Biblical recruitment: Human-shaped service

  • Peter Tong
  • 10 July 2015

Most pastors at one time or another have had a conversation with someone engaged in ministry, when they tell us things aren’t going so well. It can be hard to diagnose the problem in the moment. Maybe the person is over it or burnt out, too busy elsewhere, or wanting to try something new. The task may have become monotonous due to a lack of fruit, or their expectations are unrealistic. Or perhaps they are using the ministry for their own agenda, and things aren’t turning out the way they’d hoped.

Whenever I’ve listened to conversations like this (and yes, I’ve listened to many), I often feel that some of these issues could have been mitigated had I thought more deeply about how I invited the person into the ministry role in the first place.

In this post and my next, we are going to think about the first conversations that recruit someone to a ministry role, looking at two approaches. The approach covered in this first post is human-centered, which can unwittingly foster all of the issues we’ve mentioned above. The other, for next time, is cross-centered, which may not necessarily overcome all those challenges, but will provide the foundation to address them.

How to encourage human-shaped servants

Here are four tips you might use to encourage a human-centered mindset to serving in your church.

1.    Make it primarily about you.

Hi Sally, I was wondering if you could help me out. We need an extra person to teach kids’ church this year. I’ve tried lots of people; could you do me a big favour and serve just for one year?

We’ve all used this sort of tactic before. It works. It is powerful because it taps into a very common Christian desire to please others. When a request is cast as a personal favour, it can be very hard to ignore.

Yet it isn’t too hard to see how this might set the person up for all sorts of pitfalls.

Service can become about pleasing people. The benchmark for success is keeping the minister happy. Moreover, if this person falls out of favour with the minister, or the minister leaves, things can become very difficult.

2.    Make it primarily about them.

Hi Paul, I’d love for you to be a Bible study leader this year. You’ve matured a lot in recent years. It will be really good for you; you have great gifts in this area.

If the primary driver for asking someone to serve is about their gifts or their growth, then the goal of serving is located within them. The ministry can become a source of pride, or an arena for a personal agenda. Then, when it no longer provides a stage for displaying giftedness, the urge is to move on and elsewhere.

3.    Make it primarily about the task.

Hi Chloe, I want to talk to you about joining our Scripture team, because it’s the most strategic thing we’re doing as a church. We need our best people in our most important ministry.

See what I did there… a combination of tips #1 and #3! When the focus is primarily on the task, this could easily burn someone out. Perfectionism could creep in. And what if there is no fruit? What if the task becomes monotonous, or difficult, or boring, or what if the very nature of the task is endless? What’s more, there are many ministry responsibilities that will rarely appeal to anyone (but I guess just go to tip #1 and call in a personal favour, because that works…). 

4.    Make it primarily about results.

Sam, I’d like you to run our Christianity Explored course next term. No one became a Christian last time we ran it, and I think you can do better.

A crude example, but this one is a little more subtle:

Sam, I’d like you to join our leadership team, because we need to get things moving. We need to grow again, and we need someone like you to provide energy.

Now you’ve set Sam up for a stumble either way. If the ministry is successful, Sam gets a big head and thinks it’s all about him. If the ministry doesn’t improve or declines, Sam thinks it’s because of him, and becomes despondent.


Some of these four approaches will actually be appropriate occasionally; I’m not suggesting they should be eradicated from all ministry discussions. After all, each feature in the Apostle Paul’s arsenal. He uses the personal plea with Philemon, and he entrusts roles to those with the right gifts and experience (see the criteria for leaders in 1 Timothy 3). He is the ultimate strategist (raising money for mission ventures to Spain; sending and corresponding with a vast network of ministry partners). He too longs for harvest and labours for results.

However, when they are used as the primary reason to engage someone in ministry, they make it difficult in the long run. And the deep questions of ministry—What is best for Christ? What is best for others?—can fall by the wayside.

In my next post, we’ll look at an alternative approach that will lay the foundation for working through future difficulties in ministry in a biblical and Christ-dependent way.

You can see Peter's talk, which this article is based on, below (spoilers for the next post!):

Photo credit: Ilya