Deciding where to serve


One of the great blessings of Annual Conference is the opportunity to see all the many things that God is doing through The United Methodist Church in our state and around the world. We not only hear about vital congregations and how they are doing innovative ministry in various ways, but we hear about our colleges, camps, retirement homes, global missions, ministries with the poor and ministries with children in need.

One of my reactions is that I am proud to be a United Methodist Christian. God is using our church in so many powerful ways. I want to belong to a congregation that pays its mission-and-ministry apportionments (mission shares) in full, so that we are fully supportive of what is being done.

But another reaction is to be somewhat overwhelmed. I want to participate personally in everything. I am very mindful that Jesus said in Matthew 22:34-40, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Yet, I know I cannot personally participate in everything. I cannot go on every mission trip. I cannot be a counselor at every youth camp. I cannot teach every adult Sunday-school class. I cannot sing in the choir every week. I cannot help sort the clothes at the clothing ministry. I cannot serve breakfast to the homeless each time it is done. Yet, part of me wants to be involved in all of those ways! How can I love God with all of my heart, soul and mind and love my neighbor as myself?

I have struggled with this problem for years, and I frequently have to remind myself by saying, “Scott, you cannot do it all.” So, I have come to four principles that help me do my best for God.

Extravagant generosity
I strongly believe in tithing, and I want to give money beyond the tithe to places where God is at work. When I contribute to the Bishop’s Bicycle Challenge, the NUMB ride, Imagine No Malaria or one of our United Methodist colleges, I am participating in those ministries without necessarily giving my time. I want to give away as much money as possible to God’s work.

Specific prayer
I pray daily for the three churches and pastors on our area prayer calendar, but I also pray for many of our United Methodist ministries by name. I believe that prayer changes things. I tell the people I am praying for them, and then I do it.

Awareness of my gifts
There are many spiritual gifts, and no one person has all of them. I am a teacher, so when I have the opportunity to teach, I do that. I am not a gifted youth pastor, so my job there is to be supportive of people who are very good at youth ministry.

Prioritize my time
I also have to acknowledge that my time is limited, and I have to spend it wisely in obedience to Christ. I have a family to love. I have been called to the ministry of being a bishop. But I do have some discretion in my work and in my free time, so I want to give of myself in the ways where my gifts, time and talent will make the best contribution to the ministry of Christ and his church.

I learned that this way of thinking could apply to anyone’s situation when I was visiting a shut-in member of my congregation years ago. She was bedfast after a stroke and said she was so sad to not be able to serve the church any more. I told her God still could use her gifts — she could pray. She became a prayer warrior and worked hard at the ministry of prayer from her nursing-home bed.

All of us, regardless of our age and giftedness, how much money we have or our employment situation, can use what God has given us to strengthen the ministry of his church. How will you decide where to serve?