Friday, January 10, 2014

Choosing Ministry

Yesterday, I told you that I don't do everything I can for the kingdom of God. I only do the things to which I am called. And let me tell you - this has changed not on the way I view ministry, but the way I do ministry. This is true whether your ministry is an official one, a community one, a social one, the kind of ministry everyone talks about, the kind of ministry no one talks about. This is true regardless of what you do for God, so long as you're doing it for God.

Now, I mentioned that I've narrowed my list of ministries to a select few. There is an important discernment process at work here because every ministry opportunity - to this day, every one - begins in my heart with one of two responses: a resigned recognition that I'm not nearly qualified at all or an excited realization that I can do that! Neither is the word by which one should decide about ministry.

There are the rare occasions on which an opportunity that I met with resignation continues to eat away at my heart until I can no longer deny that God is asking me to pursue it, despite my feelings of being unqualified. Even despite my actually being unqualified. Sometimes, those are the best ministries and they bring, of course, their own lessons. Those moments are undeniable; when you feel the calling of the Spirit, you go. It's fairly clear when that calling comes against your own sensibilities.

But what about the opportunities at which I leap, knowing I can do what is asked or needed? What is the discernment involved in choosing a ministry? I think it's this, and remember this is personal testimony only and not some scientific spiritual study:

I start by accepting that I can do it, by recognizing that I have in me the ability to perform such a duty. This immediately takes away any questions I might have about myself and allows me to focus on the ministry itself. I can do it. Does that mean I should?

I ask what it is that I can bring to the ministry. I can do it, but what can I do for it? What is my unique offering in that specific place? For instance, if I am asked to run the presentation in the sound booth, I can. But is there something about me doing it that would make it better than someone else doing it? If so, is that thing a reflection on how highly I think of myself or is it an objective observation? If the answer to this question draws me into the praise of myself - "I can do that so much better than anyone else" - then I throw it out immediately. Ministry exalts the Lord, not the self. If the answer to this is negative - that I can offer only mere rote service - then I dismiss the opportunity. If the answer to this question is neutral - that is, that there is nothing unique about the way in which I would do it - or positive - that there is something special about the way in which I would serve here - I move on in the discernment process.

I then ask what opportunity the ministry might provide me. A lot of people won't ask this question because it sounds self-centered, but I don't think it is at all. There has to be some aspect of the ministry that feeds you, whether obviously or in a subtle way, or you will never sustain it. So I ask - what in this opportunity is going to nourish me?

Not all opportunities are for the glorious things. Some are for refinement. For instance, in order to combat an arrogant attitude and a haughty heart, I engage in the ministry of service. There is, on an average day, not much about passing a Communion tray that fuels me. That's just the truth. But the service behind it is a humbling that my heart needs, to constantly remind me that I have been placed on this earth for the service of others in the name of the Lord and of Love. That is why I pass the trays.

On the other hand, the creative arts ministry of which I am privileged to be a part absolutely nourishes my Spirit. It gives me the chance to dive deeply into God's Word and presence so that as I make plans to guide others through it, I know the terrain. Or at least have some general idea of it.

So that's why I ask - what do I get out of this ministry? I am actively looking for ministries that fall into either of the above categories: ministries that nourish my Spirit in the way God has created in me or ministries that actively counter weaknesses in my flesh that I struggle against. Those are the two criteria for choosing a ministry in response to this question, and the only two.

In rare circumstances, I must break all of this. Those are the times when things must be done, I can do them, and nobody else is going to. I do not jump at these opportunities, but I will quietly volunteer myself in the case that I am simply the only one who is going to respond. Things like when the minister sends out an email that says, "The toilets need wax rings. Who's game?" Nobody jumps at that, but I can do it and in the case that no one else is going to, I offer my name. Not because it meets any of the criteria of discernment but simply because it must be done. Such is life. Such is service.

But for the most part, this is my discernment process. After knowing I can, I ask how I can. I ask specifically how I can that perhaps someone else could not, and discover whether I have something unique (or at least something good) to bring to the ministry. And then I ask what the ministry will bring to me. I am looking for those things that will penetrate my heart and feed my soul. I think those are the things God wants us to know before we enter into His service.

It means none of us does everything (unless you're the Pastor, in which case, you will always be the on-call back-up to do everything and will often end up actually doing everything). It means we have to say no to some very good opportunities. That still troubles my heart some days, but less and less as time goes by.

And it has led me into some incredible ministries that are, for now, just where God would have me. I mentioned those yesterday: speaking, serving, mad scientist, creative arts, drama, and visitation. And He's calling me strongly into visitation, which doesn't actually seem like it fits the discernment mold and yet, it's absolutely perfect. I may share more on that later. And maybe more on discernment, as the Spirit leads.

But are you getting the picture? Are you understanding better what it means to discern a ministry for yourself? Are you getting a little more comfortable with the idea of not doing everything but still doing something? That's important, too...whatever you do, do something.

To be continued...

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