In the first of a three-part series, I’ll be discussing what we can do when it’s hard to operate in your gifts at church. Maybe your gifts and talents are not recognised by others or you feel they have been buried.
In each of the accounts, Jesus tells the story of a master who entrusts three servants with different amount of talents. To one he gives ten, to another he gives five, and to the third he gives one. Each are expected to invest it in some way and produce a return. When the master returns, he asks each of them to give an account of what they have done with the money he has left in their care. The first two respond that they have produced proportionally more. The third, however, answers that he hid or buried it because he was afraid of his master. Then he hands the money back to him without having invested it at all.
The master is naturally angry and demands that the talent be taken away from the servant and given to the one with the most talents.
One of the lessons of the story is that God expects us to use our talents or abilities as well. We should invest them rather than burying them out of fear of rejection, or because we are indifferent and can’t be bothered to use them.
But what happens if you do try to use them, particularly in church? What if you genuinely try to invest your talents but others fail to recognise your abilities or appreciate your gifts?
Here are 5 steps you can take if you feel that that it’s hard to operate in your gifts at church.
1. Check whether God has actually called you to use your gift
In his book Every Good Endeavour, Tim Keller explains that calling is the coming together of 3 things:
Ability: both your and others’ recognition that you are good at something
Affinity: you enjoy what you are doing
Opportunity: other people have asked you to do it or there is an open door.
He suggests that all of these three things have to come together in order for there to be a calling. You may have the ability and the affinity. However, if people don’t hire you, then you might have to question whether God has really called you to this.
Keller explains that the three elements don’t necessarily have to happen in that order. For example, you may be asked to do something (opportunity), find you like it (affinity) and eventually become good at it after a lot of practice (ability).
Sometimes you need to understand that just because you can do something doesn’t mean that is what you ought to be doing. It might not be the right season for you to be using that particular gift at the moment.
It’s not that you couldn’t operate in that gift, but some tasks involving certain gifts can be delegated, whereas others are ones you alone may be uniquely qualified to do. Even though you might be able to teach, or to lead worship, or you might have a heart for the poor doesn’t necessarily mean that this is where God is calling you to be right now.
2. Check with others that you do have the gift
It’s good to get confirmation from others that you do actually have the gift. Sometimes we can overestimate our own abilities and believe we are better than we are. However, when other members of the body of Christ are also able to see your gifts in action in a variety of situations, it adds weight to your claim to be able to operate in that gift.
Smaller settings like home groups are a good place to try out your gifts in a relatively low-risk environment. If someone does recognise the beginnings of a gift, they can encourage it and help you to develop it further.
Now I don’t think the recognition of one’s ability has to be unanimous to satisfy the ability component. After all, while there are many preachers, musicians, etc who many consider outstanding speakers, each person’s taste is subjective. Not everyone is going to find them equally appealing or impressive. But the presence of detractors or naysayers does not negate or invalidate one’s ability to do something well.
3. Examine your motivations for using your gifts
When we use our gifts in church, we want to do so for the purpose of serving and edifying others. We must operate in humility and not with a sense of pride.
Are we wanting to use our gifts in order that others might recognise us or to boost our ego or sense of identity? Or are we using them because we feel we have a sense of responsibility to bless others with our gifts?
In the Marvel Studios movie Captain America: Civil War, Tony Stark is trying to recruit Peter Parker for his team. Before he does so, he wants to assess why Peter does what he does. Is it out of selfish motivation to make a name for himself or to genuinely help others?
Peter replies: “When you can do the things that I can, but you don’t, and then the bad things happen – they happen because of you.”
Tony clarifies: “So you want to look out for the little guy, do your part, make the world a better place, all that right?”
In effect, Peter is giving a version of the classic “with great power comes great responsibility” speech. He realises that because he has a gift, he has a responsibility to help others. He can’t simply bury his talent.
In a similar way, our motivation must be to help and serve others, and not to make a name for ourselves. We must not push forward simply so others can recognise us. Instead we must be willing to serve even if we don’t receive any recognition at all.
4. Don’t allow your talents to become idols or the basis of your identity
Sometimes we can allow our talents to form the basis of our identity. When they become so tied up with who we are, then failure to use them feels like a failure of us as a person.
If we don’t get to use our talents, we must ask examine our motives. We must ask ourselves the question: will I feel like less of a person? Will I feel that I have no purpose or meaning in life?
If our talents form the basis of our identity, then perhaps we are allowing them to become idols in our lives. These idols can start off as good and legitimate things, but if they ultimately shift our focus away from God and onto ourselves or others, then this has to be brought under Christ’s lordship.
If, however, our identity is rooted in Christ, then whether or not we are able to use our gifts at the moment won’t change who we are.
5. Don’t compare yourself to others
If we are not careful, it’s easy to become envious of others or their gifts. Our gifts can become the means by which we build up sinful thoughts towards others and even towards God. We can begin to resent the work that God is doing in others and how they seem to be progressing more quickly than us. We may wonder why He is not blessing us in the same way.
In 1 Corinthians 12:8-11, Paul talks about how we are each given different gifts. He concludes that
“All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.”
One of the ways to get out of that comparison mindset is to practise thankfulness to God for the things you do have.
Here are 5 initial steps you can take when you find it hard to operate in your gifts at church. Now this is barely scratching the surface, and there are many other things to consider. That’s why I’ve broken it down into 3 parts.
Do you find it hard to operate in your gifts at church? If so, what has been the biggest obstacle? Is it yourself or others?
If you haven’t been able to step out into your gifts, what has been your response? I’d love to know. Leave me a comment below.
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Robert is the founder of Drawing on the Word. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Theology and a Master’s degree in Systematic Theology. He also has a degree in Law and was called to the Bar. Robert previously taught religious studies and was a theology lecturer. He is an artist, musician and writer, and has created a graphic novel version of Luke’s gospel. You can follow him below.