When I was 11 years old, our Sunday school teacher took a station wagon full of us boys on my most unforgettable childhood tripĂ‘all the way from Tulsa, Okla., to Kansas City, Mo. We took this pilgrimage to watch the old Kansas City Athletics play the 1961 New York Yankees (now considered perhaps the greatest baseball team in history).
I'll always remember that night: Roger Maris hit one of his 61 home runs that broke Babe Ruth's long-standing record. Forty-seven years later, I still recall it was a line drive over the right-field fence. Yet what I remember most about that night wasn't Maris' home run. It was a certain soundĂ‘a sound I had never heard before and have not heard since.
We arrived at the stadium early to watch the Yankees' batting practice. There were my heroes warming up: Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Bobby Richardson. But then, up to the plate walked Mickey Mantle. And when his bat connected with the ball, it produced a sound that was almost otherworldly. Mantle had found the secret of consistently connecting the ball with the "sweet spot" of his bat. The tone was heavenly. Mantle obviously knew how to leverage his strength for maximum impact by connecting with the ball at just the right place on his bat.
In the same way, you can play to your strength when you connect with certain ministry elements at just the right spot. This union forms your unique "sweet spot" for ministry, and when you're connecting at that spot, nothing is more gratifying. You will know it, and those who watch will know it.
Have you ever noticed that when a batter knows he has connected at the sweet spot and hit a home run, he doesn't immediately start exerting himself and running? He knows he has connected at just the right place. And before he treks around the bases, he can pause for a moment to watch the thrilling result of having connected at the sweet spot.
Your ministry sweet spot is where you'll experience your greatest fruitfulness and your most gratifying contributions. The results will be some serious home runs for the kingdom.
The Five Sweet-Spot Components.
How do you connect at your sweet spot in ministry? You must first discover the five components that coalesce to form your ministry sweet spot. Those components are:
Anointing. More easily described than defined, anointing is, essentially, the Holy Spirit activated in you in a particular ministry arena. Anointing unleashes the supernatural. When you minister under the anointing, all things are possible.
Many airports today employ what some call a "human conveyor belt." When you "get in the flow" of this belt, although you are exerting no greater physical energy, you are simply getting farther faster. You have the sense that you are being carried along by a power greater than your own.
The Spirit's anointing is much like walking on that conveyor belt. There is a holy momentum in all you do. When you minister in the realm of your anointing, there is a certain ease in what you do. Although you may grow physically tired, there is also a built-in rejuvenation even as you are ministering. Anointed ministry is edifying and fulfilling. When you're anointed, God's enabling grace is dynamically working, enabling you to fulfill your calling, your life assignment.
There is a realm of anointing unique to every believer. Some are anointed for business; others for evangelism, administration, teaching or deliverance. A few rare folks are anointed for all of the aboveĂ‘and more. Under the Spirit's anointing, spiritual gifts function easily. That leads us to the second component of the sweet spot.
Gifts. Certain spiritual gifts are dominant in your life. These gifts are dispensed expressly to equip you for your life calling and for fruitful ministry. But spiritual gifts can ossify through disuse or when you rely on past patterns rather than present-tense sensitivity to God's Spirit. That is why Paul urged Timothy, "Stir up the gift of God which is in you" (2 Tim. 1:6). When spiritual gifts are activated and administered with the Spirit's anointing, you've found the sweet spot.
Abilities. Natural abilities aren't spiritual gifts, but they almost always complement them. An ability to speak well, for example, is often coupled with the spiritual gift of exhortation. A proclivity for study is often linked with the spiritual gift of teaching. A keen sense of justice and injustice may be tied to a prophetic gifting. Sensitivity to suffering is often heightened by the spiritual gift of mercy.
God has uniquely blessed you with natural abilities. Some pastors are great at creating and maintaining their churches' Web sites; the rest of us need outside help. Some pastors are energized by counseling; others find it draining. The key is identifying those natural gifts.
In the movie Chariots of Fire, Eric Liddell makes a profound statement about natural abilities and finding your unique calling and sweet spot. "God made me for a purposeĂ‘for China," Liddell observed in reference to his destiny. "But He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure." This is a reference to the smile of God on Liddell's employing a God-given natural ability. What ability do you have that, when you exercise it, you feel God's pleasure?
Passion. What do all great leaders possess in common? In a word, passion. Passion is the internal fuel that propels you toward your God-ordained destiny. Ministry does not begin with vision but with passion. Before there can ever be vision, mission statements or structure, your heart has to be in white-hot upheaval.
In tribute to Bob Pierce, founder of World Vision and Samaritan's Purse, Paul Rees observed that these ministries were not first organizations, they were "the spurting blood from Bob Pierce's broken heart." Pierce's costly prayer set the tone for his life: "Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God."
What breaks your heart? What makes you weep or want to pound the pulpit? This is a huge clue to your core passionĂ‘which is, in turn, a huge clue to your distinct destiny.
Need. What do you personally view as an intolerable condition? William Wilberforce came to see slavery anywhere in the British Empire as simply intolerable. William Carey could not tolerate an unevangelized, illiterate India. Martin Luther could not tolerate a perversion of the gospel, and Martin Luther King Jr. could not tolerate a segregated America.
If you can rest comfortably with a blind eye to the ravaged conditions of our world, then frankly, you are way too comfortable. Far too many American Christians are couch potatoing their way through life with no sense of holy calling and mission. The apostle Paul wrote, "Necessity is laid upon me" (1 Cor. 9:16). What is your holy imperative? Where is your laser focus of need? What work does your heart say, "This I must do"?
Our planet is engulfed in human need. Yet the whole global tsunami of pain is not your assignmentĂ‘that would be literally overwhelming. But if you will search your soul, God will trigger your passion; a clear call to throw your life into alleviating a specific need will tug at your heart. It will demand your involvement and intervention. That is your specific assignment and an indispensable component in your ministry sweet spot.
Connecting for the Kingdom
When the Spirit's anointing, spiritual gifts, natural abilities, dominant passion and human need connect, believe me, you will recognize your ministry sweet spot. When these five components coalesce, everyone on the field and in the stands snaps to attention. You will also find the more you connect there, the greater your impact will be.
This is easier said than done. In church ministry, as in all callings, there are some tasks you simply must do. There are meetings that demand your presence, people pleading for an hour of your time, e-mails screaming for your response. Though these and other "urgent" assignments beg for your attention, they should not have all or even most of your focus. I believe one of the master strategies of the enemy in our day is distraction. The tyranny of the urgent can often be the greatest hindrance to fulfilling your life calling and producing lasting fruit.
Today it's likely that dozens of these "urgent" things will try to pull you away from your sweet spot. And if you allow that, what should have been a killer home run will be nothing more than a disappointing pop fly. I urge you to calibrate today and every day to spend maximum time in your sweet spot of ministry. One thing is certain: The more you are in God's presence, the more you will hit at your ministry sweet spot.
It's time for you to step up to the plate. The stands are packed with heaven's "great cloud of witnesses." They're cheering for you. Likewise, those you influence are watching on the edge of their seats. They're wondering, Will his next swing be a hit for the kingdom, or will he strike out? My prayer is that you will connect at the sweet spot, do some serious damage to the opposition, and enjoy the thrill of moving His team ahead and increasing the fame of our team's Captain.
David Shibley is founding president of Global Advance, a Dallas-based ministry that provides on-site training and resources for some 40,000 developing world church and business leaders each year. His latest book is Living as if Heaven Matters.