Have you heard the story of history’s worst art restoration?
The painting that hangs in the Sanctuary of Mercy Church in Spain was first thought to be vandalized, but eventually Elias Garcia Martinez came forward admitting the touchups were her handiwork.
The “restored” painting resembles a mutant Ewok or some sort of alien/bear hybrid. It probably goes without saying, Elias is not an artist, has no formal training and is in no way qualified to restore paintings.
She claims that she had permission from the parish priest. While that claim turned out to be false, it isn’t outside the realm of possibility.
The truth is, we often allow and even encourage people to serve in areas outside their areas of giftedness. When you’re assembling a new team, it’s hard to not have an open casting call; accepting anyone and everyone who might want to join. In an effort to not hurt feelings and offend individuals, we end up putting people in positions that ultimately are bad for them and for our congregations.
As Mr. Spock said in Star Trek II, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” This is a pretty harsh statement, especially for ministry, but I think it’s applies.
We’ve all sat through excruciating specials where soloists can’t quite hit their notes; we’ve all been present for the testimony that was scheduled for 2 minutes that went 12; we’ve all seen graphics designed by the church secretary or other staff members who have no design training. All of these things can have a huge impact on how we experience God in worship. The collective discomfort experienced in these moments of worship are nearly impossible to overcome in the span of an hour.
It is hard to utter the words, “you may not be a good fit for this”, but those words are sometimes necessary. Just because someone isn’t right for one opportunity doesn’t mean they won’t be great for another. 1 Corinthians 12:12-30 lays out a pretty good rationalization for why we’re really called to do ministry in our highest area of giftedness. The body of Christ is described as many parts that form one unit.
Every person has a part to play in the body. Sometimes individuals are drawn to do the work of a part that they’re not. The most difficult part is that people regularly think they’re gifted in ways that they’re not.
This happens in many areas from singing to media production, dramatic arts to “on chancel” roles such as worship hosting/acting as liturgist and so on.
So how do you help shift someone to where they need to be? It starts with sensitivity, prayer and careful communication.
First and foremost, just because someone isn’t right for one type of ministry, doesn’t mean that they’re not good for any ministry at all. They may just be a hand, not a foot. Our elderly DIY art restorer from earlier is pretty good at the broad strokes. She might be perfect for painting the fellowship hall a new color. She likely has other talents that could be used in ways that would create successes for her and for the church.
For years at seminars I’ve told the story of working with an extremely talented intern while on staff at Ginghamsburg UMC. Of the 7 interns I worked with, he was among the most talented of my tenure. The thing is, while a great guy, he was not the best communicator. When trying to use him as an extension of our design team, I found that he couldn’t properly communicate the ideas we were trying to convey. He had a hard time communicating to me what he was thinking as when he’d try and offer a counter idea.
I didn’t send him home, I just found other ways to use him. One of them was to give him all of the info for announcements. I knew he was an excellent artist and that he was highly creative. I basically said, “Do something creative with this informartion”. He knocked it out of the park. He created what may have been the best announcement graphics to ever grace the screen. It wasn’t that our intern wasn’t good for ministry, it was just that he wasn’t right for the worship design team where clear communication was essential.
I’ve seen music directors do similar things with singers. Not every singer has the kind of voice that can/should be featured. While some singers may sing relatively well, it might be that they best fit in a larger ensemble such as a choir or as a group of backup singers.
Clear communication is an important part of ministry and relationships in general. Sometimes when the answer is no, or when we have to deliver hard news, we avoid the problem. We may not pick up the phone when we see who is calling. We also might not respond to emails or texts or other forms of communication because saying “no” or “you’re not right for this” is hard. The truth is, the more you avoid communication with those you have to share “tough love” with, the more frustration and hard feelings build. You can make a hard situation harder by avoiding conflict and communication. Without meaning to, you end up disrespecting the person by ignoring them and you may just hurt them in the process.
What does a hard conversation look like? It’s probably going to be different based on personalities – Some people can handle being frank and direct, others need a gentler touch. Here’s a quick roadmap to for having these conversations and what to do next:
- Start with sharing your appreciation for the work they’ve been doing. Help them see you appreciate their passion and desire to serve.
- Share with them your vision for ministry and what it is you’re trying to accomplish.
- Gently help them see that your goal for them and for the church is to create a win-win scenario, making sure that they are successful in the area they serve.
- Be honest about where you see shortcomings. If you think it’s possible that with more practice, training and experience that they can get to where they need to be, tell them that. If they’re “a hand”, and they want to be “a foot”, help them see (in a respectful way), that they may be reaching for something that is outside their area of giftedness. Above all, affirm that their gift is of value. Have a plan in place to transition them into whatever would be a better fit.
- Don’t stop communicating! Once you’ve moved them to a new area where they can succeed, continue to reach out. See how they’re doing. Don’t cut them off.
I’m a firm believer that we can only accomplish the mission if we act as a body – utilizing everyone’s gifts. We were designed to work together. When everyone is serving where they should be, and things are in alignment, the body functions better.