Ability as the Basis for Gifts Discernment?

Really old post here (drafted back in August 2008), but I finally got around to getting a complete thought about this video.  

Thanks to Blake Huggins' twitter, I was extremely pleased with an interview with former British Parliament member Tony Benn. He is quoted as saying this:

Benn : The thing about a customer is if you haven't any money, you can't be a customer.  So the word customer dehumanizes the poor.  The people who need homes the most, homeless people on the streets, are not customers because they can't afford a house.  So economic language classifies us according to our money and not our need. And I just think that leads unhappiness, revolutions, conflict, struggle...
That critique started me thinking a bit about how we regard volunteers in the church.  How often do we classify volunteers according to their ability instead of their need?
  • In the video, only the people who reach a certain economic level are considered customers.  Only when you are able to buy a house or a car are you considered a customer.
  • In the Church, oftentimes it is only the people who are able to offer skills or service are asked to volunteer. Only when it becomes known that you are able to perform a service are you asked to volunteer.
This doesn't seem like a fair parallel at first.  Of course we accept anyone to do volunteer work...oftentimes it is just looking for a warm body!  But in subtle ways, we classify people according to their ability when we link volunteering and gifts.

Consider the typical workshop on Discovering Your Gifts.  The pastor or workshop leader waxes on about "there is one body with many parts," you sing "Many Gifts, One Spirit," there are times of discernment, then there are inventories that help us discover our gifts...and finally a church committee or mission team signup!  Or perhaps it is less intentional: the pastor or chairperson simply says "they are looking for people with gifts" to do the job.  This process works...matching gifts with ministry can yield tremendous fruits!  But like Benn outlines above, we are treating people like customers who have the ability to serve, not the need.

I started thinking about "ability v. need" recently.  In my local church, we have some gifted people at organizing and running an event.  The suggestion was made that instead of asking for baked goods from congregants for an event that we ask for money instead and the gifted and talented people can buy the food and arrange it professionally.  Simple, clean, and well done!  While it sounds like a good idea, it was classifying the organizer's ability over the congregant's need.
  • A homebound member needs to be asked to bake brownies so that they feel connected to the church.
  • A senior needs to be asked to bake cookies so they have an afternoon project to pass the time.
  • A child needs to be asked to bake a cake so they and their parent have a family-building project together.
Needless to say, we kept the homemade goods at the event and celebrated their uniqueness and non-uniformity. 

Perhaps it is time to see how your church programs relate to people according to their ability, and not according to their needs.  To see how we relegate some responsibilities to people who have the ability, but there are people with needs in the wings waiting to be asked.


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