Q: How Can I Discover My Place in Ministry?

By Adam Lloyd Johnson, Ph.D.

How can I discover my purpose in the church and community? How do I discover and nurture my talents, gifts, and capabilities?

This question is near and dear to my heart. I’ve gone through this exercise many times in my life. Again, just recently God has been taking me through this terribly important question in order to determine His will for my life. Hopefully I can share with you some things He’s taught me as I’ve struggled through this question.

I’ve always told my children to, first, find out what you are good at and then, second, find out how to use those talents to help other people. Clearly this isn’t an overnight process. It takes time trying different things out to discover your natural abilities and spiritual giftedness. We are all built differently, and our make-up lends itself towards different areas of competence. Some people are analytical and work better with data, information, numbers, and facts (informational ministry). Others are more relational and work better with people (relational ministry). These are just two large umbrellas under which you can place the many spiritual gifts.

I’m a big believer in focusing on your strengths. There is some truth to the idea that God is glorified in your weaknesses because He can shine through those areas and be glorified by giving you victory and strength where you are weakest (2 Cor. 12). But for the most part, I think God has given every Christian a certain spiritual gift that is a manifestation of the Spirit so that we can best serve other people. Sometimes our spiritual gifts line up with our natural, built-in personality traits and sometimes they don’t. I’ve seen people who are naturally introverted but God has blessed them with the gift of evangelism. They may not be the life of the party, but when it comes to sharing God’s love and truth one-on-one, they are very effective.

So how do you find your strengths/gifts? Well, you need to try serving others in different ways. Start with small things. God says those who are faithful with the little things will be entrusted with bigger ones later (Matt. 25). If you think it may be teaching, try teaching a children’s Sunday school class at church and see how it goes for a few months. Don’t give up right away if the first few weeks are a disaster. Give yourself several months to see if it’s something you can learn, enjoy, and have a real impact in the lives of others. If, after maybe a year, you just don’t seem to “fit” in that role, then try something else. You can try out several things like this at the same time too!

Ask mature Christians around you whom you trust what they think your gift is. Remember that many times it isn’t where you necessarily “look” good but where you are most “effective.” I remember the first time I heard Billy Graham and thought, “Well, this is okay, but I’ve heard other people teach better and give better gospel presentations than this!” But then at the end, thousands of people came forward to trust in Jesus, and then I was like, “Wow, look how God used him!” A good reminder also is that it is all God’s work; He’s just letting us be a part of it.

To help you get started, review the chapters in the New Testament that talk about spiritual gifts (Rom. 12, Eph. 4, 1 Cor. 12). All Christians have at least one, and this will give you an idea of what God might have in store for you. There are also good spiritual gift tests on the Internet. They are similar to personality tests but concentrate more on how you can best serve others than on how you react to certain situations. These may be a good first step, but you can’t know for sure until you get plugged in and start serving. You can read tons of books about basketball, but to really understand the game you’ve got to get in there and play!

With all of this, seek God first (Matt. 6:33). Don’t define yourself primarily by your gift, job, or position. Concentrate on becoming the person God wants you to be first and foremost, and then wait on Him to lead you to the work He wants you to do. Pray for help from the Holy Spirit to guide you to the people you can serve best, to open up those doors for you and make it obvious to you how He wants you to serve others.

Make sure your motives are pure. God calls His followers to a life of service, not lordship over others. The world would tell you to find what you are good at, sure, but then it would tell you to exploit those talents to “rise above the rest” and lord it over them (Matt. 20:25-28). This selfish ambition causes people to chase material possessions, power and influence over others, and a general promotion of self over others. This is just the opposite of what God wants (James 3:13-4:3). As Christians, we are to use our talents to help and serve other people, not exalt ourselves over them. Spiritual gifts are unique – they are the only gifts that are given to you but that aren’t for you. Weird, I know. They are given to you but are for others, to build them up and help them grow/mature in Christ (Eph. 4:16).

After you figure out your strengths, keep yourself from adopting an “us/them” attitude. More often than not, we exalt our strengths as the most important ones in our church and belittle the talents of others. The most classic examples of this in the church are the teachers and the evangelists. The teachers tend to be more informationally oriented (facts, content, info), and the evangelists tend to be more relationally oriented (friendships, love, kindness). Well, if a church is dominated by teachers, then they tend to see that as the most important part of ministry and then belittle the evangelists and their relational gifts. What ends up happening is that the evangelists end up leaving, and the church is just left with the teaching type of people – or vice versa. This is unfortunate because a church needs both to function properly. Unity is trivially easy if everybody in a church is gifted the same way!

The trick is to be diversified and maintain unity. This is only possible in the power of the Holy Spirit. If you tend to be more relational, do not underestimate the importance of the teaching side. Just because you aren’t good at it, don’t belittle the importance of it. This germinates an ugly us/them attitude that invokes competition and pride instead of learning how to depend on one another (Gal. 5:13-16). We just aren’t built to be able to do everything by ourselves, and I think God made us this way so that we have to learn how to depend on each other and work in love and humility.

Good luck on your quest. May God bless you and take you to people that could really benefit from the way God made you!

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