A couple of weeks ago I led a workshop at the LifeServe National Conference which I titled “The Un-Interview.” The topic was ministry conversations–those conversations we equipping leaders have with newcomers to our congregation or with folks who decide it’s time to “get more involved”–and how to get the most out of them. I recently read Henri Nouwen’s book, Spiritual Direction, and it was playing through my mind as I prepared my presentation.
As ministry leaders, it is easy to succumb to the temptation to treat these conversations like marketplace interviews. Certainly there are similarities. We are trying to match people/skills to roles. But there’s so much more to ministry conversations than matching and placement! We would do well to see them as prime opportunities to discover what God is doing in a person’s life.
“I’m sorry, but I just don’t have time to serve right now.”
As ministry leaders, this is the excuse we most often hear from someone who is unwilling to serve in ministry. Rather than pull our hair in frustration, what if we view this as a clue to what God wants to do in that person’s life, and embrace it as an opportunity to engage in spiritual direction… that is, creating space for this person to grow in their understanding of God? That reluctant volunteer may not trust God to meet their need for the time and energy necessary for ministry. Their excuse is our clue that God wants to replace their wrong narrative of a demanding and stingy God with a right narrative of a God who invites us into ministry with him and graciously provides all we need to accomplish his purpose!
Another reason for reticence that I often encounter is the fear that God will call someone to a ministry for which they have no desire. This is often tied up in that person’s wrong narrative about “carrying their cross.” Why would the Spirit hand out gifts–something we associate as a pleasurable experience–and then call someone to use that gift in the place that is least desirable to them? What wrong assumption does this person hold about God? My colleague Peter says, “If God is the God who wants you to go to Africa, you probably won’t want to do anything else.” In other words, if God is going to call you to something, he will give you the desire for it!
Guiding people into ministry is more than filling out questionnaires, tallying scores, matching gifts to roles, and making placements (though these things are a necessary part of the process). Ministry conversations can–and should–go far beyond discovering what gifts have been given, what experiences have occurred, what abilities have been learned, which heart-strings have been pulled. Ministry conversations can hold clues to false narratives about God that, with a little spiritual direction, can be gently revealed and corrected, creating space for spiritual awakening to a God full of grace and wonder. Serving that God becomes, then, a joyful “get to” rather than a joyless “have to.”