Growing up, my family and I attended a small, conservative church not far from our home. It was a community of warm, friendly people who loved God and diligently taught His Word. There, I built a firm foundation of Biblical knowledge and had the privilege of being mentored and invested in by the older generations. But as I grew older I started to feel quashed; like my love for Jesus could only be expressed in a quiet and controlled environment, lacking passion and freedom.
As a teenager, I began visiting a neighbouring church regularly, seeking to get my worship ‘fix’ from the talented (and good-looking) young guitarists, pianist & drummer there. (Yes, you could also say I had some ulterior motives, but I assure you I was seeking the Lord, too!) On one such visit, I noticed a poster for an up-coming worship event at the local Exhibition & Conference Centre and I immediately popped the date into my diary.
This worship initiative, called Souled Out, was to be a pilot and the first of four similar events to be held throughout the year; a new venture led by two men in their mid-twenties seeking to unite churches from across the city and across denominations in worship. I attended all four events that year, always excitedly anticipating the arrival of the next.
The following year, as attendance at Souled Out events continued to grow and the team behind it began to press into what God was doing through them and their obedience to the vision He had given them, more help was needed. I eagerly signed up. I was to be part of the stewarding team and take responsibility for showing people to their seats and assisting with any further help required by members of the public. I absolutely loved being involved.
I served on the stewarding team for the first three events that second year and by the time the fourth event came round, I had been asked to step in as the Stewarding Team Leader because the existing leader was attending a wedding that day. Oh boy, was I thrilled! Yes, please! The funny thing about me is that I crave responsibility. I love the challenge it brings, I thrive under pressure, and I cherish the rewarding sense of achievement when it is all done. Leading the Stewarding Team was the challenge I had been waiting for.
The following year I remained as the Stewarding Team Leader, gradually taking on more and more responsibility. From there I was asked to join the Souled Out Organising Team and delegated the Stewarding Team responsibilities to another volunteer to allow me to adopt the role as Event Manager. Oh, and did I mention I was just 19 years old?
You see, I didn’t set out with the end goal of overseeing worship events attended by over 1000 people, I simply wanted to be a part of it and serve in some way. But through time, willingness and obedience, God opened up new opportunities for me to step into and to grow into. It was through my involvement in Souled Out that I identified that I had the gift of administration. I may have known I was organised, but my gift did not present itself until it had had the opportunity to be exercised. That team saw potential in me, took a risk on me, and, unknowingly, catapulted me further into my adventure.
Through my experience with Souled Out, I became known to church leaders across the city, and this would later lead me into a pioneering staff role in a local church. But more on that later.
So how do we go about identifying the gifts God has birthed in us? Where do we start? For some it is easier to identify than for others, but my best advice would be to just serve. Get plugged into a local church and give it a go. “Give what a go?” you may ask. Anything! Anything that takes your fancy. If the creche team are short of helpers, offer to help them out. If you find that spending an hour with babies crying and toddlers tugging at your leg is not your thing, then graciously bow out and give something else a go. Can you make yourself a cup of coffee? Then why not begin to do it for others? If you find that you are too busy chatting to the first person that you serve and the line is backing up, perhaps you are more gifted with people and can begin to explore opportunities to welcome and connect with people. If you manage to serve a hundred cups of coffee, wipe the tables, empty the trash and restock the sugar sachets all before the kettle has finished boiling, then perhaps you have an eye for detail, and helps or administration is part of your gifting.
The bottom line is to just grasp an opportunity and give it a go. If you feel uneasy or worried about inadvertently joining a ministry you did not wish to, why not speak to the team leader beforehand and ask them for the chance to serve for a couple of weeks before you commit to anything? Believe me, most team leaders will jump at the chance to add people to their team and, if it does not seem like a good fit for you, it will probably not feel like a good fit for the team leader either, and they will happily let you bow out and bless you as you move on to something else.
But how will you know when you have identified your gift? Well, there are a number of different questions you can ask yourself:
1. What do I enjoy doing? My friends used to (and sometimes still do) laugh at how excited I get about plans, files, lists and colour-coded spreadsheets. It is not the items themselves that I get excited about, but the countless hours of consideration, preparation and precious information that they represent. These stationary items are evidence of my gift in action, and that is what excites me.
2. What frustrates me? Often, when you are gifted in a particular way, you look at certain aspects of church (or work, or home life) and get frustrated by the lack in those areas. Perhaps you get frustrated by what is being done and you are inspired with new methods to improve. Now, hear me, this is not permission for you to complain. Complaining about something only points out the faults. Inspired ideas, however, seek to provide improved solutions. Have you considered that, in fact, you may be the solution to some of the problems that you see? These moments may also help point you towards your gift.
3. What do I do well? Sometimes we make things difficult for ourselves, and complicate matters which are plain and simple. So what are you good at? What do others say you do well? Others will see the gift in you too, sometimes even before you do. Ask your team leader, your boss, your colleagues, and your friends what you do well, and what you perhaps do not do quite so well (and be prepared for honest answers). There is a reason God made you with specific gifts and skills; it is not luck or a coincidence that you enjoy and thrive in what you do well. This is all part of God’s careful design for your life, in preparation for the purpose He has for you.
4. What can I not stop talking about? I did not notice it myself, but when I was involved with Souled Out, I (unintentionally) introduced the topic into every conversation, no matter who I was with. It was such a huge part of my life, and I was incredibly passionate about it, that I just could not help but talk about it every chance I got! Recognising this highlighted for me how important my involvement in Souled Out was. It played a small, yet significant, part in God’s big purpose for my life, and He used it to identify and develop gifts in me. It set me on a path that would lead to even greater and more rewarding opportunities in the future.
We know that our bodies have many different parts to them: limbs, organs, bones, tissue, muscles… the list is a long one. And we also know that each part, no matter how big or small, seen or unseen, has an important and unique purpose. We each have a mouth so that we can talk, eat, and kiss. We have lungs so that we can breathe and extract the vital oxygen we need from the air around us. And the tiny hairs all over our body, often entirely forgotten about, play an essential part in helping to regulate our body temperature. The Bible uses the illustration of a body to also describe the global Church; that is, the collection of every individual on earth who has accepted salvation from their sins through Jesus Christ and entered into a relationship with God.
In 1 Corinthians 12, we are reminded that God has arranged every single member in the body carefully and intentionally. There is a reason that we are all different because no body is made up of only one part. Can you imagine a body of eyes? We could see everything going on in the world, but have no hands or feet to go and help. Or a body made only of mouths? We would have plenty to say but lack the ability to listen. Therefore, we all have different skills, different gifts, different purposes to work in collaboration with the other members of the global Church so that, together, we can operate effectively.
I would encourage you to read for yourself more about the different gifts given by God’s Spirit, as described in various passages in the Bible. But to help get you started, I have listed the main Bible passages with the gifts catalogued in them below.
Following the body analogy, 1 Corinthians 12 continues by providing a list of gifts given to the global Church through her members. They are:
- Apostolic Leadership
- Speaking in Tongues
- Interpretation of Tongues
In Romans 12, the Apostle Paul explains that each of us who have received salvation through Jesus Christ have also received a different gift according to the grace given to us, and urges us to use them. The gifts he lists are:
Ephesians 4 also mentions some of the gifts God gives us, to equip us for ministry and to strengthen the global Church. They include:
- Apostolic Leadership
- Pastoral Care
There are times in life when it is necessary and important to serve other peoples’ vision and passions. I do not believe that God will trust us with a vision of our own until we have proved that we can be trusted with someone else’s. In my own life, this has been true in a number of different contexts. But also true in every instance is the fact that these passionate visionaries get frustrated by my lack of passion for their particular area of service.
I used to think that I was lacking something; that I was not spiritual enough to see the need, or, indeed, that the world had deadened me to the spiritually lost in those communities, those cities, that demographic. It was not until much later that I began to recognise that God gives different people different passions (and gifts) to ensure that all His work gets done, and not just in one area (geographical or otherwise). If the whole Church body was passionate and gifted at leading worship we would do well at praising God and being led into spiritual connection with Him, but have no-one to explain the Scriptures to us. If your entire church congregation was passionate about reaching the elderly, a lot of broken people would make a whole lot of mistakes in life before they had the opportunity to learn about Jesus.
But we are part of a body and we all have different functions; different parts to play. The key for us is to find our unique role to play and then to play it well. It is all part of the journey to identify not only your gifts, but also the passions within which they can be used. I now recognise that it is important that my passions are different to those of my leaders, my peers and my friends, because there is a whole world of work still to be done in God’s Kingdom (read more in Rather You Than Me). We can not all prioritise a tiny corner of the Plan, but, rather, we must be equipped and released into that which God has called us to. I have had to initiate some difficult conversations with pastors, leaders, family members, and friends over the years because I have recognised that God’s priority for my life in that season was no longer within a ministry I had previously served in and, after prayerful consideration, it was time to step back from a role or responsibilities. Though good in and of themselves, they were no longer the best use of my gifts and my time.
As I mentioned earlier, my involvement with Souled Out later opened up an incredible opportunity for me to work for my local church. The role was a dream come true for me, and the experience and leadership I received there was truly defining. I will be forever grateful for the risk they took employing me; a naive 23 year old. The trust they placed in me to carry such responsibility, and the time they invested in me, not just to benefit my work but to shape my character and develop me spiritually too, was invaluable.
However, during my time working there, I struggled with insecurities. I often felt like my work was not making much difference. My role kept me, for the most part, behind a desk, sat at a computer, or in meetings with other church leaders. I longed to be on the ‘front line’ of ministry – on the streets, helping the broken, showing God’s love in more practical ways – not because I was necessarily good at it, but because I imagined that that was where the ‘real’ work was.
As I privately struggled with these thoughts, I was approached by a group within the church who had pioneered an outreach ministry in their neighbourhood over the last couple of years. They envisioned holding a summer fun day for their community, while incorporating personal testimonies and the gospel message into the programme. And they needed my help.
We formed a small group that took the lead on planning for and executing the event; we all brought very different gifts and skills to the table, but this proved both helpful and challenging at times. You see, as an Administrator, my priority was to ensure that every document, spreadsheet, application form, and risk assessment was properly and carefully completed, while those with the gift of faith, for example, struggled to see why it was so important that I had every ‘i’ dotted, and every ’t’ crossed, because they trusted the Holy Spirit to intervene and act on our behalf. My focus was to ensure that the BBQ food was prepared according to Health & Safety guidelines, while those with the gift of evangelism were more interested in identifying the right people to share their personal journey of faith.
The process to make this dream a reality for our small organising team was not an easy one. Our priorities and processes clashed regularly and we had to navigate many misunderstandings. But as time went on, we began to realise that none of us were invalidated in our priorities or agendas just because they were different. It was exactly for this reason that we were the right individuals to compile the group: because we were all different. It was necessary that our gifts and skills were vastly contrasted because the event would never have happened if we had had only some gifts without the others.
By the end of that summer I had learnt that, yes, we should all be demonstrating God’s love in the opportunities and circumstances we find ourselves in, but we, the Body of Christ, operate best when we operate in our own God-attributed gifts. I took the opportunity to walk the streets in that same community to invite people to the event, but my focus, my priority was to use the gifts that God had given me to work behind the scenes and to operate in my strengths. In using that particular event as an illustration, God helped me see that my employment (as well as my voluntary service) was key to the work that He was doing in and through my local church.
We should also be careful not to be too limited by our gifts either, though. Sometimes it is good to operate in other areas that perhaps pose greater challenge or anxiety. I felt far from comfortable knocking at doors and inviting people in that community to the summer fun day, but I knew that the only way in which I could grow and overcome my fear was by stepping out of my comfort zone.
We are reminded in 1 Corinthians 12 that it is God who selects and gives these different gifts to us, as He chooses; “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6) We cannot look upon another and wish we had their gift because, in so doing, we are rejecting the good gifts that God has given to us. When we each fully live in our own gifting and calling, there is no need for envy to creep into our thoughts because we are fulfilling the unique calling that was specially chosen by God, Himself, just for us. Our gift, our passion, our calling has the Heavenly seal of approval. No-one can steal that from you, only you can deny the purpose that the Father has placed on you if you allow jealousy, or fear, or busyness to rob you of it.
So resist the temptation of trying to do everything and spreading yourself too thinly – for some this is easy, for others (like me) much less so – but be assured that it is OK to say no, sometimes. It is far more profitable for you and your church if you focus on serving in areas that you are skilled and gifted in, and allow ‘gaps’ to be filled by other individuals within the church. By filling a role that is not ours to fill, we steal away the opportunity for others to identify and develop their own gifts. Serve in a way that has the greatest return.
There is also a danger of allowing the busyness of life to deter us from serving in our local church. I served in Souled Out through four years of studying for my Bachelors of Science degree in Physics and Education at university and I never missed an event. Many of my peers would step back during exam times or when deadlines were looming, but I firmly believe that when we work hard, do our best, and then leave it in God’s hands, He blesses us abundantly. Countless times God moved deadlines, cancelled lectures and postponed exams to allow me to give myself fully to both my studies and to my ministry service.
We rarely need to go looking for our purpose, it will always find us. It is that thing that plagues your thoughts when you are trying to sleep at night. Or the cause that penetrates your daydreams. It causes passion, excitement and a righteous anger to rise up within you. And when an opportunity presents itself for you to enter into the battle, there is a fire in your soul like you have never experienced before. So, “don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive” (Howard Thurman).
This blogpost is part 3 of a blog series, Adventure Awaits.
Part 1: Created for Adventure
Part 2: Beginning the Adventure
Part 3: Designed for Adventure
Part 4: Essential Tools for the Journey
Part 5: Facing Opposition
Part 6: Embracing Challenge & Change
Part 7: The Waiting Game