I work in missions and global theological education. One of the hardest conversations we conduct is with men who have been in ministry 20 or 30 years and want to teach with us, but don’t demonstrate the gift of teaching. We often affirm them in other ways, but for whatever reason, no one in the church has ever addressed this lack. Of course, they are hurt (who wouldn’t be?). But why hasn’t anyone told them this before, and why do they desire to do something they’re not good at?
The answer is twofold. First, many of us operate from a principle that politeness equals godliness. In the United States, this phenomenon seems particularly operative in the South and Midwest. If someone has zeal and feels called to ministry, who am I to stop them? And as a result, the community of faith surrenders its role of calling and confirming. Thus, many seminarians arrive on campus without shepherding gifts that may be molded.
There aren’t too many books about Christian heroes who couldn’t preach.
The other reason many of us who desire to be teachers fail to assess our gifting accurately is that we put such value on the teaching gift. There aren’t too many books about Christian heroes who couldn’t preach.
Find Your True Gifting
Meanwhile, we miss the opportunity to serve the body of Christ with the gifting we actually have. We aren’t open to how God has wired us, because we’re too busy aspiring to be like someone else. We need to listen to King David:
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
Psalm 139 is not just for Mother’s Day. One of the great blessings of my life is of knowing Christians around the world and experiencing God’s creativity in how he shapes people. Our personalities are unique. We enjoy different things. Our modes of communication and the way we are taught to deal with conflict are built into us and nurtured by experience. That uniqueness is part of being fearfully and wonderfully made—all of us image bearers, expressions of God’s creative work.
This doesn’t mean gifting shouldn’t be shaped and developed. This doesn’t mean personalities don’t have deficiencies. It’s not an opportunity to be lazy. We don’t get to say, “I’m not going to evangelize, because that isn’t my gift.” You are called to make disciples, so do it in the unique way God has made you. You can be secure because of who you are in Christ—a redeemed child with gifts to serve the body.
And use these gifts humbly (Rom. 12:7–8). We must not merely think about how we’re gifted, but also how we use our gifts. Trying to be who we are not is prideful; it’s telling God and others that we are gifted in ways different from how we were formed. Being secure in who we are in Christ is of utmost importance. Being secure in how God has and has not gifted us is important, too. God has knit us together in our mother’s womb in multiple ways. We don’t need to force ourselves into roles that don’t suit us. The hand shouldn’t be jealous it’s not a foot, nor should it try to be a foot (1 Cor. 12:12). He has given us the body of Christ with each member equipped for good works, gifted to serve each other, for the increase of our mutual joy.
Against Popular Sentiment
I’ve heard some, including myself, say, “God really got the glory that time, because he used me in something I am not good at.” While this sounds humble, it’s wrong. It’s a trumpeting of 2 Corinthians 12:10 while ignoring every other passage about gifting. Yes, grace is sufficient. Yes, Jesus’s power is made perfect in weakness. Paul was weak. There were things he couldn’t do. In fact, Paul boasted in his weakness. Weakness is not a lack of gifting. Weakness is limitations and adversity.
God may ask you to do something beyond your gifting, and it may well end up blessing many. We may even have stories of God’s power at work through ungifted children. But that’s the exception. The rule is that the Father has sent the Holy Spirit to equip us to serve. And the gifting lists are long—not just spiritual gifts, but also general ways we’re wired. The Father has created us in certain ways to bless. It’s important to identify our gifts, with the help of others, to bless the body of Christ.
Run Fast or Plod with Joy
What’s the personal effect when you serve the body of Christ according to your gifts? Contentment. Joy. Peace. You stop comparing yourself to others. If a friend has gifts much stronger than mine, I can rejoice, because there’s no ranking in the body of Christ. There’s no need to be like the triumphalist Corinthians, to judge a friend or spouse or child by highlighting your gifting and personality as normative against the way God has wired them. Asked to do something that might bring us attention, but not in our skill set? We will pass.
We can celebrate those whose gifts are different than ours, count them as friends and not be tempted toward ungodly jealousy or unhelpful comparison.
Such thinking represents an opportunity to be free. You don’t have to pretend to not have certain gifting in the name of humility. You don’t have to strive to be someone you’re not. If God made you fast, run and feel his pleasure. If you are a plodder, plod along with joy. Godliness with contentment is great gain.