To save you some time, I don’t have an answer to this question that works across the board. But just asking it might inspire some beneficial dialogue about it.

Most of us have heard, as church members, that part of our job is to serve the church.

Sometimes that means sweeping a floor, working in the nursery, or folding bulletins. Some service is boring and unglamorous but necessary. Our churches need menial and/or messy tasks done, and members ought to step up and do them on a regular basis.

Other times we serve with our particular spiritual gifts and skill sets. If we can teach well, we lead Bible study. If we can sing well, we lead worship. If we love to encourage, we speak life-giving words to people. If we’re good at fixing things, we can offer our services around the church building.

There are, then, many ways to serve our church. We all ought to be able to find a handful of ways we can contribute and get to it.

But what happens when a member wants to serve in a way the church doesn’t want them to serve? Does the church have the right to say no? Can a church say no lovingly?

If you know me at all, you know I am passionate about music. And you also know my ability to carry a tune is suspect. But my heart is there. If I were to go tell the music director at church I want to serve on the worship team, can he tell me no for the sake of preserving the quality of the music? How does he tell me no without hurting my feelings?

(This is a fictitious example, by the way. The only way I am leading worship is if my mic is turned off. Which, ridiculously, is one way this problem is addressed in some churches. Sigh.)

Let’s go a step further. What if I have amazing musical ability, and I want to serve in that capacity, but I don’t look the part? What if I want to join the traditional choir, whose members’ average age is 50, and I am 15 with face tattoos and green hair, and I’m in the midst of stretching my ear lobes to the size of a half-dollar? I don’t fit the look the music director is going for, and I might be a distraction from worship… should I be told I can’t serve in the choir? For the sake of image or ambiance, is the church overstepping it’s bounds by limiting who can serve where? Or is it ok because order and uniformity enhance the worship experience?

If the church tells a member he or she can’t serve in a particular way, should the church have to explain why? Should the church come up with an alternate space in which that person can serve in the way he or she desires (for instance – let my off-key self be apart of a group of singers but never let me have a solo, or send that talented, tatted teen to lead worship in senior high, just not in the traditional worship service)?

And what should the “rejected” church member’s response be? Should he or she be understanding and look for another way to serve? Is it their responsibility to come up with an alternate way to use their perceived gifts and talents? Should they leave that church all together and go find a church who will let them serve how they want to serve?

Unfortunately, there aren’t neat answers here. More unfortunately, these kinds of situations aren’t usually handled well in churches. They aren’t typically discussed openly, which is an unloving response to our church members.

So these are my thoughts and my questions. Would love to hear any insights you might have in the comments below. We won’t solve this problem, I’m sure, but maybe we can take a step forward?