WATCH DRURY WRITE A BOOK.  – THIS IS A TEMPORARY POST   Writer’s first draft of a book to be published by The Wesleyan Publishing House. as  an introduction to the ministry.  This web-posted copy is an early draft of the manuscript and not intended to be used as a final document.  While the editors will catch  minor errors if you see something significantly wrong or missing drop Keith Drury a note at   © 2003 Keith Drury


God’s Fingerprints


How has God been preparing me for the ministry?  Does it start when I sense the call or did it begin the moment I was born—maybe even before?   How does God’s use everything that happens to me so far in life—both good and bad—to make me a more effective minister to others?  What is the “program” God uses to develop a minister?


The program God uses

You have been in ministerial training for a long time.  While it might seem like God simply decided one day to call you into the ministry, He has more like known about your call a long time.  And all this time he has been preparing you.  He has been preparing you by: 

  • Granting you spiritual gifts to use in His work.
  • Stirring up passion in your heart for certain causes.
  • Helping you develop personal abilities to use in the ministry.
  • Molding your personality for future ministry.
  • Permitting all kinds of experiences in your life—both good and bad—from which you could learn and develop wisdom: He uses people, events, spiritual experiences, leadership experience and even a variety of organizations and institutions to develop you.


God has even been using bad things to prepare you for your ministry.   For instance, we might see a negative event as a terrible blot in our life—say your parents got divorced when you were in high school, and it was a messy and painful experience.  But God is always taking bad stuff and making a treasure out of it.  God may have seen your parent’s divorce as an opportunity for you to learn and develop the wisdom you’ll need to help people in the future.  It may have been a time when God developed your attitudes about marriage you’ll need in the future.  Think about this story:


“My dad left my mother when I was 14.  To tell the truth, he cheated on my mom and got caught.  They had never gotten along very well, and he was gone most evenings anyway.  He was absent during almost all of the important moments of my life, and he occasionally came home drunk and even sometimes hit my mom.  But though he was not a real good dad I still loved him, and when he finally left us I felt abandoned and to be honest it still hurts now when I write about it. But now I do see that God was teaching me—even through this painful experience.  For instance, I’m real sensitive to anything I might do that would hurt others, the way I’ve been hurt.  It hasn’t made me hard or bitter, but softer toward other people. And another thing: I decided to never even start drinking and I never did—even in high school.  And now I am more cautious about who I might marry, but I know this: once we are married it will be for life—no matter what.  I will never leave my wife and abandon my own children like my dad did me.  I will also be far more sensitive to the pain of teens in my church whose parents are getting a divorce—I think I’ll be able to minister more effectively to them.  As painful as it all was, I do honestly think I can be a better minister to others now because of the lessons I’ve learned.”


This is an example of God’s program for developing a minister.  He uses experiences of life—both good and bad—to teach and train us for ministry to others.  Not that He causes bad thing—God doesn’t cause fathers to abandon their children just to teach a future minister a lesson!  But even though people do wrong things, God can use the experience for good.  Joseph’s brothers did an evil deed when they sold him into slavery, but “God meant it for good.”  


If you are called to the ministry it would be a wonderful project for you to take some time reflecting on the experiences of your life: your gifts, abilities, personality and passions to see if you can discern how God has been preparing you. Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback church in Orange Country, California has popularized a way of looking at this using the acronym SHAPE… looking at your Spiritual gifts, Heart(passion), Abilities, Personality, and Experiences.   These headings help anybody look to his or her past to discover how God has been molding them for the future.  They are especially helpful for a future minister to examine.  For in looking back you will find plenty of “God’s fingerprints” in your life so far.  As you read the following descriptions of “SHAPE” take some time to reflect on your own life and see if you can detect God's work there—perhaps even before you were born.


Spiritual gifts

God does not give spiritual gifts to individuals so much as He gives the gifts to His church through the individual. (1 Cor. 12:7; Eph. 4:11, Rom. 12:)  The gifts are not for you but for His church—to be used by you for te benefit of others. This can be confusing because around the church we sometimes ask, “What is your spiritual gift?” as if the individual is the final recipient of the gift.  The gift is to his church, but you and I carry these gifts as stewards. Their use is to edify and build up the church.  So what does the church need?  It needs people to serve.  The church needs people with wisdom.  It needs people with great, or hospitality.  The church needs people with leadership gifts, music, or a gift of being a great prayer warrior.  The church needs people with great faith, or the ability to administer, teach, counsel, or discern and a dozen other gifts. 


Individuals do not so much need these gifts as the church needs them—the body of Christ.  Thus God grants to Christians certain supernatural abilities in order that they may use these abilities to “build up the church” so they can God’s work on earth.  Which spiritual gift might you have?  There are several lists in the Bible(1 Cor. 12; Eph. 4; Rom. 12); however, many scholars believe these lists are not intended to be exhaustive or complete but are examples of gifts.  There are spiritual gifts the church needs today like music or leading worship that are implied but not explicitly stated in these three lists.  In fact, some say that “taking a test” to discover your spiritual gifts can actually confuse a young minister since the test only measures what the person sees in themselves, and often does not consider what others might perceive.  Then too, since the church is the primary recipient of the gift some gifts may emerge over time or in certain congregations as you move through life.  Nevertheless, “spiritual Gifts Tests” have been a popular device since the 1960s and can help you start to search for your gifts.  You can at least begin to develop an understanding by asking the following question: What supernatural abilities does God seem to be growing in me to help His church?  If you make a preliminary list of these things you might catch an early glimpse of what God might be giving the church through you.  You can start with the lists in the Scriptures listed above, or just start with what others have observed are your gifts.


Since every Christian has some spiritual gift or gifts, we might ask how this subject relates to the professional ministry to which you are called.  Here’s how: Because your gift will greatly affect how you do ministry.  For instance, if you have a great gift of showing mercy, the church or youth group you lead will likely be tilted toward this gift of yours—just because you are the leader.  In fact this is a caution to those entering the ministry: We can sometimes try to create the church in the image of our own personal gifts and burdens, rather than allowing the church to reflect all the gifts God has given to it. But there is an even more important issue for those called to ministry.  There are some spiritual gifts especially oriented to those in the ministry.  While you may not see them emerging yet (especially if you have not had opportunity to use them), most men and women called to the ministery see gifts of preaching, teaching, pastoring, leadership, and caring emerge sooner or later.


So what spiritual gifts do you see emerging in your life?  What is God giving the church through you?  What do you see already?


Heart and Passions

What do you get excited about? What makes you angry?  For what are you especially burdened that others don’t seem to care about as much as you do?  What really gets you cranked up, or makes your heart leap?  These are the passions of your heart.  Old saints used to call these “burdens.”  They believed that God laid particular burdens on certain individuals and they were supposed to make that ministry or that cause their specialty.   They were right.


For instance what people group do you seem to care about more than the average?  Teens?  Minorities? College students? People in the military? The poor?  The sick?  Parents? People in foreign lands? Older folk? 


Or ask yourself what issues stir up your heart and even make you angry?  Does your heart break for those in poverty? Drugs? Abortion?  Child abuse?  Missions?  Lack of adequate housing?  Materialism? War/peace?  Justice?   Often the issues you care about the most correlate with the people group you are most burdened for.


Your spiritual gift comes from God and is for use in building up the church primarily (though sometimes it is used in the world too, of course).  This is also true of your passion, particularly if you are called to the ministry.  (Someone not called to work with the church often fulfills their passion in their career outside the church—for ministers this passion is usually inside the church, though not always).  As far as the church goes, it works like this: God lays various burdens on different individuals so they will keep the church balanced.   While nobody else at the church may seem to care much about one’s person’s “pet issue” God often calls out individuals to remind the church of the total scope of the church’s work.  They “harp on it” until others join the cause or at least recognize the cause is a legitimate part of the church’s mission.


Of course a God-given passion is not just about telling the church what to do—it is primarily to tell you what to do.  If you have a personal burden for poor people who cannot afford decent housing God may want you to be a prophet reminding your church that they should support the group, Habitat for Humanity.  However, a burden is not simply a burden to nag others—it should be a personal burden for you to make that ministry a major part of your own service: building houses, serving on their board, raising funds.   In fact when you do this you are an agent of the church—the church often does its work by sending one or two persons.   The whole army does not need to go on every mission to be effective.  This is why God lays burdens on the heart of individuals—so that the church might be balanced by each part doing its own work. (This book is not written to lay people but to ministers, but you can see how different the world would be if all the laity saw their own gifts and passions leading to their personal “life calling” to be fulfilled in their vocation as agents of God and the church, but that is not within the scope of this book.)


So what does all this talk about passion and heart have to do with your ministry.  Every Christian should have some God-given burdens and passion in their heart, not just ministers.  The minister must determine if the passions you have are your personal passions as a private Christian, or God-given burdens that are to be passed on to the entire church.  Like spiritual gifts a minister may be tempted to recreate the church in the image of his or her own burdens.  Sometimes this is what God wants and that is why He has placed you there as the leader.  But at other times God has given the minister a personal burden and passion and the minister should do personal work as an individual Christian to fulfill the work, and not expect the entire church to take up your personal burden.  It will take great discernment for you to sort out what of your heart’s passion is from God for you personally, and what is a burden God is laying on your heart for the entire church.


Do you sense any personal burdens or passion you think are from God?  Is God laying a certain group of people on your heart now?  What issues are burning with you? What passions are emerging?



Abilities and Skills

At first glance your abilities and skills may seem a lot like your spiritual gifts.  In fact, one’s abilities and spiritual gifts do overlap.  Your abilities are a natural or developed aptitude, and not directly God-given.  A spiritual gift is a supernatural gift—an ability from God directed toward the church primarily.  An ability or skill is a natural or developed gift—something you were born with or developed.  But of course all these so-called “natural” abilities are also from God so the difference is hard to discern.


Let’s say you have a wonderful skill of playing basketball.  It seems like you were born with it, though you’ve developed and honed it along the way.  It is not a spiritual gift with which you are supposed to use to build up the people at church so much as a “natural ability.”  Or perhaps you are really talented at woodwork—you can make a hand-made clock that looks perfect.  Or maybe you are good at fixing mechanical things. Perhaps you are a great cook and like to fix fancy meals.  Maybe you have a wonderful eye for graphics—you can immediately see how things fit together on a page and what would look nice or “what goes with what” in furnishing and decorating a house.  All these are probably natural abilities, more than spiritual gifts.  That does not mean they are of no spiritual consequences—all good things are from God and should be used to glorify Him.  But we might say these abilities come indirectly from God and they are hints at what our contribution might be to the world and God’s mission here.


So what does this have to do with a minister?  Ministers often have similar abilities and skills.  While there is no test that can be administered to you that will tell you for sure that God has called you to the ministry, there are some excellent tests that will measure your abilities, personality and skills.  Taking these tests will tell you how much you match up with other ministers.  For instance the ability to get along with people is a commonly held skill of ministers.  If you don’t have this skill, you’ll have to develop it for the ministry is “people work.” And most ministers have developed the skill of leading others (and they also may have the spiritual gift of leadership).  Most ministers have either naturally or supernaturally gained the ability to do public speaking, since they are presenting the gospel or teaching others as a primary part of their calling.  These abilities can be spiritual gifts, natural abilities, or both.


But don’t get the idea that having an ability always means you will enjoy doing it.  Many ministers have great ability for public speaking, but all ministers do not enjoy it.  Some ministers get sick every week before they preach, and have a headache for 12 hours after!  But they do a great job while preaching.  When people hear them they assume it must be easy for them to do and that they love it.  Our calling does not always make us comfortable, but if we are obedient we can be effective.   God has not called us to His work to make us happy.   He has called us to be effective for Him in accomplishing His will on earth: bringing in the kingdom of God. 


On the other hand, don’t expect to hate what you are doing.  A minister is generally happy in the work he or she does—God does not call us to a life of being miserable but obedient. Almost all ministers enjoy doing what they are called to do.  But don’t expect that everything you do will make you feel happy—you might dread preaching yet still win hundreds to Christ and cause thousand to grow spiritually through your life.  Your abilities are hints from God of how He might use you in the future.


So, what abilities do you seem to have?  Don’t be afraid to list things that do not seem “spiritual?”  List them all.  What are your skills?  What are you good at?  What do these hints tell you so far about the kind of ministry He may be preparing you for?



Personality and Style

Do you like to be with people or would you rather work alone on a computer?  Are you a hard-driving leader or more laid-back?  Are you a take-charge leader or would you rather lead the group in making a decision collaboratively?  Do you talk a lot when you are in a group or are you quiet, even shy?  Do you like big groups of acquaintances or would you rather be with a small cell of really close friends?  Do people see you as happy or somber?  Funny or thoughtful or both?  These are all matters of your personality and style—the person you are, or at least the person you come across as being.


There is no one personality style that God calls into His ministry.  God calls outgoing types like the apostle Peter, but he also calls introverted melancholy types like Moses.   Sure, most ministers appear to be outgoing—they have to do that as part of working with people. But many are really shy people who simply demand of themselves a more outgoing style because the ministry needs it.


Thus it is dangerous to assume that you are not called to ministry because you are “not like most ministers.”  God knows what he is doing—and calls just what he needs for His ministry.   If down deep inside you are naturally shy, somewhat introverted, don’t like parties, and are afraid to speak in front of large groups (like the author of this book is) yet God calls you, He will provide the grace for you to do what He has called you to do. God can either change your personality, or give you the strength to do what doesn’t seem natural to you.  You can do it because you love God and you love His people, and it accomplishes His will, even though you may feel unnatural when doing it.


One more thing.  Don’t be too quick to label yourself, or accept labels others try to stick on you.  People change.  You will too.  How others see you is not always the real you underneath.  And even if it is, sometimes the “real you” can change.  Many ministers at age 30 are quite different than they were at age 19.  If they had made irreversible decisions about their future at age 19 they would have wound up somewhere far from where they wound up at age 30.  God can change us. We can even change ourselves.  So we are not stuck with being exactly like we are today.  Thus if God calls you, no matter what your personality, respond in trust of His grace to enable you to become what he wants you to be for His church.


So what kind of personality and style do you have so far?   What seems to be emerging?  What sort of a minister will it make you be as you start out?  Where have you seen changes already in how you come across to others or what your personality seems to be?  What future changes do you hope for in order to become an effective minister? 



Experiences and History

We started off this chapter by saying that God’s program for making a minister is to use the experiences of life to train and develop that person and teach them wisdom. .  So far in this chapter we’ve mostly dealt with what is in you presently—spiritual gifts, natural abilities and skills, and personality and style.  Now we shall look backwards to the influences on you since birth—and even before.  If God has been preparing you all along then there are hints in what you’ve faced—both good and bad—to how God might plan to use you in the future.   “God’s fingerprints” is all over your life now, but they are all over your past too. What was God was trying to teach you in each experience or through each person you’ve faced in life?   There are five general categories you might use if you actually do make this list and reflect on “God’s fingerprints” on your past:


1. People

Who are the people in your past God may have been using to teach you principles of life and ministry?  Not just the good experiences with people, but the bad examples and influences as well (sometimes the lessons we learn from bad models can be even more influential on us than those from good models!).  Who in your family was God using to teach and train you?  What was he trying to teach through each person?  What teachers had a great influence on you and what might God have been teaching you through them?  What have you learned through your friends?  Enemies?  If you made a list of all the people in your life who impacted you—for good or bad—what would you list as the lessons for life and ministry for each person?  You might not be able to guess exactly what God had in mind, but you can try.  When you’ve done this project for your entire life, you will begin to see “God’s fingerprints” emerging.  God has been developing you before you ever imagined you were going to be called by sending people to cross your path to teach and train you.


2. Events

So much for people, what about events?  What events of life, both good and bad, have influenced you most so far?  Family events?  Crisis events?  An auto wreck?  An important move?  A divorce or death of a loved one?  What are the biggest events influencing you so far?  In these events what might God  have been wanting you to learn?  What principles?  What wisdom?  What commitments for your own life and ministry?  What are the major events of your life and how did God plan to use them to mold you?


3. Spiritual experiences

What was the first spiritual experience you had?  As a child?  Teen?  When did you become a Christian?  Have you made fresh commitments to God since then?  Did God ever come to you in a personal spiritual experience that was transforming?  Did you have some sort of spiritual experience when you were called?  Is there a retreat, camp, or worship experience when God moved powerfully in your life?  If you made a list or chart of all these spiritual experiences in chromatically sequence what would you say God was doing in your life through each?  What was He teaching you that will help you minister to others? 



4. Leadership experience

Have you ever been in charge of anything?  Did you ever organize a club or sleep-over when you were a kid?  Did you have a job where you were given some leadership responsibility?  Have you ever served in the church by teaching a Sunday school class or helping with the youth?  Did you ever have a leadership role in student government, sports, or music?  Think of all the roles you’ve had: in the family, at school, neighborhood, church and elsewhere.  Have you ever been drawn into leading and influencing others in these roles?  If you listed these leadership responsibilities and reflected on them, what pattern do you see emerging form them? How might God have been at work training you for future leadership in these experiences?


5. Organizations and institutions

Finally, what organizations and institutions are dominant in your life?  What local churches?  What denominations?  Were you involved with Fellowship of Christian Athletes or Young Life during high school?  What schools have you attended?  What conferences or conventions did you go to? Were you in the Scouts? What other clubs and organizations or institutions have influenced you?  If you listed them all, and reflected on the list, what would you see emerging as you “connected the dots?”  What was God up to in permitting you to interchange with these organizations and institutions?  Can you see His fingerprints?




God did not start preparing you for the ministry when you were called—He has been preparing you ever since you were born, even before.  Your past has God’s fingerprints all over it.   The trouble for most people is they never take the time to sit down and write out the lists mentioned above.  They never list the dots so they can’t connect them.  While they vaguely recognize God has been at work in the past they never take the time to make the list and reflect specifically on it.  So they do not see the shape of things to come.  Our past experiences are often the secret clues to our future ministry.   So why not stop reading this book right now, and start making the lists mentioned above.  You might see more of God’s fingerprints in your past than you ever imagined!  It would be a good break from reading this book!





Follow up study and application


To Share:

1.  Tell about one very positive person in your past and what God may have been teaching you through them—something He may want to be an important theme or emphasis of your ministry.


2.  Share one negative experience from your past and suggest how God may be trying to use that experience for good now, and to shape your future ministry.


To Discuss:

3.  What is the difference between God causing and God using a negative experience in our life to develop us?  Or if you are a particularly deep thinker, try this one: If God could have prevented something, is He then ultimately responsible for everything that happens—even bad things?


4.  Want to think about hard things, then try this:  This book has hinted at a notion several times—now it is time to discuss it.  Does God call people as he needs them, or does God know who he is going to call before they are even born?  Exercise your theological mind on this one—how would you prove your position either way?  How would it change your view of God, or how we relate to Him?   When you’ve finished the discussion, then switch to prayer and decide how this same idea applies to prayer.


To Do:

5.  Interview a practicing minister over lunch or for about an hour. Ask them questions based on this chapter in order to construct their own “life map” of gifts, abilities, personality, people, events etc. that God has used to develop them.  Ask someone with enough experience that you can see how early experiences were used in later ministry and how some things fall away over time.


6. Jump in with both feet and actually try to make your own “life map” including all the charts listed in this chapter.  See if there are clues in your present gifting and past experiences for what God is training you to do in the present and future.  Discover who you are becoming, and discern your own trajectory.   If you do this, try to organize your list (or drawn “map”) using the categories in this chapter.