February 18, 2015

Is Gift-Based Ministry Part Of The Problem?

ECF Vital Practices recently reposted on its Facebook page a list of signs of healthy church. It was a fine list for the most part, and like most such lists, it emphasized empowering people to identify and use their spiritual gifts and talents.

I wonder a bit about our rush to place the gifted in ministry, to find the right person for the right post so that all will run smoothly. We swim in the currents of a culture that treasures efficiency and competence. We love a well-run organization and we search for busy, competent people with track records for getting the things done.

I worry that we muddle competence and giftedness, and sometimes leave faith out in the cold all together. A well-run church may or not be faithful. It may or may not be steeped in love, forgiveness, and humility. It may or may not witness to a resurrection that comes out of the abject failure of a humiliating death.

Competence may get in the way of remembering that we all depend on God, and that God's ability to create something from nothing depends not at all on our efficiency.

Give me a bumbling effort drenched in prayer any day over a well-oiled operation with no room for incompetence, or the incompetent.

I'm a pretty competent person. I've gotten a lot of A's, and a lot of praise for my work. But my faith is strongest when I'm skating close to the edge, way out of my depth, deeply aware of my flaws and my weakness.

I am grateful for a ministry that demands so much that is well outside the realm of my talents, that leads me regularly into the unknown without a map or book of instructions.

I wonder if we might think differently about who we ask to take on the work of the church. Instead of, "Who might be good at this?"..." Who would bring a spirit of humility?" Instead of "Who could make this work?" ... "Who always seems to manage a kind word or a genuine smile?" Instead of, “Who is already doing other things well?” … “Who doesn't seem to have much to do? Who might need a way to be part of the project?”

It might lead us away from looking for people to run things well, and toward a more chaotic, collaborative way of being. It might be a roomier vision, with space for the very young and the very old, the very shy and awkward, and those of differing physical and intellectual abilities.

Even for those who are gifted and talented in the most traditional sense, there might be room to experience and witness to the sort of grace that only comes outside the well-oiled machine.

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