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Your Greatest Talents Might Be Sabotaging Your Ministry

By Tim Downey November 17, 2014

At the beginning of every semester, I challenge my preaching students at Moody Bible Institute with this statement: “If you’re gifted, beware—you can’t get by on talent alone. Extraordinary gifts are no excuse for laziness. If you’re not as gifted, diligent preparation will push you past those who are gifted but unprepared.”

Here’s why I say that: all too often, those in ministry who are talented depend solely on those abilities, to the exclusion of hard work. I have seen enormously gifted youth pastors ruin ministries simply because they did not practice the dreaded “D” word: discipline. Somehow, each of these talented individuals skated through life on a winsome personality, big smile, and never-met-a-stranger charm. Then, to their bewilderment, these well-meaning youth workers woke up one morning to realize that getting by on their gifts alone was not sustainable (Rom. 12:3–8).

Given the option, I would lie on the couch, watch movies, and eat Milk Duds every day. However, I have learned that nothing—absolutely nothing—replaces preparation, discipline, and work. Talents will not. Gifts will not. Paul instructed the Corinthians,

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air (1 Cor. 9:24–26).

So, how do we who are undisciplined turn the corner? Four very difficult steps (no reason to sugarcoat it):

  1. Look to the side. Don’t go it alone. We were not meant to live in isolation (Eccl. 4:9–12). Do life together with other godly friends. Isolation leads to a lack of creativity, excellence, and purpose. This isn’t always easy for those in ministry. We have to keep some distance between those we manage and us. But you would be amazed by the number of other youth workers out there like you, just looking for likeminded individuals to connect with. From gentle encouragement to helpful advice to friendly competition, these connections can push your ministry to the next level.
  1. gifts_quoteLook to the future. Planning provides greater opportunity for executing well (Prov. 15:22; 16:3). Lack of planning has brought down many youth workers (and worse, youth ministries) before you. Don’t become one of those statistics. And preparation isn’t just for your benefit. Your students will get more out of events and trips if you take the time to build their confidence, expectations, and knowledge weeks in advance. If you have taken the time to explain what they should get out of something before they are dropped into it, they will be less likely to miss those life-changing catalysts.
  1. Look to the present. Work diligently on whatever ministry endeavor is in front of you (Rom. 12:8). You know that thing you don’t want to do? That’s likely the first thing you need to do. And once it’s out of the way, you can concentrate on your passion areas.
  1. Look to the past. Once a week, review what has taken place and write it down. Praise God for what he has done; it brings perspective. Meet with staff and volunteers to discover their perspectives on events after they are over. If the event didn’t go well, they might be able to tell you why. If you think it was successful, they might surprise you by filling in your blind spots: students who felt left out, lessons that didn’t hit home, or conflicts that happened while you were unaware. You will save yourself future grief if you regularly debrief.

Whatever we do, we should put forth our best effort in doing it. “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12). In other words, don’t let laziness keep your ministry from fulfilling its God-given mission.

CC Image courtesy Andrew brannan on Flickr.

About the Author

Tim Downey

Tim Downey is an Associate Professor of Youth Ministry, specializing in the areas of discipleship and leadership at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. For 30 years, Tim has served the Christian community as a youth pastor, missionary, college professor, and international speaker. He and his wife, Kaye, have three daughters and one granddaughter. Tim…  Read More