gifts of service

I was a little bit nervous to take a spiritual gifts test last week.

For the uninitiated, a spiritual gifts test is basically an inventory of what you like to do, what comes naturally to you and how you interact with others. The end results are words that describe a unique set of gifts that help describe the kind of work you enjoy and the activities and interactions that energize you.

I’ve taken the test before and was disappointed to see administration rising to the top. For an inventory of gifts that were supposed to energize me, I felt disheartened at the results.

I suppose that I had really hoped that I would take this test and find out that I was someone else. It sounds crazy to write that sentence, but it’s true.

And truly, I spent so much of my life hoping that I was someone else, wishing that I would find a hidden talent or a secret skill. This pursuit of being someone else was ultimately a frustrating and exhausting endeavor. Even still, when I look back at those years I see some of the same themes bubbling to the top.

I really wanted to be a leader.  Leading sounded like fun – who didn’t want to be at the front of the line or the head of the class? There are some people who are born-leaders. They don’t care where they are marching, they just want to be in charge. That was not true with me – there were times when I was really uninterested in leading, but felt that not wanting to lead was a sign of weakness.

When I learned about servant leadership, I was so excited and relieved! I didn’t want to lead just to be a leader. I loved the idea of helping people along by taking a leadership role.  The idea of servant leadership gave me permission to be myself while also giving me the authority to do my work.

Looking back on my life and career, I notice similar themes emerging. I thrived under directors and bosses who embraced the idea that the goal was greater than getting credit. I loved working with people who embraced a culture that good ideas and great work sometimes came from unexpected and unorthodox places. One of the agencies I worked at adopted the phrases “One Team, One Dream” and “Winning Ugly Together” to focus and motivate employees. Sure, they were cheesy, but it put words around the spirit of working together for a common goal and gave permission to the idea that often the process is messy. I loved it.

Basically, the concept of servant leadership and the cultural attitudes of the teams I worked on encouraged and empowered me to look at a given situation and step in where there were holes. To address specific needs of an organization or group, I became good at things that others were not as interested in.

It was hard for me, though, because the gifts and words we seem to value as a society and even as a church, are leading and celebrity and influencing. The problem was, if I didn’t see a need, I wouldn’t lead simply to be a leader or strive for popularity for popularity’s sake.

I knew that I liked to help. I knew I loved to work.

And so, with all of that history behind me, I took a spiritual gifts test – half wincing – because if history was any predictor, gifts like leadership and teaching would not be in my top five.

Y’all: Those things are STILL NOT in my top five.

And that is OK.

My top five? Serving was number one. Like, big time, number one. Followed by mercy, faith, giving and pastoring.

I looked at the test results for a while. I mulled it all around in my head and heart, investigating what serving really meant.

And instead of being annoyed, I was relieved. And excited.

Serving has often been limited to serving food and giving people things. But the heart of serving is an attitude: What do you need? How can I help?

I think that the reason administration and hospitality were high on my previous tests were probably that those were the areas that I was stepping into most often due to gaps in the workplace and at church.  I really hate filing and calendaring and organizing, but someone had to do it. I filled the need.

People who serve stand in very important gaps in the workplace and in ministry – they fill these gaps in order to accomplish a goal and meet a need.  These “need-fillers” keep projects and work moving forward in important ways.

There are so many other need-fillers out there; these are people who have stepped up to keep all of us moving forward and onward. I find need-fillers to be curious, interesting people who don’t master one particular skill as much as they embrace learning about a lot of skills. Need-fillers will help move, help clean, help teach, help lead – not out of a love of any of those things – but out of a love for people and the end game.

But it’s hard being a need-filler, especially if you haven’t figured out how to name your gift. It’s hard to know when a season of helping with a specific need is over.  It’s hard sometimes when finishing up your season of work means saying “good-bye” to people you love. It can be hard understanding your value and role in an organization when don’t have the words to express who you are at your core.

To my need-filler friends, hopefully these are some words that will help describe your heart: you thrive in the space where help is needed and provide that help out of the joy of your heart. You fill the voids left by people who couldn’t lead or wouldn’t lead and keep organizations and groups not just on life support, but thriving. You see the space between a dream and a reality and help build a bridge between them. You spot the missing people like missing puzzle pieces and help work them back into their rightful spaces.

At the heart of a need-filler is a spirit and attitude of service. That spirit of service is a gift – not just to those benefitting from it, but to the bearer as well.

Want to know what your spiritual gifts are? Click here.

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