It was some years ago when a minister sat down and wrote a book for other ministers about how to identify your strengths, talents, skill, interests and how to package and present yourself in a way most likely to obtain the ministry position of your choice—or at least one that would be a good fit. Since then, What Color is Your Parachute, a book written by a minister for ministers, has entered the mainstream and become a human resources and outplacement mainstay as well as a bestseller. And more:
For several reasons, including this book, over the last thirty some odd years the church has been identifying people’s talents, interests, “spiritual gifts” in order to “plug them into” ministry and the life of the church. The mainstream has never lagged. A recent bestseller is called Strength Finder 2.0. All of this is good.
What struck me in this passage—where Jesus sent out the seventy-two—is Jesus asked nothing about interests, skills, talents, spiritual gifts, strengths, weaknesses, where would you like to serve? How do you see yourself fitting in here?—no, none of it. Jesus did not take the inner twelve whom he knew, intimately. He took seventy-two “followers,” ordinary church members, perhaps even some fringe followers, we don’t know. In fact, these seventy-two were of so little importance to the Gospel writer, we don’t even know any of their names. And what he did was he “appointed” them and said, “Go.”
To put it another way, Jesus “Authorized” these people to minister: to heal, to cast out demons, to consider the dust of their feet as something like Heaven and Hell. As Mammy said, “Don’t you wipe your dust off at me!” They came back rejoicing that even the demons submitted to them in Jesus’ name. Well, Duh! I say. They were authorized. Why were they surprised?
It seems to me that skills, talents, interests, “spiritual gifts” may well be indicators for individuals in the ordering of their lives and faith and participation in the faith community. But it also seems to me that these things can be used as a mighty big excuse either to stay in our comfort zones or move into area where we have no business.
You know, Amos and Jonah wanted nothing to do with what God authorized them to do They wanted to stay in their comfort zones. Amos was the most grumbling, unhappy prophet ever. He went, mumbled what he had to say and went home, grumbling the whole way. Jonah was so against what God authorized him to do, he ran away—for all the good it did him.
No, I think we might rethink our efforts here in the church (and maybe the world). I think we need to go back to before the parachute had a color. You see, we had a word for it. That word was “Calling.” People used to ask, “What has God called you to do?”
As for moving into areas where we have no business being: Human authority, for example, can be taken, stolen or demanded and it can be justified by skill, talent, money… We can see the fruit of this “gift thinking” all over the country. The leaders in so many churches are community leaders, the people with the funding, people with an agenda or, in many cases, all the wrong people. The church is being destroyed from within by people with skills, talents and interest in the job.
There is a reason why Paul was so down on slander, gossip, innuendo, witchcraft; because they are all ways of attempting to manipulate people and events in ways the manipulators ARE NOT AUTHORIZED. Likewise, the leaders in your church, maybe even the ministers, are they authorized by God: called to lead, to minister in Jesus’ name, to take the name of Jesus on their lips and apply it to their decisions? In thousands of churches across the country there are leaders who do not have the (spiritual maturity)? Authorization of God. They may have the people fooled for a time, but watch the church fall apart, and in many cases be converted to a private, members only, glorified social club that may still do some good works but is no longer a church.
It is an entirely different proposition when you look a person in the eye and ask, “Has God called you to take authority in this church? Oh? How so?” Under God’s watchful gaze it is hard to imagine taking up the role in any way other than the most humble way.
But that, of course, is simply the area of church leadership. Any area of ministry in this world might receive the same scrutiny. It is lovely to be skilled, talented, “spiritually gifted.” Certainly the work is done from the bottom up. God is not going to do it for us. But authority is given from the top down. God calls whom he will for what he will.
And your seventy-two—your church members, maybe even some nameless ones on the fringe, what are they called to do? I feel if we can get the calling part right, the skills, talents and spiritual gifts will work themselves out. And maybe then we can all come home rejoicing.