One of the questions I get asked often from pastors is how can my church get involved in my community? It is something all of us know that we ought to do and want to do better. Even at South West where God has graced us with some level of community impact we carry the burden of wanting to do more. Because of that, we pastors can experience a sense of guilt that we are not reaching those around us effectively enough. What makes this more of a strain is that often we are operating from a set of assumptions that makes this task even more difficult. I want to deal with one of those assumptions here.
As pastors we generally understand the concept of gift-based ministry. What I mean by that is that we know that each individual in our churches have gifts, abilities and passions that make them more naturally oriented towards particular types and areas of ministry. Someone who is a breakthrough, leader type is generally not great in the counselling ministry. Someone who can’t make toast should be kept far away from the hospitality team. And so perhaps we encourage church members to do a gifts-course or the like to find their SHAPE (Spiritual Gifts – Heart/Passion – Abilities – Personality – Experience) which will help identify their ministry zone. When people are working in their zone they are efficient, effective and enthusiastic. Their work is a pleasure rather than a chore and they are generally fruitful in what they do. Anyone can work out of their zone – just like anyone can write their name with their non-preferred hand – but it is less natural and the results are less beneficial.
What we have learned is that we can’t just use a person to fill a need if they are not the right person for the job (as they generally just make the need bigger). We get better results if we intentionally position people in service areas that they love and are passionate and gifted for. We start with their SHAPE not with the need. However, when it comes to our churches and community engagement we seem to set aside all of that learning. We tend to look for the need in our community and whether or not our church is equipped to assist with that need, we plough in and have a go. And like the individual who is working outside of their zone we are neither effective or efficient or enthusiastic and eventually we run out of steam and give up.
Our task as pastors is to identify the strengths of our church; in short we need to establish the SHAPE of our church. What does our church love? What are we passionate about? What are we gifted for? What is our holy discontent? When we can answer those questions we will have a much better idea of what areas in our community we ought to engage with and will more readily be able to identify appropriate opportunities for long-term sustainable impact. So don’t find a need and fill it – find a need that aligns with your church SHAPE and you will find community engagement will become more natural, effective and enjoyable.