Four depressing questions require very honest answers if the church is to have its ultimate measure of liberation and power:
In Ephesians 4:3-14 and Romans 12:4-8, prominence is given to gifts and ministry. Gifts were given by Christ when he ascended on high. Ministries are made possible by those gifts. We are using these terms in their true biblical sense. Gifts are often confused with the miraculous powers, tongues and healings of I Cor. 12. We speak rather of the ordinary (non-miraculous) gifts of God as given to believers. By ministry we do not mean the minister in the American sense of the pulpit man for a church. We speak rather of the ministry as the functional service roles filled by all disciples in which they exercise their gifts (talents, skills, aptitudes and capabilities).
Gifts and ministries are better understood in the church as the Body of Christ. The Head is in control and there are many members, each with varying functions, each created with varying capabilities. The two important elements are specialization and interdependence. Specialization is vital because the Body needs different functions. If all did the same thing, however good, particular needs would not be met. Interdependence is vital because everyone feels a debt of gratitude towards others for what he is receiving from them, and he in turn receives the gratitude of others for what he has done for them. So the Church with its multiple members is ministering with specialization and interdependence.
Now, when these two qualities are clear, several other things begin to come into focus. These gifts are from God. It's very true that we may have sharpened them, improved them, developed them. This may have been done in dozens of different ways. These gifts may have been aroused by someone entering our lives and suggesting, "Have you ever considered what power you have in this area?" "Have you ever thought what you could do if you tried this?" Maybe it was a Sunday School teacher, maybe an elder, maybe a preacher, maybe your parents. It can come from anywhere. But wherever this beginning germ of a gift came from and whoever else may have helped to develop it, a high school teacher, a Boy Scout leader, a college professor, an elder in the church (these improvements may have come from dozens of different places), does that make it any less a gift from God? Once we see these talents as gifts from God then there is no longer any room for boasting, for ego trips, for our crowing over others about the magnitude of our particular gifts. They are from God by His grace, and the glory is to God for their use.
Variety is wide in these gifts and their resultant ministries. See the lists of these in Romans 12:4-8, I Cor. 3, Eph. 4. Paul is apostle to the Gentiles, Peter to the Jews. See the specialization and the interdependence. Remember some of the outstanding ministries of the Bible: the widow who fed the prophet; Dorcas and her sewing; Barnabas who encouraged people; Joseph and Mary and their ministry of parenthood; Phoebe who served; Priscilla and Aquila who made tents; Paul and his writing letters; the "table-servers" in the Jerusalem church; Lydia and her hospitality; Martha and her cooking; and so many others in the long list.
Look at the contrast. Some of these ministries are professional ministries, some of them are non-professional. Some of them are formal and some are non-formal. Some are public, some are private. Some are organized, some are unorganized. Some of them are by males, some by females. Some are academic, some are practical. Some are for youth, others are for the aged. Some are dealing with physical, some with spiritual matters. Some are assigned and some are unassigned. You see the variety. How many ministries are there? How many gifts are there? Who can count them?
With specialization in the body, there must be delegation of function. My whole body delegates the telephone dialing to the index finger. Does this mean that every part of the spiritual life can be delegated. Definitely not. Every member of the body must have blood and nerves, otherwise it dies. These are maintenance functions and cannot be delegated to others. In the Body of Christ, certain maintenance functions can never be delegated, even with specialization and interdependence, to others: prayer, thanksgiving, confession, worship, and others. These are essential to my spiritual union with God. Maintenance functions cannot be delegated. Ministry functions can.
The next question that arises is: What does this say about foreign mission work? Foreign missions is an option of ministry for individuals. There are some people who have the gifts that are needed for foreign ministry and there are other people who don't have them. For the people who do, foreign missions is the ministry God has prepared them for. For others it would be a disaster for them to try to go into foreign missions. These gifts include aptitude in language, the ability to adjust adequately for cultural change, the emotional makeup that is able to transfer from one cultural system to another, and certain other measurable qualities. The presence or absence of these gifts may say, "This man is called of God for foreign ministry, while that man may suffer disastrously if he tries it." This may fly in the face of many of my missionary colleagues who say, "Everyone of you people ought to be a foreign missionary. And if you are not a foreign missionary, then you are a mission field." I believe that is a mistake. I believe there are many people who ought never to go into foreign missions. I also believe there are many people who ought to go into foreign missions who have never done it. Why? Because they have not examined critically and objectively what their gift of God is nor how that gift can be applied in ministry. Someone is getting ready to say, "Oh, he's ruining our recruiting program." No, I'm not, brother, I'm sharpening it. We'll have more missionaries than we ever had before if you hear adequately what I'm saying.
The question that follows immediately is: If foreign mission work is an option in ministry, how can we be sure someone will do it? The answer it this: it may be an option in ministry for individuals but it is an essential for the body of Christ. It may be individually optional according to your gift from God but it is an essential for the body of Christ. It may be individually optional according to your gift from God but it is absolutely essential in a corporate understanding of what the body of Jesus really is. Compare it if you wish to elders. Being an elder is not expected by God of every member of the body of Christ. Everyone would agree with that. But it is a corporate essential that there be elders in the church. Otherwise the body is either weak or sick.
Now another question. Does this mean that missions rank equally with all other church departments? What are the departments of church life: education, youth, building and grounds, benevolence, capital improvements and missions. Missions is one of many. And in our budgeting we are rather disposed to say, "We've got twelve different budgetary items here so we'll divide the budget into twelve parts and each one gets its proportionate share." The New Testament very clearly teaches the priority of certain gifts and certain ministries. In Acts 6, the apostles said, "It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables" (Acts 6:2). Does that mean that it was bad to serve the widows and their tables? No, not at all. It was good. But that one ministry was not of the same priority with the ministry of the word and prayer. Ministries have different priorities with God. And you don't have to read very much in the New Testament to find out which of these church departments held New Testament priority. What was the book of Acts most concerned about? Church buildings? Education programs? Youth programs? What was it? Answer that for yourself, brother, and I think the answer comes through very clearly: New Testament focus of priority must be observed by the church as a Body.
Look now at some results of our failure to understand this doctrine of gifts and ministry. It has caused some of us to see "church work" as an oppressive burden. The reason some of us dread it is because we have been motivated in most of our "church work" externally. "Somebody has scotch-taped a committee on me and I couldn't get out of it so I've got to go to the meetings but the sooner we can get the meetings over with and I can get back home, the better I like it." No wonder the committee doesn't work. You've got scotch-taped committee members. They are not internally motivated by having recognized their gift of God and having chosen by prayer the ministry where their gift may be applied. Internally motivated people don't dread church work. Externally motivated people do.
Another result of the failure to understand this concept is that so many of our best church workers are carrying a constant guilt burden. Now that really should be a contradictory statement. Our best church workers ought to be the people who are the most free of guilt. But sometimes it's the opposite way. Why? Because every time they hear of some new specialized ministry they simply are incapable of taking on a new ministry. Therefore they feel guilty because "here is another good work that I can't get into." Here's the way it happens: The brother who is known all over the brotherhood for his excellent work in the filmstrip ministry comes to speak to us. And he tells us how the filmstrip ministry works, how many people have been baptized, what a good thing it is, how it would build up the church, and "everyone of you people ought to be out in filmstrip work." And then next month the fellow from the bus ministry comes and says, "Everyone of you ought to be out riding the bus and bringing in all of these children where we can really bring them to the knowledge of Christ." The next month it's the cottage class specialist. "You ought to be out among the people of this community taking Christ into their homes." The next month it's the campaign recruiters. "We're going on a campaign to southern Zulu next month and we need twenty more people to go and you ought to be going with us." The next month it's the teaching specialist. The next month it's the door knocking specialist. The next month it's the benevolence specialist and the next month it's the foreign missionary. And each of these follows comes in and tells us about his wonderful ministry. And it is a wonderful ministry. It's a marvelous ministry. Praise God for it. Praise God for his gift. Praise God for his specialization. Praise God for his successes. But when he gets through, I go away feeling, "Oh, I'm not knocking doors at all, I'm not riding busses, I'm not going to south Zulu in a campaign. Oh, dear me!" And my guilt burden grows bigger ad bigger and bigger and I'm depressed more and more. That's why some of us feel like we do at the lectureship. All of the wonderful works going on and all of these fellows telling their stories and it's wonderful to hear about. But when I come out! Oh! I just feel, "How can I ever do all that?" My brother, God doesn't expect you to do all of that. Not if you understand what your gift is and if you have chosen by prayer (and if necessary, fasting) what your ministry is.
But there's another marvelous side to this. And this is the part of the sermon I like. When you understand what we're talking about, there are blessings, blessings, blessings. And this is where you begin to see some hope if you had the wrong answer to these questions at the first.
Can you imagine what this church or any church would be if the whole church was ministering? Not just the minister up here in the pulpit but if we could go up and down these aisles and point the finger at every member in these seats and say, "What is your ministry? What is your ministry? What is your ministry?" And one by one everybody is conscious of what his ministry is. Think what could happen within this church and within this community and within the whole world. Think of the power!
But here is another blessing. If you have your ministry well defined, when it is finished, you can have a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. Have you ever been able to say, "THERE, IT'S DONE?" I know many wonderful Christians who have never said that. When they are through with today's work or this month's, or this year's, they look at the map and say, "Oh, but there is China. There's Latin America, and this, and that and all that out there and I'm not through." If you were the universal church, you might feel that kind of unfinished feeling. But you're not. You are one small human being to whom God has given one or maybe two or three small gifts and God has appointed you to this particular small ministry knowing how big you are. And when you get through with that ministry, you can say, "Praise God, I have fulfilled my work for this period." You have a right to that, and without it you cannot feel the peace, joy, and gladness God intends you to have.
Then closely following that blessing is another. If you have carefully defined your ministry, you can say "No" to some requests from godly people in the church. The best people in the church have trouble saying "No." The reason is they love the kingdom. The result is they are overworked, damage themselves, lose their peace and other fruit of the Spirit. Their children, who see these church-working-dynamos without love and joy, turn away from the church, saying, "That's not for me."
Where, then, is the starting place? 1) Survey your gifts, talents, skills. List them on paper and see them as gifts from God. Be honest, exhaustive. List everything that has been a blessing to your family, your employer. 2) Then pray in thanksgiving to God, acknowledging them as gifts from Him. 3) Seek for your ministry. Circulate, inquire, read, observe, be sensitive, watch where people are hurting. Watch where they wait, then move in with what God has given you to perform the ministry God has called you to. 4) Respond to impulses to serve without waiting to be drafted. That's where half the fun it lost, when somebody comes to draft you. 5) Change ministries when you begin to run dry. Do something else for awhile. 6) Be prepared to receive new gifts as God sends them to you. Some of God's most gifted men became such because they did not refuse new gifts to enable them to move on to new ministries (not just adding another). 7) Desire the "greater gifts." See the priorities in God's ministries, and fill the most important one you can to His glory (not yours). 8) Be a multi-gifted disciple if that's what God gives you. Elders and preachers and many others are like this. What is an elder? An elder is a man who has already mastered the gift of teaching. He has mastered the gift of hospitality. He has mastered several of the other spiritual gifts that occur in the Kingdom of God. And having mastered those, he is now in a position to lay those gifts aside, pass them to others, and move on to a ministry of administration, a ministry of oversight. He is a multi-gifted person. And because he is multi-gifted, it is so easy for others to throw their ministries off on him. "Take it to brother X. He's so talented. And he will never turn you down. He'll always take on another job." Yes, and everybody feels so sad when he has a heart attack or when he breaks down with bleeding ulcers or when his wife dies of neglect. Such tragedy.
If the four depressing questions have found some answer in this study, God be praised. No Christian needs to feel those ways about ministry. A restudy of gifts and ministry has much liberation and power to offer. It is worth the time and prayer.