So you’ve decided to join a church and to get involved. The next obvious question, of course, is how? Today I’d like to suggest two different strategies to start serving, based upon what you know about yourself — specifically your spiritual gifts and interests — at this point in your spiritual journey.
Most of us fall into one of two camps when it comes to understanding how God has wired us to contribute to the body of Christ. Some of us just have an intuitive sense, perhaps backed up by experience, of how we’re gifted. Others among us, however, don’t necessarily know what our spiritual gifting looks like. Depending on where you’re at on that continuum, I’d like to suggest two different approaches for serving regularly at a local church.
If you’ve already got a good idea of what your spiritual gifts are, I think the easiest thing to do is to just get in touch with a pastor or staff person at your church and ask them where you might be able to start using those gifts. If you’re gifted with administration, for instance, there are always places in the church that need help organizing and streamlining details. Have a gift for encouragement? Perhaps serving as a greeter or an usher is right up your alley. Is teaching your thing? Many churches likely have Sunday school, Wednesday night, small group or youth group opportunities to make a teaching contribution.
On the other hand, if you’re not sure exactly what your gifts are, it can be tempting to hang back and be hesitant. But I don’t think that uncertainty needs to be a roadblock to contributing. The best way to begin to better understand how God has put you together, after all, is to get some experience and see what happens. Every church has needs, so ask your pastor (or the staff person you’re most connected to) what you might do to help out. As you get experience serving, you begin to develop a sense of what you’re good at and what’s most satisfying to you personally. Those are good indicators of what God might have specifically gifted you to do when it comes to serving in the church.
After I committed to follow Jesus in my first semester of college, I had an opportunity to lead a small group. It wasn’t something I’d ever done before, but I got good feedback from participants who said they enjoyed and engaged with the way I had facilitated the group. That was my first clue that perhaps one of my contributions would be in the area of teaching and leading. On the other hand, I’ve also had a number of chances to help organize and administrate details for various church events and ministries over the years. I was able to do it, but it was hard work for me that absolutely didn’t come naturally. It’s something I’m able to do if the need arises, but I can confidently say that if there’s someone else on a team of people with that gift, I’ll happily defer to them.
I think it’s also important to note that when we’re just getting plugged in to a new congregation, the leaders there may want to get to know us and observe how faithful we’re going to be before doling out large responsibilities. In my late 20s, for instance, I began attending a new church plant. I asked the pastor where I could be of use, and he had no shortage of answers. I served as a greeter. I helped take up the collection each week. I eventually was asked to help lead a fourth- and fifth-grade class on Wednesday nights, which was an eye-opening experience. Then I started serving as a small-group leader.
About a year or so after I’d become a member and volunteering weekly in those various capacities, my pastor asked me if I’d be willing to consider being an elder. He told me at that point that when it came to spiritual leadership in the church, he always liked to give people small opportunities to contribute and then watch to see how consistent and faithful they would be before asking them to take on more responsibilities. Likewise, you may be in a situation where you’re ready to dive in wholeheartedly, but the spiritual leaders in your church may want to get to know you and observe you for a bit before entrusting big responsibilities to you.
Finally, whether we’re pretty certain we understand how God has wired us, or whether we have no idea, it’s also helpful to remember that we’re always a work in progress. I once had a veteran leadership development expert whom I worked with at The Navigators tell me that our 20s and early 30s are a time of exploration and development. Those years aren’t a season in which we’re supposed to have it all nailed down. Rather, it’s a season to learn, grow, gather data and begin to develop a sense of who we are. With regard to ministry and service, he said we should strive to say yes as much as possible just to give ourselves varied opportunities and “data points” to gradually discover how God has knit us together.
So with all of that in mind, it’s time to get out there and start serving!