This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Purpose Driven Life" by Rick Warren. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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Are you serving the church in the way that only you can? How are you uniquely wired for ministry?
A big part of Christian life is serving the church—contributing to the Great Commission to get God’s work done in the world. God has not only called you to serve, he has wired you to contribute in a way that no one else can.
Read more to learn how you can serve the church like no one else.
Serving the Church as Only You Can
In this week of your journey, we’ll discuss how God didn’t put you on earth just to live for yourself. He wants you to serve others—this is called ministry, the fourth purpose for your life. According to the Bible, all Christians are called to ministry—you answer this call by using your God-given gifts to serve the church, thereby doing what God made you to do and bringing him glory.
- An important aspect of ministry is that it’s the real-life way you practice Christianity and the lessons of God’s Word—while studying helps you know his Word, practicing allows you to internalize it.
Think About Your Unique SHAPE
The way God planned for you to serve the church is uniquely yours. It may not be obvious to you what this unique ministry is yet. This is normal; many people aren’t sure what they’re good at or haven’t yet tried out the type of service that feels right.
You discover the ministry you were made to perform through self-examination—thinking about what service you’re cut out for—and trial and error—trying out different types of service until you find the right fit.
- In thinking about your particular ministry, you want to be sure that you’re examining all the gifts God gave you. Look at your whole SHAPE: Spiritual gifts, Heart, Abilities, Personality, and Experience.
We’ll first look at what makes up each of these aspects, and then will discuss how to put them together into a unique ministry that feels right.
Your spiritual gifts are capabilities that are gifted to you by God when you become a believer—you discover them with his help and the help of your spiritual family.
- For example, they might push you to try a new type of ministry that you discover you have a gift for or validate your suggestion that you have a gift in one area or another.
Unlike talents that you’re born with, your spiritual gifts are not for your personal enjoyment. They were given to you to be used in your ministry. Furthermore, you don’t have a choice in which gifts you do or don’t have—God gives out gifts within a church with the aim of diversity.
- There’s no gift that everyone shares and everyone has a different combination of gifts. Because of this, church members must depend on one another to have a complete church.
Your heart includes everything you truly care about and what motivates or inspires you—ambitions, dreams, goals, sources of joy, and so on. God gave you these particular interests to drive you toward the place you’ll best serve the church.
Your heart reflects your innermost desires, not the desires you want to have or the ones you project for other people to see. You can tell which of your activities come from the heart by checking your enthusiasm and effectiveness.
- Enthusiasm: External motivation or validation isn’t necessary because you love what you’re doing and feel excited about it. When you encounter roadblocks, you don’t feel discouraged very easily because success isn’t your only motivator, joy is. For example, if you’re enthusiastic about cooking, you try new recipes constantly and take every burnt dish as a learning opportunity for next time.
- Effectiveness: When you’re passionate about something, you naturally dedicate more of your time to practicing it and becoming more effective. Someone who loves cooking is much better at it than someone who only cooks occasionally and begrudgingly.
Abilities are things you’re naturally good at. They differ from spiritual gifts in a few ways:
- You’re born with your abilities—you don’t receive them as a gift when you become a believer.
- Your abilities were given to you by God for your personal enjoyment, whereas your spiritual gifts are intended to be used in service.
God gives everyone abilities, and studies have shown that most people possess anywhere from 500-700 abilities. If you think that you don’t have any, it simply means that you haven’t discovered yours yet, or you think that your different skills aren’t special or significant enough to be called “abilities.”
- No ability is insignificant. The Bible lists many different skills as “abilities,” including teaching, candy making, art, baking, inventing, farming, making music, and sailing.
No one in the world has exactly the same combination of personality traits as you. It’s important to understand your particular combination because the type of service that best suits you depends heavily on what kind of person you are—there’s not a “wrong” or “right” way to serve the church, but there is the possibility of a service-personality mismatch.
God wants you to find a ministry that perfectly suits your personality. When your service and personality don’t match, you’ll feel uncomfortable or tense, and your service will not only take much more effort from you than it should, but it also may not be very effective.
- For example, an introvert would enjoy behind-the-scenes work such as outreach logistics and administration. On the other hand, an extrovert might serve the church by teaching a class or leading event organization.
While you’re figuring out what type of ministry suits you, it’s okay to observe the ministry of others. However, be careful that you’re not trying to replicate their ministry—their personality is undoubtedly different from yours in many subtle ways and therefore their ministry won’t fit you. After getting ideas from your observation, view them through the filter of your own personality, and tweak them to better fit you.
- For example, you might love the idea of teaching Sunday school but aren’t interested in working with children. Instead, you might organize adult Sunday school to help new members of the church get acquainted with the Bible.
God introduced all sorts of experiences into your life to shape who you’ve become and help you serve the church. There are six main types of shaping experiences:
- Family experiences: What lessons did you learn from growing up in your family?
- Educational experiences: What did you learn in school, inside and outside the classroom? What did your favorite subjects teach you about yourself?
- Job experiences: What work have you found most fulfilling so far? What have you learned about yourself from your jobs, good and bad?
- Spiritual experiences: When have you felt God? What are your most meaningful experiences with him?
- Ministry experience: How have you served others before? Have you identified any type of service you feel is your unique ministry?
- Painful experiences: What lessons have you learned from pain, suffering, or difficulty in your life?
Of these six, painful experiences are generally the most helpful to your service, as they teach you empathy. You can effectively help others through tough situations because you’ve been there yourself and understand their emotions.
- For example, if you’ve struggled with depression yourself, you’ll be able to help someone talk about their experience and articulate their emotions much better than someone who’s never struggled with mental illness.
Discover Your Unique SHAPE
The best ministry happens when you use your whole SHAPE—that is, you use your abilities and spiritual gifts in a way that aligns with your heart and personality, and is supported by your experiences. Once you’ve reflected on all the aspects of your SHAPE, think about how you might put them together to create your ministry. There are three parts to this:
1) Assess Your Abilities and Spiritual Gifts
This assessment is important because it gives you clear clues about what God wants you to do with your life. He wouldn’t have you do something that felt difficult—he’ll give you something that aligns with what you’re good at. Be honest in assessing what you’re good at and what you aren’t good at:
- List different abilities you’ve tried and sort them into “yes” and “no” categories.
- Ask other people for their honest opinions—make sure they understand that you’re looking for truths about yourself so they don’t feel obligated to compliment you.
Reflection is good for sorting those abilities and gifts you’ve already tried or others have witnessed. To discover gifts and abilities, take a trial-and-error approach to different areas of service. It’s essential to jump right into this experimentation because waiting to figure out what you’re good at first will only delay you in finding your ministry and fulfilling your purpose. Simply try anything that a) catches your interest and b) is something you haven’t done before. Either you’ll discover that you aren’t cut out for it and can move on to another experiment, or you’ll discover a new ability you didn’t know you had.
- For example, if you’ve never picked up a musical instrument, try learning to play the guitar. If you’ve always been a math and science person, try your hand at writing.
2) Reflect on Your Heart and Personality
This step helps you think about how you can use what you care about alongside who you are. As with the assessment of your spiritual gifts and abilities, go through an honest self-evaluation.
- Address your heart: What activities make me feel most fulfilled or alive? What activities make me lose track of time? What do I hate doing, or seems to drag on forever?
- Address your personality: Do I enjoy or resist structure? Do I like working with teams or alone? Am I extroverted or introverted?
3) Examine Your Experiences
This exercise will help you see why certain experiences happened to you. In the moment, problems may have just looked like problems, but in hindsight, you’ll be able to see the lessons God wanted you to use for your ministry.
Think back on your life and jot down different events—good and bad—that you can recall.
- Go through the list, writing down the lessons you gained from each experience.
- Imagine what kind of person you might be able to help with each lesson.
Serving the church is a blessing to you and to others, especially when you contribute in the way that God uniquely called and wired you to serve.
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- The meaning of life from a Christian perspective
- The five purposes that you were created by God to fulfill
- How to find the unique service you were made for