Our church was experiencing phenomenal growth. That’s both the good news and the bad news. The pains that come with such growth are as real as the physical growth pains I felt when I was a preteen. When my joints ached and my stretching muscles screamed for relief, the only solace I could find was my dad’s assurance that I would be taller in the morning. I made regular and solemn treks to the door frame in my bedroom to record the progress being made, attempting to prove to myself that the gain was worth the pain.
While we were always in need of money, our greatest growth need at the time was for members of the body of Christ to step forward and do their fair share of the ministry. We simply would not reach our community and our world if we couldn’t find people willing to serve. The preschool area of our ministry was voracious in its demands for help. It takes a lot of hands to handle a growing preschool. But that was not our only area of need. There was the growing worship ministry and its need for choir and orchestra members. Each area of the Sunday school was experiencing growth, and with that came the need for people to assume ministry roles.
What were we to do? If all else failed, I’d preach a particularly “convicting message” about the demand for service. To ensure that everyone got the message, I determined to lace it with all the guilt-laden phrases I could muster. Surely such a message would motivate the masses! I was both shocked and distraught when my sermon on service produced little visible results.
A Life-Changing Conversation
Still reeling from the lack of response, I left my office to make my hospital rounds. As I walked through the lobby of the Leigh Memorial Hospital, I smiled at a local candy striper, a volunteer who wore a pink, candy-striped uniform and gave countless hours of free service to the local hospital. This lady smiled brightly as she waved at her pastor. That’s right: she was a member of my flock.
Her smile and the immediate recognition on my part that she was giving freely of her time to serve persons in the hospital caused me to think of my vain appeal for help. I sensed the Holy Spirit prompting me to ask her about her service to the hospital and lack of service through the church. I made my way to the reception desk and asked the questions that led to a radical transformation in my ministry.
“How many hours of service do you give each week through the hospital?” I asked.
Smiling brightly, she answered that she gave more than twenty hours a week.
I first complimented her on her servant spirit and then asked permission to ask a personal question. Just to break the ice, I asked, “Were you at church yesterday?”
She responded with a weak “yes” and then dropped her eyes, anticipating the next question.
“Did you hear my message?” A slight nod of the head indicated a “yes” response. “What did you think of it?” I queried. She responded that she couldn’t understand why no one would respond to such an appeal.
With complete innocence she asked, “Why do we have such trouble getting people to serve?”
I was stunned to find that she was actually asking the same question I had been asking myself. I cautiously proceeded, “Have you ever thought of volunteering even a few hours a week for service through the church?”
Her vulnerability was unnerving. “Pastor, you don’t know how I dream of being of service to the Lord through the church.”
I must confess that I was thoroughly confused. I was thinking to myself that I could certainly answer her dream. Why were my pleas for help and her desire for service simply not connecting?
“You have not because you ask not!” So I asked! “Why have you never stepped forward and volunteered your service in our church?”
Her face spoke of her agony and her shame. “Oh, pastor, I am not worthy and I am not capable.”
We Are Worthy and Capable
The Holy Spirit spoke to me through this laywoman. I had no idea concerning this woman’s past or of her present struggles, but I now knew that she was like a large number of people who listened to me every Sunday. Every time I would talk about getting involved in the ministry of the church, their hearts stirred within them, but just as quickly their hopes were extinguished by the adversary who convinced them that they were simply not worthy. I began to examine my preaching ministry and to work harder to communicate the truth that we are new creatures in Christ. I underlined the truth that God’s redemption impacts all of our life and thus He has declared us worthy of serving Him. This theme seemed to deal with the issue of worth, but it left one plea unanswered.
What about her concern about being capable? After all, we are talking about spiritual ministry. Serving the King and advancing the kingdom should never be taken lightly. At this juncture I began to teach more fully about the ministry of the Holy Spirit as He empowers and gifts believers for ministry. The King has gifted us for service in the body, and that alone makes us capable.
When you understand that God created you in His image, redeemed you by His grace, gifted and empowered you by His Spirit, and specifically chose you to serve alongside Him to advance His kingdom, your life will be forever changed.
Ken Hemphill, You Are Gifted (Nashville, TN: B&H Educational, 2009).
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