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The Weakness Series

One of the great things about doing a ministry traineeship for two years before coming to college as I did is that the ‘real’ experience of full-time ministry provides you with plenty of questions! One of my questions that I’ve raised before (here and here) is how to deal with weakness and insufficiency in ministry.

My question goes something like this:

I’m at college for three years in order to be equipped (or start getting equipped) to serve and lead God’s people. Among other things, this seems to include:

  • becoming more competent at things like ministry skills, handling the Bible, etc.
  • gaining self-understanding of my own weaknesses and how to minimise or compensate for them.

The thing is, I’m still trying to work out where being competent meets with God using the weak. For example, no one holds up Moses as an example in preaching class or Samson in the class on professional ethics. Similarly, very few books on burnout use the apostle Paul as the pin up boy.

My question isn’t “Can God use me, though I am weak?” It’s more one of trying to work out what place to ascribe to skills and strengths; but also, how to think about sin and its impact on ministry.

This is an issue that I think goes deeper than the standard ‘be good at what you do, just make sure you’re humble’. Similarly ‘do it in God’s strength’ seems cliche. The NT provides a few guidelines for leadership – like being in a polygamous relationship rules someone out, for example. But what about being mentally ill (say, depression)? And how mentally ill do you have to be before you’re unsuitable for ministry? (As downcast as Jeremiah; or as manic as Ezekiel?) Same deal with people skills or preaching – how bad do you have to be before that’s it?

So that’s my question – kind of convoluted but hopefully you get the drift! I’m looking forward to spending some of my summer thinking about this. I reckon 1 and 2 Corinthians will be good places to start in the Bible. Where else might I go, do you think? What are good books to read? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this too. Stay tuned for more in this series!

Categories: God Ministry & mission Written by Tamie

Tagged as:

Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.

11 replies

  1. Good post Tamie.

    It’s funny that you say you’re looking forward to summer doing some thinking. Is that all you have to look forward to in a Melbourne summer? hehe

    I can’t wait to go swimming, snorkeling, and all that cool summery stuff! :P

  2. What a great question Tamie, I’m very interested to hear your thoughts on this.

    We often talk about using our gifts and working out our strengths for ministry but as you have pointed out, throughout the bible we see God chosing people without particular gifts in an area to use them. Does that mean we should be pursuing ministries which aren’t our strengths? I don’t really think so but there are a lot of questions there!

  3. All Christians are in ministry. I think part of the key to figuring out this whole weakness thing, at least on a personal level, is replacing the question “am I adequate?” with the question “what can I give?” Then the focus is less on your self and what you can or can’t do, and more on what God has called you to do.

  4. Thanks Gill. I think you’ve expressed that really well. Our church is really into strength based ministry on the basis of God gifting his people to serve his church. I love that (and am amazed to see it work!) But as you say, I’m pretty sure e.g. Moses wouldn’t have been pursuing a career in emancipation on that basis! But that doesn’t answer the question!

    Jack, thanks for the encouragement, but the questions you raise aren’t quite what I’m getting at. :) As Gill’s picked up, the question I’m exploring here is how we seek to grow and develop within or outside of our perceived calling.

  5. Hi Tamie,
    interesting post!

    I was wondering if you’d thought about this in terms of calling (re: a previous post). If one is called to ministry, does God then enable that person especially through their weakness?

    Just a thought. Not sure what I think about this.

  6. Hi I.I.

    Thanks for bringing up the calling thing. I suspect it is related.

    I think part of the question with weakness is how to discern calling. For example, if you take Niebuhr’s model (as I did in my post) part of discerning call is seeing what you’re good at and what others thing you’re good at. i.e. (potential) competency (in some form) precedes or at least contributes to a sense of calling.

    Or perhaps you can only tell calling after the fact? i.e. I did something and I might not have been good at it but God used me so obviously I was called to it….?

    For those following who haven’t seen the post I’m referring to, you can find it here.
    https://arthurandtamie.wordpress.com/2009/09/30/calling-take-2/

  7. If you take competency as correlating to gifting from God, then looking at 1Cor it seems that we are to do what we are good at. If we are an ear, that is what we are supposed to be, we aren’t supposed to decide to be an eye. That would suggest playing to our strengths, and looking out for others with different gifts to complement us. (At the same time being careful to rely not on the gifts we have but the giver)

    It is probably also a bit risky to extrapolate calling from a single event – although we may well have been called to that particular occasion if God used us.

    I think that at it’s root discerning God’s will, including calling, is about walking with God on a daily basis. Often we just ask God what we are supposed to do when it’s something big, and so we already have thoughts and feelings clouding the issue.

  8. Hi Chris

    Thanks for stopping by.

    I think it’s a great temptation to jump straight to 1 Cor when considering ministry. However, I suspect that there’s a bigger biblical theological idea to be traced. If we are simply to ‘play to our strengths’ now, is that because we live in a different eschatological moment from someone like Moses? If so, is the leadership and attitude of Moses useful for us in any sense?

  9. We are in a different era in terms of gifting, in that the Spirit has been poured out on all people, as in Acts 2, quoting Joel. Whether that also affects how we identify what roles we should be in, I’m not sure.

    Moses could be seen in terms of being gifted for his ministry in that God did promise to help him speak and teach him what to say (even if he still wanted someone else to speak)). There may be a difference between a general ability in an area and a gifting that is more specific to use in ministry? Perhaps this sort of thing is what is in view when Paul speaks of God’s power being evident in weakness, that we are equipped to do something we are otherwise unskilled at.

    And of course we do need to be careful about extrapolating principles from one occasion, especially when it was someone chosen for an unique role in redemptive history. Not that you are, just that Moses example may not give us the answer we want here (especially as he wasn’t choosing his role).

    As far as the other examples, such as Jeremiah and Ezekiel, they were still gifted enough to carry out their roles. Indeed, Ezekiel’s eccentricity may have been a gift in terms of his sometimes bizarre and confronting demonstrations of the message.

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