Dare to do things badly

Our minister is a very godly man: he has chosen to do something he’s less good at for the sake of the gospel. Let me explain.

John often says that he was a much better doctor than he is a minister. (NB: I find this hard to believe.) But he was so convinced of the importance of helping people understand, believe and obey the Bible, that he gave up medicine for full-time paid Christian ministry.

This was a much harder decision for John to make than most of us. You see, John, like me, is a perfectionist. And, believe me, perfectionists like to stick to the things they’re best at, and they like to do them well.

Now, I’m not advocating (and neither is John) that you should become a Bible teacher if you’re not gifted at preaching. In Paul’s list of qualifications for overseers, he says you need to be “able to teach” (although he spends far less time on this than godliness—see 1 Timothy 3:1-7). There is a place for recognizing and using our gifts. But there is also a time when we need to put our gifts aside, get down and dirty, and serve. There is a time for doing things badly.

Here’s a list of some of the things I’m bad at:

  • evangelism
  • serving people
  • leading singing
  • teaching other people’s kids
  • cooking meals

Being a perfectionist, I like to do things well. But I do, or have done, these things—not because I’m good at them (believe me, I’m not), but because there has been a need for them.

What a contrast this is to the modern emphasis on ‘finding my gifts’ and using them! I’m sure our obsession with discovering our gifts stems as much from a drive for self-fulfilment and self-discovery, as often as it stems from a desire to love and serve others.

So why not tear up the ‘discover your spiritual gift’ survey, and ask yourself these questions instead:

  • What are my primary responsibilities? How can I best fulfil them?
  • What are the needs in my community and church? How can I help meet them?
  • How can I help God’s kingdom advance? What can I do to proclaim the gospel?

You never know: as you love and serve those around you, you might discover a spiritual gift you never knew you had! Ministering to others and having others recognize your gifts is the best way to discover them anyway.1 Your gift might not turn out to be one of the ‘exciting’ ones—perhaps it will turn out to be service, or encouragement—but you will bless others richly as you use it.

1 This is why ministry apprenticeships are so valuable: they push us out of our comfort zone and help us to discover ways we can minister to others. We might never have thought of serving others in some of these ways, but they can prove very valuable in the years to come. I’ve been astounded at the servant-hearted, entrepreneurial, fruitful ministries exercised by those who’ve done an apprenticeship, including those who never went into full-time paid Christian ministry.

14 thoughts on “Dare to do things badly

  1. Hi Jean,

    This was a much harder decision for John to make than most of us. You see, John, like me, is a perfectionist. And, believe me, perfectionists like to stick to the things they’re best at, and they like to do them well.

    I find this very encouraging, yet challenging to know that there are different things that you have to give up more based on different personality type you are.

    From your perspective of perfectionist, would it be hard for a perfectionist, such as yourself, to find out that Jesus is a free gift from God?

    A perfectionist, from my point of view, would do his best to work out his way out.

    Thus, don’t you think the idea of having Jesus as a Saviour throws you off completely? For you’ve got nothing to work out and show off your way of perfectionism.

    This was a question I asked a friend of mine, who happen to be one, and have not yet call himself a Christian.

  2. Jean,

    I think this is a very useful insight. Sometimes doing something we are less good at naturally, like your minister, is a way God deals with our pride. Works for me, anyway.

  3. Good one, Jean.

    I don’t think desire and preferences and giftedness are totally irrelevant to what we are doing. So if there are two worthwhile activities and both are strategic and needed but I only have time for one, then I have no problems with encouraging someone to do the one they are more gifted for, or would enjoy more.

    That said, I think the spiritual gift discovery movement—although being one factor in re-emphasising the priesthood and ministry of all believers—often taught a very static view of spiritual gifts. “Do this quiz/test and here’s the result”, and you are labelled.

    It’s worth noting that in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 parallels “gifts”, “ministries”/“services” and “activities”/“workings” in the same way it trinitarianly parallels Spirit, Lord (Jesus) and God (the Father) as the giver.

    Both “ministry”/“service” and “activity”/“working” gives a much more dynamic and episodic view of what might go on, at least on occasions.

    In the same way, several of the gifts are things that all Christians are commanded to do as they have opportunity. This is especially notable with some gifts mentioned in Romans 12:6-8: service (cf. Gal 5:13); encouragement/exhortation (cf. 1 Thess 4:18, 5:11,14); having mercy (cf. Luke 6:36, 10:37); giving (cf. 2 Corinthians 8-9; Eph 4:28); and even teaching (cf. Col 3:16).

    So we may not be great at all these various tasks, but God will give us the chance to do many of them from time to time.

  4. Thanks, John!

    William, I couldn’t agree more. Perfectionism is fundamentally opposed to the gospel of grace. I struggle every day to hold on to God’s grace, instead of trying to feel good enough for God, others and myself, through my own efforts.

    This is true of all our most deeply-held idols. Anxiety is fundamentally opposed to trust in God’s sovereign goodness. People-pleasing is fundamentally opposed to the fear of God. Pleasure-seeking is fundamentally opposed to the worship of God, the source of all pleasure.

    How hard it is for all of us, your friend included, to give up our most deeply-held idols and submit ourselves to God! For these idols go right to the centre of our being. Only God can break down our defences against him, and open our eyes to his grace, love and truth. And we need to preach his grace, love and truth to ourselves every day.

  5. I think it’s good to be challenged to try something different, and sometimes a new talent is discovered.

    Still, my experience has been that it is best, long-term, to get people involved in ministries that they are capable in and that they feel passionate about.

  6. I couldn’t agree more! Great leaders not only have great strengths but great weaknesses as well, and too many of us spend so much of our energy trying to shore up all our weaknesses that we don’t concentrate on our strengths and build them up!

    Long ago, I came to the conclusion that there are aspects of ministry that I simply don’t and will never do particularly well (which I won’t bother listing, but thanks for listing yours—very encouraging!). My people have come to accept what I can and can’t do, and I have learned (for the most part!) to do so as well.

    This doesn’t mean that one gives up trying to improve, but it does mean that the focus of my efforts are to grow my strengths rather than patch up all my weaknesses.

  7. Sandy, I appreciated that, thanks for all the useful insights on the passage: I might save them somewhere so I can remember what you said!

    Craig and Sandy, I agree that there is a place for spending most of your ministry time using the gifts God has given you. As long as we remember that the priority isn’t me getting to use my gifts, but me serving people in the best way I can. And not refusing to do all the little things which need doing – cooking meals for people, set up at church, visiting the ill – even when we’re not great at them, or don’t enjoy doing them. They may not be the main focus of our time, but we need to do them because they’re part of loving God’s people. And there may be times we’ll even need to do something like lead the singing!!

    Bob, as long as you don’t just focus on using your strengths – people’s needs sometimes demand we do things we’re less good at, or learn to do things we’re not naturally skilled at. For example, I’m not sure saying a minister is good at preaching but not pastoral work lets him off visiting and counselling people – he needs to learn to counsel people in applying the Bible to their lives, and he needs to visit the sick and grieving, for example. Or a minister who’s good pastorally but not at preaching – well, he had better learn how to preach or perhaps he’s in the wrong job! Of course, a team can help cover some of these things: but the minister needs to oversee and make sure they happen according to the Bible.

  8. This is a good discussion. I can see the value of just getting in there and serving wherever there is a need. There are some areas of ministry (e.g. kids’ church) that I don’t feel at all gifted in, but do because it needs to be done and there is value (for the kids!) in me doing this.

    Yet I wonder where the Bible speaks of particular gifts, e.g. teaching, do we want to encourage people without those gifts to teach, just because there is a need? Could this be more harmful than beneficial?

  9. Thanks, Jean, for your article.

    I agree, and would add that it is one of the great blessings of the small church that people are forced into service in roles they would not naturally pick for themselves.  This can be good because (as Craig says) people might discover a hidden gift, or because they learn and model humble perseverance to the congregation.

    In a large church, where people gravitate towards roles that they are better at, I fear it may lead to an obsession with excellence, and to religious consumerism over volunteerism.

    Case in point: at our church, we have one song leader who is not in the least bit musical, but willingly leads the congregation in song every second month.  He sees the value of modelling passionate praise of God, and does a great job by working around his musical weakness.  (Physically indicating starts of songs, singing the first line strongly then backing off so that his voice doesn’t distract, etc.)

    As my mother used to say: “the forest would be a very quiet place if only the best birds were allowed to sing”.

  10. Steve,

    I agree. You would never ask someone to be a teacher if they didn’t have the gift of teaching (1 Timothy 1:2).

    And yes, we have a responsibility to use our particular gifts to serve God’s people. Paul again: “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.” (Rom. 12:6, and see verses 3-8).

    I deliberately concentrated on one side of the argument in my article, since I think we’ve gone too far the other way in the modern church, focussing on my gifts and my abilities, rather than on the needs of others, and how we can best serve them.

    But I think we all have a responsibility to do two things:

    • use our particular gifts to serve God’s people in whatever ways are open to us (without becoming resentful if God hasn’t opened these ways for us! e.g. I’ve always wanted to sing, but no-one ever asked me);
    • serving God’s people according to the opportunities God gives us, even if we’re not particularly gifted in these areas (e.g. supporting a suffering friend, cooking meals, visiting the sick). Like Sandy says, we’re all called to serve, encourage, and have mercy.

    In my own life, this means I devote much of my ministry time to writing and teaching, since other Christians have encouraged me to do these things. But I make sure that I allow enough time for spontaneous ministry, like chatting with a non-Christian neighbour, or making meals for a grieving member of our church.

    It will look different for everyone!

    Wally, nice to hear from you, it’s great to be part of a church where people serve each other! smile

  11. Bob, as long as you don’t just focus on using your strengths; people’s needs sometimes demand we do things we’re less good at, or learn to do things we’re not naturally skilled at.

    Exactly. I’m not saying I refuse to do things I’m not good at, only that I recognize that I’m better at some things than others, and I choose to focus my efforts on my strengths. I don’t think I’m particularly good at hospital visitation, for example, but I do it every week because it’s part of my calling.

    Part of my process of maturing has been to become comfortable with what I can’t do well—as well as appreciating my strengths.

  12. It seems to me that the best way to serve others is to look for ways to use our particular abilities as gifts for the church. I fear that ‘waiting for a need’ before you act just ends up with the tail wagging the dog. Maybe we actually create a need by not exercising our abilities …

  13. Thanks, Martin.

    I agree, we should get in there and use our gifts. And I also agree, we shouldn’t “wait for a need”. There are enough needs around without having to wait for them! My point wasn’t that we should wait, but that we should get in and serve, according to our gifts, as you say, but also sometimes in the many areas we’re not gifted in because there are so many needs.

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