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Stretching ourselves

Stretch Armstrong
Remember Stretch Armstrong?

Periodically an associate will come to me with a “can you believe they asked me to do that?” story. I have spoken with youth pastors who have been asked to put together a worship team, and worship team leaders who have been asked to lead a youth group. I have heard from children’s ministers who were asked to put together family events, administrators who were asked to head up fundraisers for a mission trip, and people with all kinds of job descriptions who have been asked to make hospital visits. The story usually ends the same way, “Can you believe they asked me to do that? How would you respond?” My response is usually unexpected.

First, I do believe it. I have yet to have an associate or other staff member tell me they were asked to do something that surprised me. Sure some requests are weirder than others, but lead pastors, members, and employment supervisory committees can have different ideas about what it means to be an associate pastor. It is often up to us to define our role, based on what we say yes to, and to what we say no.

Second, I know the one asking me this question is looking for me to give them justification for saying no. They expect me to say I would refer the one making this request to read my job description and see this is not something I am supposed to do. But I believe those requests outside of our position descriptions can be gifts from God calling us to stretch our ministry into new areas of service.

Sure, there are times when we get asked to do things that are inappropriate (I read of an associate who was asked to pick up dry cleaning), and we need to set clear boundaries. Saying yes to everything can lead to quick burnout. But I am also aware there are times I am tempted to say no because I perceive what I am being asked to do as outside of my calling and giftedness. Sometimes, though, we don’t really know all our gifts until we are called upon to use them. Associates who rigidly stick to the tasks outlined in their position descriptions, do themselves and their churches a disservice by not trying out new opportunities in ministry.

You don’t have to work in the church long before you realize there is always more ministry needed than neatly fits into the job descriptions of the staff. Shall we put ministry on hold until we can hire someone to do what is needed, negotiate a modification of a staff member’s job description, or find a volunteer to take on the ministry project? This approach would quickly stifle ministry growth.

Instead, I believe we in ministry are called to stretch ourselves, to use all our gifts – even those not mentioned in our job description – in service to Christ and the Church. I have posted elsewhere how taking on some off-the-paper responsibilities has grown my ministry (see “As determined by the pastor…“), a situation I do not think is unique to me. Since writing that post about a year ago, I have taken on writing daily devotions for our congregation. Devotion-writing is not one of the responsibilities listed in my job description, but I am a writer who has had devotions published. So I took it on to see what it would be like to do for our congregation. I found this is a place I am gifted and deeply enjoy, and is enhancing our church’s ministry greatly.

There are all kinds of caveats I want to write around this post about boundaries, clergy burnout, and the like, which would lengthen this post considerably. Suffice it to say, we ought to use common sense not to try doing everything – you shouldn’t be doing the lead pastor’s laundry – but not to limit ourselves to our job descriptions either. When we have the courage to stretch ourselves, we might just be surprised how God will use our gifts to his glory.

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