I had a strange experience over the weekend. After worship yesterday morning an individual came up and wanted to talk for a few minutes. I love talking and meeting with people, and there is nothing unusual about this. What was a bit strange though was the way he talked about what he wanted to mention.
This gentleman came up to me and shared a little small talk, and talked a little about one of the announcements they heard in worship. Then they half apologized to me that they have a musical gift that is untapped in the faith community. They added some insights about other gifts they have and about some gifts other people have within the congregation. This is literally music to my ears. I love hearing about other’s gifts and how I might help them to use them in some way.
But, at the same moment I felt like I had to take a step back. Why has it come to this that people have to seemingly apologize in faith communities for gifts, passions and strengths they may have?
More than this apology though, this gentlemen was courageous to come up and share some of his fears. He admitted that he was afraid that if his gifts were used, he might upset others at the church with similar gifts. He feared he might infringe on their gifts, and by doing so, disrupt the system and culture of the congregation. Because of this fear, this gentlemen also really had a kind of fear of being seen.
Is this what the church has become? Has it become a place where people are terrified to be seen? Are people within the church especially afraid of being identified as one who might disrupt the current system or the status-quo?
Isn’t the church and the faith community about helping individuals grow and see themselves as part of God’s work in the world? Isn’t one of the roles of the faith community to help people realize that they are created in the Image of God, loved Children of God, and created and called uniquely and with purpose? Isn’t the church about creating communities and collaboration as we all work together with our gifts?
I could go on, but I fear I might end up on a soap box. Let’s be clear, if the answers to these questions are yes, then in this case at least, the church has done a poorer than ideal job of this. So how do we go about rectifying this problem?
Here are some quick ideas which may look unique and different depending on the individual and context:
- Playing on strengths
- Providing opportunities
- Inviting participation and feedback
- Creating space for individuals to share their stories
- Inviting individuals to talk about their strengths, gifts and passions
- Creating space for wondering and asking people about how they might like to serve
I have seen a number of congregations do this well. Some use things and tools like Strengths Finder, Enneagram, and other tools to help discern possibilities for lay leadership. Some engage in listening practices to hear both from within and outside faith communities and needs and wondering. Some participate in asset-based mapping practices. These faith communities are on the cutting edge in discerning ways to be part of the larger world but also in equipping lay leadership.
Conversely, I have also heard from some pastors and other congregations who admittedly don’t do this. Some argue that it is outside their purview of “Word and Sacrament” ministry. Other leaders simply say they don’t have time to know more about most individuals’ gifts in their faith community and leave that to others.
I have generally found that the former approach is more effective at building strong lay leadership than the latter, but everyone is different as is every faith community.
Today I am wondering, how can faith communities do a better job of empowering people? How can they do a better job of not just equipping people to serve, but empowering them to seek and co-create opportunities to serve, live and lead as part of their own vocational callings in their daily life and faith journeys?
How can faith communities help individuals overcome a feeling of needing to apologize for their unique gifts? And how can the church help individuals overcome a fear that they might upset the system of the church by serving?