Painting With a Hammer

It’s been a rough week so far, and as I write this, it’s only half over. I kicked off the week by discovering that my tool bag—the one with the tools I use in my work every day—had been stolen. My need to get on with the replacement came to a head yesterday, when I was faced with the need to do a fairly minor but urgent repair. I dug through my desk drawers trying to find a stray tool or two that I could use, and finally borrowed a couple from one of my part-time assistants. If he hadn’t been working at the time, I would have been left staring at a simple little task that I was totally powerless to accomplish. Having the right tools is an important factor in getting any job done. Trying to do a job without the necessary tools is one of the most frustrating experiences known to man.

Try to picture in your mind a painter, standing on a ladder, dipping a hammer into a bucket of paint, and then stroking the wall with it. It really seems silly, doesn’t it? Now, try to picture a carpenter pounding on a nail with a paint brush. Both of these guys are equipped with a tool. It may be the best hammer and best paint brush that money can buy, but their tools are worthless to these two workers. If they would either swap tools or swap jobs, both would be happier and much more productive. It seems like a no-brainer, with a perfectly obvious solution—and it is, until you apply the same principle to the church. For some reason, it then becomes much more difficult to apply.

Picture a church Sunday School department. There’s a teacher in a classroom full of first graders, who is teaching the class “because someone has to.” The teacher doesn’t really enjoy the work, and given a chance would change to teaching young adults—but that class already has a teacher. Meanwhile, up the hall, the teacher of the young adults class is trying their best to teach a good lesson, but would rather be finding creative ways to communicate the Gospel to young children, using music, crafts, and games. The young adults don’t want to sing songs and play games, and wish that the teacher would serve up a good scripture lesson. Meanwhile, down the hall, the first grade children fidget and wiggle, struggling with sheer boredom as the well-meaning teacher drones on with words and concepts far too big for their young minds. As with the painter and carpenter, there’s an obvious solution—but in many churches, the problem would go on undetected and unresolved, convincing the first graders that God is boring, and encouraging the young adults to avoid Sunday School.

The worst possible thing that anyone can do in the local church is to become involved in an area of ministry that is outside of their gifts and talents. People often get there via the “somebody has to do it” route, often by guilt imposed by leaders who are charged with filling open slots with willing workers. It takes boldness and lots of intestinal fortitude to refuse those recruiters, and it takes even more for the leadership to say no to putting ill-equipped workers on the firing line.

I know of one church that was faced with a shortage of qualified, passionate children’s Sunday School teachers. The Pastor, in a bold but proper move, discontinued Sunday School rather than having teachers that weren’t equipped to work with children. He then gathered the handful of workers who were passionate about ministering to children, gave them the entire Sunday School budget, and charged them with the task of finding another way to reach these kids. That group of passionate, gifted, creative folks devised a children’s worship experience that happened at the same time as the Sunday morning service. The Children’s service was completely separate, creative, fun, and Jesus-centered. After the first week, the kids were so excited that they started bringing their friends, and could hardly wait for the next Sunday. After a while, some unchurched parents started wondering what their kids were so excited about, and started sticking around for the adult service, instead of just dropping off the kids—and the church experienced dynamic growth and vitality.

Do you know the areas where God has gifted you? Have you identified your personal ministry passions? Are you painting with a hammer?

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