When Ministry Isn’t my Shape – Lessons in flexibility and community
By CBM National Intern, Ryanne Stout
When God created mankind He made every one of us different. He gave us each different things that make us tick. Even when I think I’ve found someone just like me, I soon discover the many differences that separate us. My friend Betsy and I have the same taste in food. I frequently ask her what her favorite dish is at a restaurant new to me, but where she’s already been. Tori (one of CBM’s other National Interns) and I like the same things. I always laugh when we find yet another common interest. Amy (from my current rotation at Camp Victory) and I have the same personality type, but even in our similar personalities we are different. We each have a different shape because we have a unique role to play in God’s story.
My shape is very different. I mean, how many people do you know who are passionate about horse ministry? But life as a crazy horse lady is not always as simple as it would seem. I often find myself in situations where my ministry isn’t filled with the fuzzy faces that I love.
During my last rotation at Ponderosa (http://www.ponderosabiblecamp.com/), I heard Gina, one of the missionaries from there, talking about our “shape.” She said that we were all created with a specific shape to fulfill specific tasks in ministry. I love this analogy. I think it is a great word picture. I’m sure you’ve heard someone talk about “trying to fit a square peg in a circular hole” or something similar. I think of the giant wooden puzzles that are made for kids with pictures of fire trucks or farm animals. No matter how hard you try, the pig is not going to fit into the cow spot, at least not very well. God made us that way on purpose. He wants you to find the thing that He created you for and thrive doing it.
But what happens when you find yourself in a situation where you have to do something that your shape doesn’t seem to fit? There have been many times throughout my internship that I’ve been assigned to work in areas not particularly fitted to my shape, and doing so has taught me two important lessons that I’d like to share with you. The first is about flexibility and the second is about community. Both are incredibly important.
In ministry, God often puts you in a place where the need at hand isn’t tailored to your shape, but even so, He is asking you to step up. Some things that I find are not my shape are: making phone calls, asking people for donations, and working without a schedule or game plan. Most of these things are unavoidable and when I find myself there, I can feel God telling me to walk faithfully in what He has given me to do.
I recently found myself in a position where I was tasked with a ministry assignment that wasn’t my shape. I found myself doing things that drained me instead of filling me up, even though I enjoyed many of them! I knew that God had put me in that place for a time. I knew I was where I was supposed to be and what I was doing was given to me by the Lord and not my supervisors. He had a lesson to teach me in flexibility. While I was walking through this time, God reminded me of a phrase my pastor says: “God is more interested in your holiness than your happiness.” It’s a good thing that is true, because I wasn’t happy at that time. I felt empty. I felt like God was hard to find even when I knew confidently that this was a time of walking in obedience when it was uncomfortable. And when I thought I could take no more, I started finding out about some difficult situations going on with people that I care about, things that broke me inside but that I could do nothing to help with or change. God knew how hard that season was for me, but He also knew that it would draw me closer to Him and prepare me for things in the future.
While I was in the midst of this valley, He gave me these verses from Joshua 1 (HCSB) to encourage me: “ No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live. I will be with you, just as I was with Moses. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous…Above all, be strong and very courageous to carefully observe the whole instruction….Do not turn from it to the right or the left, so that you will have success wherever you go….For then you will prosper and succeed in whatever you do. Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Read the whole passage sometime. God had given Joshua a ministry that he didn’t think he could handle, despite his training. So God encouraged him by saying over and over, “Be strong and very courageous.” God knew this task would be hard for Joshua but He also knew the good that would come from it.
In the midst of my struggle, the Lord kept reminding me to be strong and very courageous. He brought that phrase to my mind out of nowhere in the middle of hard situations. The time I spent in that valley did a lot of good things for me. It brought me closer to God. It taught me how to find Him when He seems to be missing. It taught me how to persevere in areas of ministry that aren’t my shape and it taught me how to get rid of useless expectations that keep me from being flexible in the ministry God has given me. It is not always going to be easy or fulfilling. God’s work is hard work, but He still asks us to be faithful in what He has given us to do.
There are other times in ministry when God allows you to be assigned to areas that don’t fit your shape. In my experience, the reason God has done that is so that I will live in better community. I am a task-oriented person. God made me that way so that I can zone in on what I’m doing and be productive. It means that I have a hard time delegating tasks because it can be easier to just do it myself. I tend to take other people out of the equation as much as possible because I feel they slow me down. That’s when I find myself isolated and unable to fill all of the needs in my ministry because I wasn’t built to fill them alone. I was built to need others. God, knowing that I would naturally push people away and try to carry all of the weight of ministry, created me with a need for community. I need people around me who love people more than the task.
I’ve worried about the fact that I am task-oriented. I know that I will always fight the desire to forget about the people and focus on the task. The idea of that part of me working in children’s ministry seems like a handicap. I have felt like it makes me less able to do ministry work because ministry is all about the people, right? Well, yes. And no. God didn’t call me into something that He didn’t design me to do. What it does mean is that I have to surround myself with people who love people more than I do. I need a team of people who will look out for the interest of the people I’m working with so that I can focus on the details and deal with the horses. God gave me a passion for a different part of the ministry and the shape that is necessary in order to fulfill it.