In our three-year plan at church there is mention of identifying people's gifts. I must admit that these gift surveys worry me. You see I am organisationally challenged. So suppose we take a day out and we work on identifying the various giftings that God has given people to help them serve. What happens when you come to me and say, 'this is what I have to offer, now give me a job to do'? The truth is I am not very good at figuring out how to put the structures in place that may best facilitate your gifts. Add to that the fact that there are only so many people who can sing in the band, there are a limited number of places on the church council, and we may have enough people on such groups as the pastoral care team. If you are dependant on me to put in place the structures to use your gifts you might end up waiting longer than you would like.
However, a comforting thought has come to me. There are many things that the Christian can do which do not depend on church programs or certain positions being available. I have identified ten such areas of service. I call them jobs without positions.
The first is prayer. Some Christians are particularly gifted in the area of prayer, but every Christian can, and should, pray. In Colossians Paul writes of Epaphras who is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in the will of God, mature and fully assured (Col. 4:12). The Apostle Paul himself sets us such an example in how he prayed for others. Prayer is real work, hard work, and it truly makes a difference.
Then there is encouragement. Encouragement is listed among the gifts mentioned in Romans (Rom. 12:8). But it also something all Christians are to do whether they have this gift or not. Indeed, while the New Testament never says that the Christians met together with one another to worship it does say that they met to encourage one another (Hebrews 12:25). Do we come to church simply looking for a spiritual high or do we come to church to encourage one another as we love them? We don't met together simply for our own sake but for the sake of others. It should be pointed out that the list of gifts in Romans 12 also includes giving and showing mercy.
Speaking of giving, isn't it encouraging that to read that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7)? What a motivation that is to be generous. It delights our heavenly Father when we serve him, and each other, with our generosity. Remember Jesus said, that it is more blessed to give than receive (Acts 20:35). When we are selfish we not only deprive others we also deprive ourselves.
I knew a man who used to fold his arms when it came to the time of the service when we would sing from Mission Praise. He simply refused to partake in this music that was not to his taste. Some of the reason there can be such tensions about music styles is because we are preoccupied with ourselves and the music that we like. We actually minister to one another as we sing. In the New Testament singing is both God-centred and other-centred. Paul writes, teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God (Col. 3:16) and that we are to speak to one another with psalms hymns and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19). One of the things that we are seeking to do as we sing is build one another up.
We all like our space. They say that an Englishman's home is his castle, I fear that our homes our often our defensive forts. We come home at night, lift the draw-bridge and are glad to be ensured of peace and quiet. However, the Bible teaches us to have open homes. Hospitality is a major theme in the Old Testament and is commanded on a number of occasions in the New Testament (Rom. 12:13, 1 Peter 4:9). I know a family who opened their home to a young man who was addicted to drugs. We could all think of many reasons why we would not allow someone like that to live with us, but it made a massive impact on that young guy, who is now a vibrant Christian. The writer to the Hebrews wrote, Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it (Heb. 13;2).
Then there is serving. Again, in Romans 12, this is included is a list of gifts. Some people have a special gift in service. But surely all Christians are called to serve. Our lives are to be lived in the imitation of Christ and Jesus gives us the most wonderful example of service. He said that the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). Remember that greatness in the kingdom of God is not about status but service.
What about compassion? Job declared, I rescued the poor who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to assist them (Job 29:12). Look at Jesus and we will how his heart went out to people (eg. Luke 7:13) and it moved him to action. Think of the amazing compassion illustrated for us in the parable of the good Samaritan. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians saying, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of God (Gal. 6:10).
There is a ministry is example. There is no sense of arrogance when the Apostle Paul urges the Corinthians to follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). Could we say that without being hypocrites? Surely there is a lot of room for improvement in our reflection of Jesus. As we become genuinely more like Christ, not being proud, arrogant or showing off our righteousness, we will encourage others. At the beginning of his book of 1 Timothy Sri Lankan Bible-commentator mentions an Irish Methodist minister, George Good, who showed him 'the beauty of godliness.' Do our lives demonstrate the beauty of godliness?
Our godliness influences Christians by encouragement, it influences non-Christians in terms of witness. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven (Matt. 5:16). Peter wrote something similar when he said, live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us (1 Pet. 2:12). Someone has said that Christians can't help but to be witnesses, the question is whether we are a good witness or a bad one. What do those who know we are Christians make of our faith as they watch how we live our lives?
I began this list of ten ways to serve with one that I think is especially important, prayer. I now want to end this list with another one that I think needs special mention, evangelism. There are some in the church who have a special role in evangelism (Eph. 4:11). These people are a great asset to the church given that Jesus has commissioned us to go into the world with the good news. But evangelism isn't just for the experts. After the stoning of Stephen, in the book of Acts, we read that all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. What did these people who were uprooted from their homes and were now were without their main leaders do? Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went (Acts 8:4). All around us are people who don't know Christ. They are going to their graves without hope. They are condemned and destined for hell. We have the good news of God's rescue plan. If we truly love those in our neighbourhoods, those that we get to know through work, and those that are a part of our extended family then surely we will want to share the gospel with them. No one says that is easy. One book I have in my study is entitled, 'Evangelism made slightly less difficult.' However look at what the Christians did in the book of Acts when there back was up against the wall. They prayed to God, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly (Acts 4:31).
So we will spend some time helping each other identify our gifts. What then? Well, if you are looking at me to find you an official role to play, in which you can use that gift, you may end up waiting longer than you like. However, there are many ways that we can serve in the meantime. There are plenty of jobs without positions. In fact I reckon that the vast majority of service for Christ and his church is done simply but putting our gifts to use in an informal way. That is not to say that we won't seek to run programs or put good structures in place. But what is most needed is a heart that is willing to be used for the glory of God. So let us get on with praying, encouraging, giving, singing, practicing hospitality,serving, showing compassion, being an example, witnessing and evangelism.