Friday, March 25, 2011

The Problem With "Gift-based" Ministry

This post is a repeat from a couple of years ago. This is in response to those who think they don't have to do missions because they don't the right "giftedness."  

I’ve just finished reading a voluminous document our association has prepared on church planting. I’m on the “Church Start Committee” thus I get to read the document prior to committee approval. The document is very well written and very detailed.One section of the document is entitled, “Church Growth Consultations Process.” This process identifies eight characteristics of growing churches. One characteristic that caught my eye was “Gift-oriented Ministry.” As most of you are undoubtedly aware, there is a certain segment of people who say that we need to discover our spiritual gifts so we can serve God in the ways He has gifted us.This “gift-based ministry” approach is troubling to me. Why? The main reason is that once I discover my spiritual “gifts,” I will have a built-in Christian excuse not to participate in ministries that do not match my “giftedness.” A few examples might be as follows:

Not gifted in evangelism? Then you don’t have to do evangelism.

Not gifted in mercy? Then you don’t have to be merciful.

Not gifted in faith? Then you don’t have to be faithful.

Not gifted in compassion? Then you don’t have to be compassionate.

Not gifted in administration? Then you don’t have to do administration.

The list could go on and on.

If “gift-based ministry” is not right, then what would be a better approach? I highly recommend Henry Blackaby’s little 92 page book entitled, What’s So Spiritual About Your Gifts? Here’s an excerpt from a chapter entitled “Gifting Follows Assignment”:

“As the Spirit reveals the will of the Father, we can then allow Him to accomplish it through our lives by the Spirit’s enabling. Equipping always follows the assignment. The enabling power of the Holy Spirit follows the assignment, never precedes it. For if we aren’t willing to obey the Lord and do His will, there’s no need for Him to give us gifts. Spiritual gifts don’t belong to the believer; they’re an expression of the Holy Spirit doing the Father’s will.”

Did you catch the emphasis of Dr. Blackaby? The emphasis is on God, not man. God empowers, equips, and enables as He calls His people to serve. We don’t deteremine when we will obey God according to our alleged gifting. We obey God and He equips us for the task, whatever it may be.

I know this flies in the face of the thinking of many SBC pastors and churches, but, to me, this is just another example of the difference of being God-centered as opposed to being man-centered. “Gift-based Ministry” is man-centered in that it is based on my gifts and how I will serve. The God-centered approach is following Christ anywhere He leads and relying on Him to equip us for the task. For those who disagree, I would recommend you take the time to read Dr. Blackaby’s book.

If “gift-based” ministry is not the answer then what is the answer for assembling ministry teams? I believe “burden-based” ministry is more biblical. What do I mean by a “burden”? I define a God-given burden in this context as “a sense of personal disquiet, urgency, and obligation, given by God and only by God, to act on behalf of and for the benefit of others to resolve a problem, meet a need, or seize an opportunity.”

I believe that the Bible is correct when it says that Lord adds to the body. If the Lord adds people to our local body of Christ, then we need to pay attention to who He is adding and what their “burdens” are, not so much their spiritual “gifts.”

As far as I can tell, God never called anyone to serve Him based on their “spiritual gifts.” God didn’t go to Moses and say, “Moses, you have the gift of courage and public speaking, therefore, I am calling you to deliver Israel from Egypt.” God didn’t go to Abraham and say, “Abe, since you have the spiritual gift of administration I’m going to call you to be the father of a great people.” God didn’t go to Gideon and say “Gideon, because you have the gift of wisdom, I’m going to call you to overthrow the Amalekites.”

No, God didn’t do that. What God did was choose to call someone, place a great desire in their heart to serve Him in a certain way, and then He equipped them for the task at hand. The equipping was always after the call.

“Burden-based ministry” is how I assemble ministry teams in our church. You see, I assume that if someone has a desire to serve God in a specific area, that is God placing that desire in their heart (“Experiencing God,” by Henry Blackaby).

I ask folks this question: If you could only do ONE thing for Christ and nothing else, what would be your heart’s greatest desire? You would be amazed at the answers. Some will have a desire to minister to elderly people. They become our nursing home ministry. Some will have a desire to reach children for Christ. They become our Children’s ministry. Some will have a desire to feed the homeless, visit the sick, work with youth, etc., etc.

This is “burden-based ministry.” You assemble ministry teams based upon their heart’s desire (burden). Then you have teams of people who actually WANT to do what they are being asked to do. For those who may not feel they are “gifted” for the ministry they feel the most burden for, tell them to ask God to equip them. When you do that, pray for them as well and watch them grow in the Lord! It is an exciting thing to watch.

For those ministries that no one seems to have a burden for, you pray that God will bring people to your church in whom He has placed a desire for those ministries. When you pray like that, you see God working all around you.

I would heartily recommend you try this “burden-based” ministry approach instead of “gift-based.” Once you see God work through the burdens of people’s hearts, you will never go back to “gift-based” ministry.


Anonymous said...

I'm glad this works for you but I don't get it.

How are hearts' desires more reliable, or God-centered, than the Spirit's distribution of gifts for the building up of the body?

And can't people simply say "I don't have that heart burden" in the same fashion as "I don't have that gift"?

Les Puryear said...


Thanks for your comment. I would gently ask that in future comments you would provide your name. I prefer to speak with people who do not hide behind an anonymous tag.

Your first sentence reveals a presupposition of relativism in that "what works for you doesn't work for me." I'm conveying biblcal principles not subjective relativism.

As to your second paragraph, I cannot answer for God. All I know is what I see in scripture. Everyone that God chose to work through was not chosen because of some pre-determined spiritual gift. The pattern that I see is that God calls someone and then he equips, enables them as they go.

Moses wasn't chosen by God because he was a gifted speaker. Gideon wasn't chosen by God for his deep faith and courage. David wasn't chosen by God for his leadership abilities. Solomon wasn't chosen by God for his wisdom. The apostles were not chosen by Christ for any spiritual gift that was already given to them.

In all of these examples, God equipped them after they answered His call.

Can someone avoid serving because of a lack of burden? Absolutely. I'm not great at nursing home ministry because I don't have that burden. But there are a number of people in my church that do have that burden and they form our ministry team for nursing homes.

One area of ministry avoidance that is not acceptable is a lack of burden for the lost. If someone does not have a burden for the lost and dying who are headed for hell, then I would question whether or not they were truly saved. Matt. 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8 was given to the whole church, thus I believe that all authentic Christians have a burden for the lost and should be obedient to Christ's call to go and tell the good news that forgiveness of sin is available.



Karen Gray said...

Thank you for your response. I apologize for posting anonymously in haste.

I am a layperson who really believes in gift-based ministry. Right now, however, we tend to ask people "who would be good," meaning dutiful, reliable and pleasant. Sometimes they have a heart burden and or are gifted, too.

As opposed to relativism, my question was about the Biblical basis for building ministry teams based on a heart burden. I see that Moses and many others were chosen and called. Perhaps you are saying that when God chooses and calls someone, he/she will have an unavoidable heart-burden. I don't know what Moses' or Solomon's or Gideon's heart-burdens were, however, despite their obedience and great leadership. More to the point, I don't know how the everyday Israelite was serving (except maybe the gifted artisans), nor how spiritual giftedness worked before Pentecost, except by coming and going on/in certain people like David and the prophets.

After the pouring out of the Holy
Spirit at Pentecost, however, it seems that God distributes spiritual gifts through the Spirit to every believer for building up the body. And that we are all to use our gift. That is pretty motivating to me because I know it came from God and not my own heart.

But this all may be semantics.

Please know that "I'm glad this works for you" was out of respect for your experience -- particularly as assembling ministry teams seems to ve more challenging these days -- and not glib relativism. I AM glad.

William said...

Spiritual gifts in Southern Baptist life are faddish, cyclical, and generally ineffective.

I mean by that popular treatments or personal inventories of the gifts (from Gothard in the '70s to PLACE Ministries today) get hot in the churches then fade away when people see that they are more parlor games than solid Biblical principles.

I generally agree with Blackaby here. Get out there and serve. Whatever gifts will be evident.

You don't read much about gifts across the whole sweep of the NT.

Randy Furco said...

I would suggest to anyone looking for more light on this to read Reinhard Bonnkes' autobiography. Sometimes when we stand on the outside of a "denomination" that we are not part of, we assume to much.

I guarantee you, if you read this book,if you truly have an open and soft heart, that you will come away from it with a whole new respect for the Whole Body of Christ.

I was humbled by it. Ministries I have judged in the past, I saw in the light of Gods plan, not my pet issues.

The only thing I would say about "burden based" that is doesn't work in a place where the burden is so huge.

A minister, especially a missionary must answer the call of God, not the call of the need, or else he will burn out...paraphrased quote.