In this column, my purpose is two-fold. To help the church to embrace creative people and to help creative people to embrace and serve the church. With that in mind, here are nine ways to get to serve your church with your gift.
Thinking back to when I first began using the arts in ministry, outside the obvious use of musical gifts, it was not always easy for practitioners of other art forms to find opportunities to serve. It can still be that way today. In my most recent article, I shared ten ways churches can empower the artists in their midst. The other side of the coin is how can the artists make the most of those opportunities?
It’s not so much that church leaders are resistant to the idea of utilizing the arts. Often it’s more that they don’t have any idea how to utilize the talented people in their midst. Today, as someone who is both a church leader and an artist, I’d like to see if I can’t bridge the gap. This article is for the creatives, though of course the church leaders are more than welcome to join in. How can you find opportunities to serve the Lord with your gifts in the context of the local church? Here are nine things to do that should open a few doors:
1. Be Prayerful
Over and above anything else, the key to serving the Lord is to seek His leading and guidance, so before you do anything else, pray! Then continue to pray throughout the process.
2. Be Available
This suggestion seems so simple that most may overlook it. It’s almost the equivalent of calling tech support about an erring computer only to be asked, “Is it plugged in?” Simply put, do your church leaders even know what you do? Do they have any idea that you want to serve? Part of this is as simple as putting yourself out there and saying, “Here I am and here’s what I do. How can I serve?” As a church leader, I dream of having people come up to me and tell me they want to do something. Tell your pastor or other leaders what you would like to do, what skills you bring to the table and anything else that might trigger their imaginations and get them thinking how they might be able to use your gift.
3. Be Useful
As stated earlier, one of the things that keeps church leaders from utilizing the artists in their midst is simply not knowing how to utilize them. You can alleviate this by looking at areas where your gift fits the ministry of your church and then volunteering to do it. Better yet, do a quick sketch of what you would like to do, and present it to your pastor or another decision maker. I recommend starting with something small and easy to accomplish, something that is within your skill set that you can do well and do quickly. In this step you are looking for a way to trigger their imagination and get them thinking “How can this person’s gift enhance the ministry of the church?” Become their go to person.
4. Be Appropriate
Again this one seems almost as if it goes without saying, but it doesn’t. I remember it like it was yesterday. A young man came to me online, complaining that his church had rejected his gift. He was a comic artist and his church decided to begin publishing his comic in their newsletter, but after an issue or two, they stopped. I had some sympathy here. I knew his talent was considerable, but rather than jumping to conclusions, and assuming the church was in the wrong, I asked him to send me a copy of the comic. As soon as I saw it, the problem was apparent. The piece was well drawn, well written, etc. It was even biblical. It was the story of the cross, which is, needless to say, a crucial message to the Church. “So what was the problem?” you may ask. Simply put, it was gory—think “Passion of the Christ” gory. It had a lot going for it, but it was “R-rated” and didn’t fit next to the announcements for the Mommy and Me class and the church pot-luck. It didn’t fit the venue in question and as such it was inappropriate.
5. Be Teachable
Not everything we do will work, and if it doesn’t work, we have a choice. We can see it as a rejection and take our ball and go home, or we can find out what didn’t work and try again. If you want to have a fulfilling ministry with your gift, it’s important that you can receive and follow instructions. As an example, I just finished writing my first novel. I was excited about it, and I sent it out to a publisher I met at a writers’ conference in hopes that she would see it, love it and publish it. Instead she declined, but rather than just rejecting me outright, leaving me in the dark about why, she gave me suggestions and resources I should look at, authors I should read and on and on. At that point I was faced with a choice. I could look at it as rejection, and give up, or worse get prideful, or I could realize this person knows what she’s doing. She’s published a lot of books. I could take her suggestions and write a better book. I decided it was time to be teachable, learn from her and I believe my next draft will be a winner. If you want to use your gift to serve the Lord, being teachable will take you a long way.
6. Be Humble
Pride is the sin that made the devil fall, and it has very little use in the life of a Christian creative. In the arts, humility is your friend. Take instruction. Learn from your mistakes. Put others ahead of yourself. Don’t compare yourself or your gifts with others. Instead we should take the example of Jesus, as expressed in Philippians 2:3-7 (ESV) “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant…” If we are going to serve the Lord with our gifts, it is important that we come under the authority of the leadership under whom we are serving. In ministry, humble service emerging from a humble heart will serve you well.
7. Be Faithful
This one is really simple. Do what your are asked to do, the way your are asked to do it and deliver on time. Bring your best work and work as if you were working for God, because in ministry, that is ultimately what you are doing. Serving the Lord is a privilege. The first opportunity to serve is a gift. The second opportunity usually comes about as a result of your faithfulness. A word of caution here. If you are asked to do something that is outside your skill set, it is okay to say no. It’s also okay to say no, if you don’t think you can deliver what is expected, and/or you don’t think you can deliver in time, but if you say yes, bring your best and bring it when you said you would.
8. Be Biblical
Ministry serves a higher purpose, and what we create in the context of ministry needs to honor God and follow the teachings of Scripture. If your work runs counter to the teachings of Scripture, it will not be useful to the church. So as we are creating, it is of the utmost importance that we check ourselves against the teachings of Scripture. When in doubt, check with someone in authority and work accordingly.
9. Be A Good Example
Every time a church leader puts us (or our work) before a congregation of people, they are taking a risk. There is an implied endorsement of you and your work and it’s crucial that we appreciate the risk and live accordingly. If our work says one thing and our lives say another, people will pick up on that and it can become a stumbling block. No one is asking you to be perfect. The only perfect person laid down His life because the rest of us weren’t up to the task. We all have a past and redemption stories are a wonderful thing, but there is a difference between a redemption story and a life of unrepentant sin. We need to do our best to follow the example of our Lord and set the best example we can.
Simply put, make yourself available, look for needs that you can meet and ways you can serve. Then bring your best to the table, serve humbly and faithfully, living as best you can to glorify God. Use Colossians 3:23 as your guide. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord…” Serving the Lord with the gifts He has given will help you to find a meaningful life and maybe even a fulfilling ministry. There are responsibilities, but they bring with them great joy. Search for opportunities to serve with your gifts and serve well.