Reassessing Your Ministry Sweet Spot
Is this what I’m going to do with the rest of my life?
I found myself asking that question 15 years into what I thought would be my life career. From age 12, I knew I wanted to be a nuclear engineer, and now here I was, in my early 30s, doing my dream job in the world’s premier engineering organization, feeling restless and discontent with my life. A funny thing about success: It never satisfies itself.
Turns out, I’m not alone. In 2014, Forbes magazine reported that the majority of Americans are unhappy and discontent with their jobs. In the case of church leaders, multiple surveys show us that the vast majority of pastors in North America are feeling some sense of restlessness and discontent. Maybe you can relate. Maybe you’re asking the same question I asked myself 20 years ago.
I want to encourage you that exploring this question can be a strong catalyst to learning about yourself, specifically your personal calling in life, and why you may not be living the abundant life Jesus said he came to bring us (John 10:10).
A Personal Search
Right at the time of my restlessness, I saw the book Halftime by Bob Buford and immediately the book’s subtitle struck me: Changing Your Game Plan From Success to Significance. I devoured the book. In a profound way, reading about Bob’s entrepreneurial journey sparked a similar journey in me. I realized I was really asking, Isn’t there something significant for the rest of my life?
After two years of promptings from my pastor that I should be in ministry—and two years of wrestling with God over those promptings—I finally got clarity. I made the jump and began working for our local church. As soon as I did, the entrepreneurial switch flipped on, enabling me to start a number of ministries, including what would eventually become Exponential. I also began working part time with Bob Buford, which, unbeknownst to me, would lead me on a surprising personal search. Bob told me that he wanted me working in my “sweet spot” 100 percent of the time. Back then, I wasn’t really clear on what my sweet spot even was. But I knew I wanted to know. You might say I became a student of the sweet spot and personal calling.
What I’ve learned since then is that the restless discontent I was feeling in my nuclear engineering position was directly connected to my unique personal calling and working in my sweet spot. I’d venture to say that your feelings of restlessness come from the same source. Can you honestly say, “Yes, I know what my sweet spot is, and I’m currently working in it”?
Identifying Your Sweet Spot
If you know anything about baseball, you’re familiar with the “sweet spot” of a bat. When a ball hits that spot on the bat, boom!—home run. Most everything in nature has a sweet spot made up of three common elements: design, purpose and position.
Our personal sweet spot has those same three elements. I call them our “be,” “do” and “go.”
1. Who am I created to be? (design)
2. What am I created to do? (purpose)
3. Where am I created to go? (position)
When we’re in our sweet spot, all three of these elements align. We are who we were uniquely created to be, doing what we were uniquely created to do, in the context of where we are uniquely created to go. When the answers to all three of these questions are what you’re currently experiencing in your life, you know you’re in your sweet spot.
Of course, as with anything we encounter, humans can mess up God’s design. The danger of focusing on our unique calling can produce an “it’s all about me” mentality when we listen with selfish ears.
“Calling is always about loving God and loving people,” says my friend and pastor, Brett Andrews. “Although your calling is individual, it’s not individualistic. It’s never about you or me.”
As a life coach, I always remind leaders that personal calling is about God using them and their gifts to accomplish his plans. Recently, one of the leaders I worked with wrote to tell me about an outreach ministry he started five years ago in which he counsels and marries couples, many of whom are unchurched. A few years ago, Dave Page, director of church planting for Evangelical Free Church of America West, met with me to develop his life plan. I pointed out that this wedding ministry might be his sweet spot.
“It certainly has turned out that way,” Dave told me. “I’m now using this ministry to help church planters connect with people in their community.” Dave is quick to paint the bigger picture. “We are leading young couples back to the church and ultimately, back to God. God is using this—he’s using me!”
Having Life Vs. Having Abundant Life
“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (KJV).
The words of Jesus in John 10:10 are a promise to all of us who put our trust in him. A closer study of the original Greek gives us deeper insight. The Greek says that Jesus came so that we may ecko, which translates to “take hold of,” while the original Greek word for “life” in this verse is zoe, meaning life as God intended it to be, in its absolute fullness. The difference between “having life” and “having an abundant life” is taking hold of the fullness of God. How do we do that?
Bob Buford has a photo of a water pitcher in his office to remind him that God has called us to be filled up and poured out. Calling is fundamentally about having the fullness of Jesus in us and pouring that fullness into others. We “take hold” of abundant life when we are who we were uniquely created to be, doing what we were created to do in the place we were created to go—our sweet spot. Our be, do and go are aligned.
When we’re not working in our sweet spot, we feel restless because we’re not living life to the fullest. At the height of my discontent, I sensed God telling me, “The fullness of life I made you for is directly related to this entrepreneurial spirit I placed in you.”
In my research on personal calling, I discovered that church historians identify two parts to calling: primary and secondary. Both enable us to take hold of abundant life. With primary calling, we don’t have to discover it. We all share the same one: God has called us to be his disciples, overflowing with the fullness of Jesus and carrying that fullness to others by making disciples wherever we go. Our primary calling unites us through the generations. In a recent interview with pastor and author Francis Chan, he focused on our primary calling, saying, “Our No. 1 calling is to know him and to know him deeply.”
Our secondary calling—where we find our sweet spot—is rooted in Ephesians 2:10: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” God gives each of us a unique calling so that we can play our unique role in carrying the fullness of Jesus into every corner of society.
When our primary and secondary callings work together, we experience abundant life. To pour out (secondary calling), we must be filled (primary calling). In the same way, to be filled again, we must pour out. Obviously, we will never be completely content on this side of heaven. But God the Creator has uniquely designed each of us to function in ways that bring us purpose and significance.
The 15th-century Puritan minister Cotton Mather illustrated this using a boat with two oars. One oar is primary calling; the other is secondary calling. To move the boat in a specific direction, you need both oars in the water working together. If no oars are in the water, you’ll just drift, shaped by the influence of society. If only one oar is in the water, you’ll spin in circles, never accomplishing the mission you were made for. God uses discontent to compel us to put both oars in the water.
Bob Buford highlights this synergy with two questions he says we’ll have to face someday before Jesus:
1. What did you do with who Jesus said he was? Did you respond and surrender to his Lordship? (The fullness of Jesus in us—our primary calling.)
2. What did you do with what Jesus uniquely gave you to work with? (Pouring out the fullness of Jesus on other people—our secondary calling.)
The answer to Bob’s second question only finds true meaning and significance when it grows out of our answer to his first question. If we want to move from “having life” to “having abundant life,” our primary and secondary callings must work together.
Can you honestly say to yourself, “Yes, I’m being filled up with the fullness of God and pouring it out onto others”?
A Blueprint For Reassessment
If the answer to that question is “no,” it may be time to reassess your personal calling. Your be, do and go are misaligned, and that’s why you may be feeling this sense of restless discontent. You’re not taking hold of the abundant life Jesus offers.
How do you determine which area is out of alignment? More times than not, it’s the be part of our calling—our unique identity. Our be should influence our do and go.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of church leaders don’t understand their be. You may have a strong sense of the do part of your calling. In fact, you may see your calling through the lens of do and go: You’ve been trained for ministry (the do) in a church (the go). But because you don’t have clarity on your unique identity or have confused it with one of the other two, the “who God has created you to be” doesn’t line up with the “what you’re doing” and the context you’re doing it in. When that happens, restless discontent is the natural response.
In a recent interview with LifeWay Christian Resources President and CEO Thom Rainer, he shared his journey of discovering his unique identity. Thom was groomed to be a fifth-generation banker in his family but always had an entrepreneurial spirit. Still, he went into banking and then received his call to vocational ministry. Looking back at the various experiences in the churches he led—all of his do’s and go’s—he realizes that in three of those churches, his be, his unique identity, never aligned.
“Three of the four churches I led squelched my identity,” Thom says.
At the fourth church in Birmingham, Alabama, to reach more people he took the church multisite in 1994 when it was a relatively new movement. From there, he became the founding dean for the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The school soon allowed him to start his own consulting practice. See the pattern here? Now he’s at LifeWay, developing new initiatives that bridge the gap between business and ministry. Thom had to consistently reassess the alignment of his be, do and go and then reposition himself in jobs and places that aligned with his unique entrepreneurial identity. Consistently ask yourself, “Am I doing something that’s allowing my unique identity to show itself?”
Clues To Your Unique Identity
While there’s no silver bullet for identifying your unique identity, important clues are all around you. Our job is to be an investigator who looks for clues and puts them together. One note: Don’t overlook your spouse in this process. The leaders I’ve interviewed about personal calling have been very clear that their spouse played a key role in identifying both their unique identity and their sweet spot. In a sense, your spouse acts as your assistant investigator.
In my coaching using the Paterson LifePlan Process, I suggest leaders do three things to help them identify these clues and integrate them together:
1. Look at your life as a book. Identify the story God has already started writing. Previous awards, jobs, what you’re drawn to—all of these factors tell you something about who you were created to be.
2. Look back at the “I remember when …” moments. I recently interviewed William Vanderbloemen, founder and leader of a national search firm for church leaders. At six years old, William polished his grandmother’s silverware, and she paid him for it. Recognizing a potential opportunity, he asked her if she had any friends with silverware and started a little business.
“I always had a job,” he says. “I have always been wired up to go start something and try and build it.”
At an early age, William connected the dots of opportunities, which is exactly what he does now as the CEO of the search firm. In fact, he articulates his calling: “I serve the kingdom by creating connections.”
3. Check out assessment tools. I always recommend to leaders that they start at Ephesians 4:11 and look at the fivefold giftings: apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers. StrengthsFinder is also a good assessment tool.
We also can learn more about our unique identity from other clues, such as previous and even current positions that were or aren’t a good fit. Ask yourself, What did I dread about this job? What did I love? What about this position didn’t fit my personality? If you’re in a bad job or fit and all you do is say, “I want to get away from this bad fit,” you learn nothing about your unique calling and are even at risk to repeat the same scenario.
The Value Of Assessing And Reassessing
Recently, one of the editors I work with told me about a church planter she had interviewed. The pastor recalled a time when he was under an enormous amount of internal and external scrutiny and as a result, the church was struggling to stay afloat. Needless to say, he was discouraged.
Fortunately, he knew enough about personal calling to reassess and then reaffirm his unique calling. Reassessment strengthened his resolve to stay in it. This young pastor knew who he was uniquely created to be and what God had called him to do. He knew he could stay faithful to his calling and let God handle the results. In many ways, reassessment can be a powerful defense against discouragement, especially in specific seasons of life.
Granted, we’ll always have times when our do (unique mission) and go (unique position) don’t align—when we’re discontent with what we’re doing or restless in the place where we are. This reality is especially true for young leaders who are often tasked with responsibilities that don’t really allow them to work in their sweet spot. Here’s the good news. If you have clarity on your be (unique identity), you can adjust the way you see your job and look for direct or indirect ways to infuse your gifting into what you’re doing and where you are. If we take ownership of our be, we can work to leverage it in any job and context.
Finally, being clear about your unique identity and mission gives you a tool for filtering opportunities for you and your church. If someone contacts me about serving on a board, I run it through my filter: Does this opportunity allow my entrepreneurial gifting (identity) to envisage opportunity (mission)? If the answer is “no,” I know I’ll
We would all do well to weigh out every opportunity that comes our way. I like what Larry Osborne, teaching pastor at North Coast Church in Vista, California, says about this: “Fulfill your calling, not your potential. There are lots of good things and important needs we must say `no’ to in order to focus on what God has called us to be and do.”
Carrying The Fullness Of Jesus
What would our world look like if the body of Christ was truly activated and engaged in joining God’s work in the way he designed?
As leaders we are called to mobilize our church for each person to discover their personal calling and engage. Look at the implied command to leaders in Ephesians 4:11-12: “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers to equip his people for works of service, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (italics mine). Too many times, we read about the fivefold gifting’s and stop there (verse 11). But verse 12 is key to seeing the bigger picture—until we all reach the unity in the full measure of the fullness of Christ. Unless every believer in the church is engaging his or her giftedness, we will not reach the “the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
Couple that with Ephesians 1:23, which tells us that the purpose of the church is to carry the fullness of Jesus into every crack and crevice of society, and you start to realize the profound role you have as a leader. You have the huge opportunity to lead your church to become an incubator of calling, creating environments where discipleship flows naturally.
The consequences and the significance of us not getting this calling thing right go way beyond our personal fulfillment and satisfaction. We must embrace the truth of what the church can and should be.
Ultimately, God’s call is all about bringing life to us and through us. When we see carrying the fullness of Jesus as our mission, we stop focusing on our individual achievements and worldly success. Instead, we define our personal success in terms of eternity and as the church, we serve as a channel for carrying God’s fullness to a world in desperate need of living water.
Read more at OutreachMagazine.com/personal-calling
‘Todd Wilson is founder and director of Exponential and author of the new book More: Find Your Personal Calling and Live Life to the Fullest Measure (Zondervan). A serial entrepreneur certified in several personal discovery tools, including life planning and coaching, Todd is passionate about equipping the church to discover and release the latent capacity of their unique personal calling. To learn more about calling, go to PersonalCalling.org and listen to Wilson’s new podcast, -Find Your Calling, “featuring interviews with church leaders such as Francis Chan, Os Guineas, Carey Nieuwhof, fermi Catron, Thom Rainer and more.
The above article, “Reassessing Your Ministry Sweet Spot” was written by Todd Wilson. The article was excerpted from OutreachMagazine.com.
The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”