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Square pegs in round holes

By Steve R. Mills

God has placed within your church the gifts, resources, and personnel necessary to do His present purpose. Design your programs and ministries around what you currently have to work with and do not try to force people and resources into programs or ministries that you've always had or somebody thinks are important.

Square pegs in round holes don't work well. We may know that, but if we fill positions in our church and Sunday school without understanding people's gifts, talents, temperament, and passions, we are trying to fit square pegs into round holes.

The Scriptures are clear that everyone has been given a gift by God and that these gifts fit together like parts of the same body (Romans 12). The church is most effective when the gifts function in their proper place and at the proper time.

There are several foundational principles with which we must come to grips before we can begin organizing and carrying out an effective lay ministry that mobilizes volunteers.

  1. God has given people gifts to be used for ministry (Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4.).
  2. The individual believer will find greater fulfillment and effectiveness as he discovers and uses his gifts (Matthew 18:21-35;1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12; Ephesians 4).
  3. Leaders are responsible for establishing a process of training and mobilization for ministry in the church (2 Timothy 2:2; Ephesians 4:713).
  4. God raises gifted leaders in response to prayer before He asks the church to reach out in ministry that requires that special leadership (Matthew 9:38; 2 Timothy 1:6; Acts 6:1-7).
  5. The church is designed to be a body with each part functioning as it is designed (1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12).
  6. The church will attain maximum effectiveness only as it trains and mobilizes people and as people actively use their gifts and talents in ministry as a team (1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12).

Thinking we don't have the personnel or resources we need to be effective is self-defeating, discouraging, and wrong. God has placed within your church the gifts, resources, and personnel necessary to do His present purpose. Design your programs and ministries around what you currently have and do not try to force people and resources into programs or ministries you've always had or somebody thinks are important.

Robert Logan in his book, Beyond Church Growth, suggests five steps to mobilize laity for ministry according to spiritual gifts.

1. Evaluate the present ministry. What roles/positions are needed for your church to attain its ministry goals? What gifts and talents are resident within the church presently? What is the workload and ministry of the paid staff and the volunteer staff? Do at least 50 percent of your congregation have a role or task in the church? Is there ministry balance both outreach and nurture? Are 15 to 20 percent of your programs and ministries focused primarily toward the unchurched? Do most of your present ministries maintain a priority on outreach, or are they more inwardly focused?

2. Organize the lay ministry process. Make assimilation and lay ministry a normal process for both new and older members. Gifts discovery should not be just a class or an event but part of a unified process. For example, newcomers to the church could follow this path: Pastor's Class, 4 weeks; Gifts Discovery, 8 weeks; Basic Leadership Training and Discipleship, 12 weeks; and Specialized Leadership Training (i.e., Sunday school teacher, Missionettes leader).

Test, teach, counsel, and place people in appropriate ministry positions. Write a ministry description for every position that is needed. (You can obtain sample ministry descriptions from the Sunday School Department.)

3. Teach, train, and mobilize laity. Prepare leaders and lay ministry consultants first so they can better help equip and train others. Use a variety of settings such as Sunday school classes, small groups, or intensive weekend seminars to teach, train, and mobilize people for ministry.

4. Continue training and development. On-the-job training and refresher training are important to most occupations. Monthly or quarterly staff meetings can increase knowledge and skill in each area of ministry. Formal training such as magazines, films, Bible studies, audio/video tapes are essential to quality ministry.

There are several resources you can use to help people discover where they fit in ministry:

John Palmer's book, Equipping for Ministry (GPH), is a good course of study.

Spiritual Gifts Discovery Workshop by C. Peter Wagner can help people understand their gifts and abilities.

The Wagner-Modified Houts Questionnaire for Gifts Discovery is one of the best from the charismatic/Pentecostal perspective.

The Spiritual Gifts Implementation Leaders Guide by Robert E. and Janet Logan is a good format for the local church's process of gift discovery and mobilizing laity for ministry. These three resources come from Fuller Institute.

When we take seriously the development and mobilization of volunteers it affects individual lives and the church as a whole.

  1. As people are given opportunities to use their God-given gifts, they receive a sense of fulfillment.
  2. Frustration and burnout are minimized when people work in areas of ministry that are compatible with their giftedness and temperament. They are more likely to view their responsibilities as a ministry and not simply a job. Ministry turnover decreases because ministry satisfaction increases.
  3. Generally when people are ministering within their areas of giftedness there will be results. For example the class will grow, the activity they are responsible for will be a success or the project is well organized and runs smoothly.
  4. Ministry quality improves as people are trained.
  5. As people understand their gifts and are trained to use them, they become more confident and willing to become involved. Training encourages people to make a difference through ministry.

How about your church and Sunday school? Do you have a process that helps people find their gifts and use them in ministry? As a leader, begin to look at people differently. Instead of trying to find someone to fill a position, try finding a position that is right for the person.

Let's quit trying to push square pegs into round holes!

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