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4 Necessary Traits of a Servant

Would you rather have a really skilled person on your team … or a team player?

Think about it for a second. What qualities should we look for in people who want to serve in ministry?

The first quality most people shoot for is technical competence. In other words — if you are bringing a team to Kenya to build an orphanage, it would be instinctual to look for a general contractor with great “building skills.”

Are “building skills” really your first priority?

Talk to those who’ve been on numerous missions trips, and they’d probably tell you that technical competence is actually way down on the list.

My 17-year-old daughter Alyssa just left for Uganda with a team from our church, and has been reading about servanthood. In the book Cross-Cultural Servanthood, author Duane Elmer shares a fascinating example from the secular world about the qualities of good workers. The Canadian International Development Agency put together a list of qualities that they observed in a good foreign worker. They were the following, in order of importance:

1. Ability to initiate and sustain personal relationships. More important than just riding into a place like the Lone Ranger (young people are about to learn this pop culture reference thanks to a new Johnny Depp film), is building relationships with the local people and serving alongside them, teaching and learning with them.

2. A strong self-identity (or sense of call). Who are we and what are we going to do? This allows us to be real and avoid pretense. In the church we might ask; what are our gifts and how does God want us to use them?

3. Realistic expectations. Team leaders can help cross-cultural servants avoid disappointment and frustration by preparing them for the different pace and the hiccups that can occur.

4. Technical Competence. Last on the list. “Oh yeah … can you use a skill saw?”

Interesting that technical competence was last … unless you’ve been on a mission trip. Nothing worse than a technically competent pain in the butt! What good is a person who is really good with tools when they alienate others, don’t see the big picture, and are easily frustrated by inconveniences?

Does this mean they don’t look for skilled workers? Not at all. Note: it’s still on the list. But it doesn’t trump the other qualities.

This translates so well to what we look for in our leaders. In a student ministry context I can’t help but think of how many times I’ve seen youth pastors select popular or talented teenaged leaders over those students whose hearts were right. What good is a really slick flyer or really funny emcee if all the student leaders are a bunch of arrogant, cliquey turds? (Something I spent quite a bit of time writing about in Ministry by Teenagers.)

I wonder how many of the disciples were chosen just because of their technical competence? (I think Judas was.)

What about you?
Why do you think we allow technical competence to trump other qualities?

What qualities are you looking for in the people who serve in ministry?

Where does technical competence fall in your list?  

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Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Guy's Guide to Four Battles Every Young Man Must Face; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources on TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com. Jonathan and his wife Lori live in Northern California.