Cutting Cacti

Several years ago at a previous church, a friend of ours was trying to make a volunteer connection. She’s very gifted. She’s artistic–creativity just oozes out of her. She’s very compassionate–she’s routinely looking for ways to encourage people who need help finding new direction in their lives. She’s very people-oriented–she’ll complete the tasks as long as she has the opportunity to do it with a team.

More important, she loves Jesus and wants to serve others through the ministry of her church. And that’s what precipitated a rather funny (yet sad) story. She wanted to serve. She had time to volunteer. She could have stepped in to help in a number of different areas. But, rather than taking advantage of her creativity, compassion or relational skills, the church asked her to cut out cardboard cacti. That’s right. She wasn’t given the task of cutting out just one cactus for the upcoming vacation Bible school. She was given the responsibility of cutting out multiple cacti. I don’t even know that they let her draw the cacti–they just wanted her for her cutting abilities.

It would be different if her primary serving role took advantage of her gifts and passions. In every role we have inside and outside of the church, there are tasks we complete that we don’t necessarily enjoy but they’re part of our responsibility. That wasn’t the case here. They had a task that needed to be completed, and they found the first available person to complete the task. It wasn’t a part of a bigger role. The church didn’t care how our friend was gifted. They didn’t consider her personality or passions. They just needed a cacti cutter.

This is part of what really frustrates me in churches. We’re so focused on our agenda, that we lose sight of what God has given us. We try to fill boxes on an organizational chart. Instead of that, we should be helping people figure out how they’re wired up and facilitating ministry connections that fit who they are.

One way to help people figure this out is to have them complete a spiritual gifts assessment. You can point them towards ministry roles that may use their gifts. To tell you the truth, I don’t think that’s the most effective way of making a connection. People are more than a set of gifts. The only real way to help someone is to begin with a conversation.

  • “Tell me your story.” That helps us hear about their experiences.
  • If it doesn’t come out in their story… “Share a little bit about your spiritual journey.” That helps us understand if they’re positioned to provide spiritual mentoring to others.
  • “What do you do for a living?” That helps us identify their abilities.
  • “What do you do for fun?” That helps us get a snapshot of their personality.
  • “What’s currently challenging your thinking?” That helps us uncover their passions.
Once we have a picture of how God has shaped someone, we’re in a better position to help them connect to a ministry either inside or outside of the church. It’s only through trying various ministry opportunities that we can confirm whether or not someone is truly gifted in that role. When we make a connection this way rather than just trying to fill boxes in our organizational chart, people are also more likely to stay and not get burned out.
Where do you stand? Are you helping people find a fit for who they are, or are you just asking people to cut cacti?
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Tony Morgan
Tony is the Chief Strategic Officer and founder of The Unstuck Group. For 14 years, Tony served on the senior leadership teams at West Ridge Church (Dallas, GA), NewSpring Church (Anderson, SC) and Granger Community Church (Granger, IN). He's written several books and articles that have been featured with the Willow Creek Association, Catalyst and Pastors.com.