Playing Is a Pathway to Formation

When my daughter Lucy was a toddler, she had some verbal skill, but she rarely looked at anyone. After her Autism diagnosis, Lucy's therapy team made teaching her to make eye contact one of their first goals.

Practice led to understanding, not the other way around.

Emily, Lucy's lead behavioral therapist, would grab her hands, spin in a circle, and sing  'Ring Around the Rosy.' Like many Autistic children, Lucy loves to spin, so she bought in right away. Once Emily had full cooperation, she'd stop the game and wait until Lucy caught her eye. Then, and only then, she would start the game again. It didn't take long for Lucy to see that making eye contact was the way to make a request.

Lucy couldn't have understood if we tried to tell her to use her eyes. But she learned to use her eyes appropriately simply by doing so and receiving the gift of an enjoyable game. Practice led to understanding, not the other way around. 

I think that sometimes we need to put down our books and do something. Play a little.

In the church, we often give the impression that people will obey God's commands to love their neighbor or share the gospel only after they fully understand the truth. We think that knowing the truth is the pathway to true discipleship. While I'm certainly not against studying the Bible and learning theology, I think that sometimes we need to put down our books and do something. Play a little. 

Paul tells us that Christ has given a unique grace to every one of his people (Ephesians 4:7). Every saint has a particular function or ministry for which they are suited. One has the gift of teaching; another hospitality; and another the ability to nurture and care. But discovering one's gifting can only happen when a church member is given an opportunity to try out something new. 

Discovering one’s gifting can only happen when a church member is given an opportunity to try out something new.

In Ephesians 4:11-12, Paul tells us that leaders have been given to the church "to equip his people for works of service." A leader's role is to help church members learn by doing. Elton Trueblood once wrote that Christian leadership "is for those who possess the peculiar gift of being able to help men and women to practice any ministry to which they are called."  In other words, leaders must practice our pastoral calling to occupational therapy. We must invite people to serve and practice hospitality. We must share the teaching load. We must invite God's people to come and do ministry. We must call them to come and play.

I've never seen anyone discover their gifting apart from practice. That's the only way a Christian can become aware of how she is gifted or how he is not. In fact, Paul tells us that calling every Christian to do ministry is the pathway to maturity. We equip so that the whole body of Christ may be built up (Ephesians 4:12). 

How have you grown through serving? How did you first discover your ministry gifts? Leave a comment and tell your story below.