Thursday, August 11, 2011

Living Out Your Giftedness

 A few days ago I got an email advertising a sermon resource website. For a monthly subscription you would be able to download sermon outlines, media, and even entire sermon texts for you to use on your congregation. Now, I understand the need for resource websites. They’re helpful, they spark ideas, and they can come through for you in a pinch.

But the idea of a monthly subscription to this website just made me sad. It made me think of the many pastors out there who feel obligated to use this website, finding themselves called to ministry and yet not gifted in teaching and preaching. It has to be a scary place to be. And I can’t imagine that it feels very good to head to a sermon resource website each week when you’re probably thinking to yourself, Why am I not able to do this on my own!

So what causes this situation, that we have people called to ministry doing things that they don’t feel equipped for? Have we forced our pastors - and ourselves - into doing things that they’ve never been equipped for (either by natural talent, education, or the gifting of the Holy Spirit) because the rest of us, as the church, are not living out the things that we are equipped for.

I think many of us, way too early on in our lives, get pigeon-holed into a certain role or position we believe we must play. Much of our education system is based on the premise that you must pick one thing to major in and then do that one thing as a career the rest of your life. Can that really be healthy? Should our complex personalities, talents, and gifts we whittled down to a word or two?

Sometimes we get pigeon-holed into things we’re not even good at (like the person called to pastoral counseling, but finds themselves having to preach - and hit up sermon resource websites - 52 times a year). Sometimes we are pigeon-holed into something we are good at (like playing piano) and use it as our safe-place, never venturing to discover whether or not we’re good at anything else.

Is it possible that we have churches filled with folks who are simply unaware of their own giftedness? Many times it’s easy to get frustrated because of a lack of volunteers in a particular ministry. But do we simply live in a culture that constantly affirms this lie that you’re good only at what you’re most familiar with?

Now, don’t get me wrong. We can’t be faux-idealists and sit around only doing what we feel “called” to do. As a good friend of mine has said, “Do something you’re not passionate about.” And he’s right. Too many of us are waiting around for the “perfect” opportunity to get involved in something, but - gee whiz - that perfect opportunity just never seems to find us. So, on the one hand, I want to affirm that it’s okay to be involved not only in things you’re good at, but also in things that are just simply good. You may be uncomfortable changing a baby’s diaper, but sometimes they just need to be changed. Everytime you hear an opportunity to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, or help the poor, you can’t just claim, “I just didn’t feel ‘led.’” In the words of James, “If you know the good you ought to do, and do not do it, to you it is sin” (James 4:17).

But, on the other hand, what would happen in our churches - in our lives - if all of us began to seek out the rest of our giftedness? Could the woman who really doesn’t like children (God forbid) be allowed to leave the nursery and start some coffeehouse evangelism? Or the man who really doesn’t like handywork be allowed to pursue photography?

Most recently, I have been struggling under the weight of feeling unequipped to plant a new congregation. I’m fairly introverted, I’ve only led one person to Christ (and that was because I told him I would let him be my friend if he became a Christian. It was sixth grade), and I’m pretty comfortable doing the whole lead worshiper thing.

And then our denomination had me take a personality/giftedness test based on the “five offices” of Ephesians 4 (Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Shepherd, Teacher). Go figure, it came back saying I was an apostolic evangelist (apostle meaning “sent out”).

Perhaps there’s more to me than I’ve ever considered.

Perhaps there’s more to you than you’ve ever considered.

And maybe - just maybe - if we began to live out all of our calling, we would stop forcing people to do things they were really never meant to do.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Spiritual Discipline of Worship

Yesterday, I ran slides for church. It’s one of the “perks” of being married to the Worship Director- I automatically get roped into volunteering in nearly every capacity. But I don’t mind this... it allows me to serve the church and be connected with Anthony’s ministry. However, yesterday was an early morning. The typical Wednesday evening rehearsal had been canceled, so the band was meeting extra early on Sunday morning to practice. As I sat behind the computer clicking sides, the sound man Chris made an observation. He said to me, “Do you think we really mean the words we sing about?” At that moment, the band was rehearsing a modern version of the hymn, “Take My Life.” Do we really want God to take control when we sing these lyrics? We mused for a few moments about what it means to truly desire God to take our lives, but then duty called and we were quickly pulled back to our respective jobs.

I found myself, however, mulling over this idea all afternoon. What does it mean to truly worship*? Why don’t more people actually bow down when we sing the lyrics “We fall down, we lay our crowns, at the feet of Jesus?” Why don’t more people lift their hands in worship when we sing “We come and lift up our hands, for the joy of the Lord is our strength?” I realize part of this is due to culture and comfort levels. But I found myself reflecting on my own history with worship. And it dawned on me that it takes me much longer to enter into authentic worship than it used to. So naturally I began to try and analyze why this is so. Back in college, it was easy for me to enter into worship without worrying about what people thought or without evaluating the band or my surroundings. But I think a large contributor to this fact was that I was attending chapel 3 times a week, church twice a week, and worshipping on a regular basis with wonderful communities and an amazing band. It was a constant part of my life.

On a bit of a different track, I have also been thinking a lot lately about spiritual formation and spiritual disciplines. I am working on choosing a book for our church’s women’s ministry small groups to study this fall, and the book I am looking seriously at is all about spiritual formation and discipline. It has been a great reminder that much of our faith is about training ourselves to become more like Christ. We don’t easily and naturally sit down and pray for 5 hours. Well, at least I don’t. But through discipline and training, this can become possible. In some ways, I think the same is true about worship. I believe in order to authentically and genuinely worship, it takes practice. It takes practice to shut out the nagging thoughts about the day’s schedule. It takes practice to turn your thoughts fully on God. And it takes practice to not think about how your voice sounds, how the band sounds, or how your neighbor sounds. Perhaps this is too harsh a way to think about worship. But I think we have to admit that there is a ring of truth to it. If our only time of worship is on Sunday mornings from 9:30-10:00am, then we don’t get much practice, do we? It’s difficult for your heart to be focused on worship. But if it’s a discipline that we focus on throughout the week, we learn to be better and more authentic worshippers. And not just alone, but together in church, in our small groups, at MOPS, wherever we gather. For me, I have been challenged to try and be more disciplined in my worship experiences throughout the week. I want worship to become a natural part of my life and who I am, and not just be a Sunday morning at 9:30 thing.

Do you ever feel out of practice with worship? What are some ways that you incorporate worship throughout the week?

*for the context of this post, worship is referring to singing worship songs. I realize that worship is so much more than song, but for simplicity’s sake I will use the term worship for music.