spirituality of ministry is the recognition that we are God's gifts. God has created us, sustained us, redeemed us, called us, sent us and equipped us. We are God's gift to each other.
The great thing about a gift is that its value is greater than its practical significance. For example, you may be given a frying pan as a Christmas present. This may be useful but its true value is not dependent on its function. It may be more important to note:
- Who gave it to you? What is your relationship to the giver?
- What does the gift say? What does it mean?
- Is there anything unusual about it? Is it special in any way?
Some gifts may not have immediate practical use - but they may have other values. Are they interesting, beautiful, playful or just bizarre? Gifts can be extravagant, thought-provoking or simply a sign of love.
I think we need to start seeing ministering people as God's gifts to us. They themselves are gifts from God and God gives to us through what they do and through who they are. This concept of gift is more important in ministry than anything else.
Needed or Valued?
In churches we tend to get bogged down with long discussions about tasks and who is going to do them. Some people feel trapped by responsibilities that they can't escape - and often have to resign or die to avoid.
Inevitably there is usually someone there to pick up the work. Even professional ministers like vicars, priests and pastors are not essential - there are many churches which seem to exist perfectly well without them - although many church members (and ministers) would like to think otherwise...
Yes, tasks do need to be done and there is work there for us to think about. There is a desperate need for people to choose to be servants - in the best sense of the word. The important thing to remember is that although no individual is by themselves essential - each individual is unique and special in a way that only they can be. They are a gift and should be valued for their own unique and distinct worth.
It is always good to welcome new ministers. What I particularly enjoy is the fact that we can usually welcome them knowing that we don't need them - the basic tasks can always be covered - somehow...
This frees us to value them as themselves - and to be open to what they bring because they are who they are. In other words, to look for the gift that God is giving through them.
We need a more gift-orientated rather than task-orientated approach to ministry. We need to spend more time seeking to discern what each of us uniquely brings...
Seeing others as God's Gift
I think most of us would feel very differently about ourselves if we thought of ourselves as God's gift. The problem is that you can't achieve this by telling yourself that it's true. You either become arrogant or delusional - trying to convince yourself of the truth of something that your heart denies.
I suspect the best way to build a gift-orientated spirituality is to look outwards rather than inwards - to see other people as God's gift to us - to celebrate and be thankful. In a thankful church, we would all begin to appreciate each other and our identity as gifts from God would be released.
What do we do with Gifts?
Gifts can be rejected. We can attempt to send them back, return them to the shop or throw them away - break them, misuse them or just ignore them. They can be left on the shelf - unused and unwanted...
Sometimes, gifts are not passed on. Those who have them in their hands may choose to keep them for themselves. They may get lost in the post...
I'm sure it wouldn't take too much imagination to see that we treat our human gifts from God in similar ways...
A Gift-Orientated Church
A gift-orrientated church is not an easy option. There are challenges here for our wisdom and discernment - for our self-understanding and our attitude to others. A gift-orientated church will always strive to balance the needs which have to be met - with the people God has given to meet them. At the end of the day I still believe that God always gives us what we need in order to fulfil what he wants us to be and do.
The purpose of the church is not to do what we want, but to be the gift of God to the world. Ministry is the privilege of being allowed to be part of God's work in creation. God, after all, is the origin, means and end of all that he is and all that he purposes.