We can thoroughly understand God’s grand narrative for all peoples revealed in the Bible. We may have a keen sense of how our story connects to his story. We can even possess a great sense of self-awareness related to our talents, gifts and passions. And yet, if we are not intentional about growing our practical knowledge and missional skills, we can still be ineffective in our engagement with others as we seek to serve them well and point them to Jesus.
The Bible Encourages Competency
The Bible contains competent artistry. For example, there is a musician named Asaph, who wrote Psalm 78 and 12 other psalms. Historically, Asaph likely helped lead the Jewish congregation in liturgical hymns of praise as they approached the temple. He was a musician and songwriter and singer. Psalm 78 recounts a portion of Israel’s history to encourage their faithfulness as they see God’s hand in their history.
The Bible tells stories of skilled leaders. David was a shepherd. He had watched over the family sheep herds as a young man. He had acquired many valuable skills as a shepherd. This history of skill development would serve him well as a shepherd of God’s people too. About David’s kingship, Psalm 78:72 states, “With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hands” (English Standard Version). These words emphasize both character and skills: heart and hands. The notion of “skillful hands” implies intelligence, insight, understanding and the proper use of power. This is sharpening your skills through formal training and practical everyday use. Because a competent person has influence, character must govern skill growth and usage, heart and hands. Both matter as you seek to be effective where God has called you. And both can be nurtured and grown over time.
The Bible encourages training. In 1 Timothy 4:13-16, Paul urged Timothy to give his attention to some of the ministry skills that would serve him well among the Ephesians. In verse 15, Paul says, “Practice these things . . . so that all may see your progress.” To practice means to put into use. One of the best ways to sharpen your ministry skills is to use them daily. Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Do your best to present yourself as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (ESV). Paul reminded Timothy in this second letter to again sharpen his skills as a teacher of God’s word. This affirmation would demonstrate that he was a sound worker his audience could trust. As we develop our ministry skills, we grow credibility and trust with those we seek to serve.
How You Should Think About Competency
Growing in missional competency is a necessity to making your best contribution to the kingdom of God. Three perspectives will serve you well in becoming competent in your calling.
Competency is not perfection
First, simply understanding what the word “competency” means will aid you in your pursuit. Competency is the possession of sufficient knowledge and skill to do something well. Notice the words “sufficient” and “well.” These words are not about perfection or expertise. It would be easy to never engage out of a strong feeling of inadequacy. Being competent is about being enough to meet the need of the moment. Being qualified is about being good enough to engender trust. Competency also implies the authority to act. God has granted us this authority in the words of the Great Commission. In Matthew 28:18, Jesus states, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (ESV). And then he commands his followers to “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Your authority is wrapped up in his authority. You are also granted authority by those you seek to minister to when you show up with competency. People naturally trust those who show up in authentic ways and display sufficient knowledge and skill.
Embrace and develop your gifts, talents and abilities
You do not, nor will you ever, be competent in everything. Focus on common biblical priorities and your unique abilities and gifts. Every follower of Jesus should develop skills in spiritual disciplines, evangelism, discipleship and basic social interaction. Having sufficient knowledge and skills in these areas help you grow in intimacy with Christ and aid you in pointing others to Christ. But it would help if you also were developing your unique gifts and abilities. Every follower of Jesus has a place in God’s mission based on calling and design. Developing those gifts and skills to the point of competency allows you to show up in profound ways where God has placed and called you.
Depend on God’s Word, your community and the Holy Spirit.
When you develop a habit of reading the Bible, you will grow in intimacy with Jesus, better understand God’s purposes and gain wisdom for life and ministry. Knowing that you will never possess all that you need to minister in every situation should push you to lean on others in the body of Christ to supply what you cannot. Just as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are in constant companionship and oneness, you too are designed to minister in community. It also provides a more holistic approach to serving others and increases the sense of camaraderie and fun. Finally, the Holy Spirit gives us the power we need to engage the people we are called to serve. The Holy Spirit empowers and enlivens our competencies to make them effective and fruitful.
How To Grow in Competency
I want to suggest a five-fold approach toward greater competence.
- Discipleship: This has ancient roots and means to become a follower of someone for apprenticeship and learning. There were many teachers and many disciples for all kinds of knowledge in biblical times. We are most familiar with Jesus and his twelve disciples, who followed him closely for three years. Through their followership and apprenticeship, the disciples of Jesus learned much and became vessels for God’s kingdom service. Find someone older and more skilled than you within the area of influence you are called to serve in God’s kingdom. Be sure that your training includes formal learning and experiential, hands-on learning.
- Mentorship: This is less structured. Focus on gaining insight and perspective from someone who has lived and worked in the arena that you feel called to serve within. Bring your questions. This preparation can prove invaluable and keep you from making mistakes that others have made. The mentor can also be one who serves as an encouragement and sponsor for your future service.
- Focused Study or Formal Education: Focused study or formal education will sharpen your skills for ministry. There are more ways than ever to accomplish this. This effort can help you become a subject matter expert, growing your credibility and creating opportunities to lead.
- Experience: There may be no better competence builder than experience. The best way to grow a skill is to practice. And the best environment is within the same audience you hope to serve. If you pursue a proven method of “prepare, act and review,” you will sharpen your skills toward greater effectiveness. Along the way, ask for feedback.
- There are two other factors that I recommend to you. The first factor is to ask yourself, “What am I qualified to do?” Above, I suggested that there are some skillsets that all followers of Jesus should hone. But there are also unique skill sets that only you can develop. This thoughtfulness helps make you unique and might be an indicator of calling.
The second is to cultivate diligence. Do not become discouraged during the early days of trying something new. Aim for growth over perfection. There is no shame or guilt in failing when making a good-faith effort. Don’t give up. Your season of fruitfulness is coming.
A friend of mine often reminds me, “95% of ministry is simply showing up.” Our intentional steps of faith to move toward people make us available to be used by God in the lives of others. It also makes us available to be trained by God and become better at serving and ministering well. Be committed to your own development, but never wait on a feeling of being perfectly competent to show up and serve others.