Thinking Out Loud

January 22, 2018

Not Uniquely Gifted

You’ve been there and I’ve been there also. It’s usually the first Sunday of the New Year, or the Sunday the church launches into Fall kickoff mode.

The appeal for help. The big ask for you to consider using your time and talents to serve your church.

You know the word…your gifts.

My wife and I have mixed feelings about these appeals at one particular church. Here’s why…

…Without sounding arrogant, when we arrived at our new church home 28 years ago, I’m sure there were people there who thought we were God’s gift to that church. The church had undergone a radical change in direction that meant some key people had departed for the church down the road, and that left the first church in dire need with someone who possessed musical talent.

Working entirely alone for four years, I organized a palette of worship materials to be used in three different services on Sundays, and then chose from that to create distinct worship sets for each. Using only the electronic piano provided, I had to create the momentum of a band on high energy songs at our outreach service, but still be able to bring the volume down a notch for the hymns at the traditional service.

It was exhausting, and my wife will tell you that I frequently spent an hour or two lying on the living room floor on Monday morning…

…The efforts paid off however. The faithful team of Sunday School teachers, ushers, offering counters, church board leaders and one musician eventually caught on with our town to the point it is today the most growing church of the two dozen or so in the immediate and surrounding area.

But with that growth, some other musically talented people showed up and I took what I thought would be a break. Possibly even a short break.

At first it was just the new pastor’s wife. She was busy with two infants who eventually freed her up to take my place leading worship. It turned out that one of the elders was a lapsed drummer. A guitarist showed up after another church in the area closed. A bass player was transferred to the area by a large utility company. A couple who once traveled to different churches doing duets decided to settle down and become backup vocalists for the slowly expanding church.

She had enough people for one team, and that was all she needed…

…Fast forward a few years. Right now, by my last count there are eight people at this church who are capable of organizing worship sets, procuring chord chart sheets and running a rehearsal for a group of 5-10 musicians and singers. That’s right; this one church has eight worship leaders. There are at least five rhythm guitarists. Four keyboard players. Three bass players. Two drummers drumming. And many, many capable backup singers. Furthermore, this doesn’t include the youth band, which is building its own roster of capable players, many of whom grew up with modern worship and have always considered this the normal way to do church.

It also means that there is a generation of people at this church — I would estimate at least 80% — who have never heard me play an instrument or lead worship. When I tell them that I simply was the worship team for four years and that I was on paid staff at the church, they are always a bit surprised. What I don’t tell them is that I’m also an example of how this particular church puts people out to pasture. I would have thought that at least once someone would have reached out and asked me to join a team for old time sake. Or even organize a retro worship set featuring some of the songs we did in that era. (Some of them are still viable, and there are many worth re-casting with a modern sound.) That never happened. And regular readers here know what happened when my wife tried to suggest such a thing, and the wounding that occurred in that process.

Fortunately, I get to apply those gifts elsewhere. There’s another church where I am occasionally put to use and am able to bring a lifetime of experience with church music teams and church orchestras to bear on helping younger musicians.

But this article wasn’t supposed to be about me…

…There are many people who have gifts, but they just aren’t unique gifts. Or they’re gifts the church isn’t particularly interested in using. While they might help out in the church kitchen, or drive the church van to winter camp, etc., these are often one-time things that aren’t very fulfilling, never get recognized, and are not the best use of that person’s unique talents.

If anything, the glut of volunteers prepared to do exactly the same thing just makes them feel average. The church has needs in other areas, and while one wants to be adaptable and keep a servant attitude, the fact is they are not able to use their full potential. I am not able to use my full potential. You are not able to use your full potential…

…When we arrived at that church, there was a month where we got invited to lunch every single week because we were perceived as offering something which the church needed. But when your gifts are or become commonplace nobody really cares or notices. It’s easy to get lost in the crowd. And if you have for example, the gift of singing like my wife does, and it’s part of the essence of who you are, and you never get to use that gift again in the church, then the people there don’t truly know you, because they don’t know that dynamic that is a central part of your life.

Unfortunately, the church cannot accept every volunteer in a ministry department that is already highly subscribed to. So, church; please stop guilting us once or twice a year with your requests to sign up and start using our gifts.

Preach a different text that Sunday.

 

 

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