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Capacities

Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A.

Number 256

 
Perhaps there's no other calling on earth which deals with capacities as much as the ministry. Pastors, as leaders, live and die by the capacity of their leaders to lead, their followers to follow, and the limitations of their own capacities.
 
What Are Capacities?
 
Capacities are the various levels of abilities and tolerances individuals and organizations have in various circumstances. Capacities can also be defense mechanisms. Capacities also are indicative of the level and depth of the various individual abilities, talents and giftedness.
 
Individuals with high capacities in given areas tend to be effective at maintaining or overcoming threats to healthy function in those respective areas. Those with lesser capacities may not be able to deal with various circumstances without engaging in some reactive response.
 
All individuals and organizations have capacities. Pastors, leaders, followers, and churches also have various capacities. To the degree individuals or organizations have certain capacities is the degree to which they will likely overcome or succumb to the various pressures and circumstances which they encounter.

Examples Of Capacities

An excellent example of one of these capacities is the "Capacity To Act" (cf. Ministry Health Article 255). The capacity to act is simply the ability to carry out appropriate action in spite of difficult circumstances.
 
Imagination and experience may indicate other kinds of capacities including, for example,  the...

1) Capacity For Patience: How patient are you? Does your impatience often do you in?

2) Capacity For Frustration: How much frustration can you tolerate before you give up? (Cf. Ministry Health article #216, "High Tolerance For Frustration,"by Greg Morris)

3) Capacity For Leadership: Are you able to carry the load of leadership?

4) Capacity For Vision: Are you able to develop a vision?

5) Capacity For Persistence: Are you able to carry a vision to completion? Or do you get easily diverted?

6) Capacity For Empathy: Are you able to feel with others?

7) Capacity For Recognizing Consequences: Can you readily see what potential consequences certain decisions and actions may have?

8) Capacity For Tolerating Ambiguity: Are you comfortable when things are not clear? Are you able to remain calm in such situations or do you become overwhelmed, fearful, and out of control? The type of response demonstrated when things are not perfect and under control is an indicator of the capacity for tolerating ambiguity.

9) Capacity To Face Fear: Courage is the ability to move in spite of fear. The capacity to face fear is the ability to exercise courage in the face of danger. When you confront fearful things, people and situations, how do you respond? Do you face it? Or do you flee?

10) Capacity To Teach: Do you have the patience and energy necessary to mentor individuals or groups as a teacher? Or do you get frustrated because people can be so "stupid"?

11) Capacity To Learn: Some people can be taught. Others can't. Others can be taught some things, but not others. Still others only have capacities to learn to only to a specific level before they reach their capacities.

12) Capacity To Unconditional Love: Do you have the ability to sacrificially love others? Or are you afraid of the intimate sharing of friendship and trust? 

13) Capacity To Understand: Some people are able to understand the broader and more complex issues which underscore various circumstances. Others, however, are more simple-minded. Are you able to think things through? Or do you find yourself drawing instant decisions based on factual information?

14) Capacity To Change: Can you recognize when positions, methods, policies, and comfortable ways of doing things are obsolete? Can you change them? Or do you keep insisting on your old "familiar" way?

Other Capacities
 
The list of capacities, of course, is virtually endless. Perhaps the most important capacities not listed above are capacities specifically related to faith. These might include, for example, the...

1) Capacity To Forgive: Some individuals can forgive "seventy times seven." Others seemingly can't ever forgive another's wrongdoing...or even their own. Though, as it is said, "forgiveness follows understanding," the capacity to forgive is one of the most important--but sometimes most lacking--capacity for Christians.

2) Capacity To Trust: The "Capacity To Trust" is constantly tested in our relationship with God and others, too. As is true of all capacities, in some situations the capacity may be higher while in others it may be nearly non-existent. Can you really trust God in all things? Really? Are you sure?

3) Capacity Of Faith: Hebrews 11 gives a marvelous description of this capacity to go against all odds simply because it is God's will. It clings to God's promises and anticipates God's intervention and guidance in every single area of life. Can you go, in faith, to where God calls you? Or are you hesitant, unwilling, or resistant?

4) Capacity To Believe: This was Thomas' problem. His capacity for believing that Christ was truly risen depended on his senses--seeing, touching, feeling, etc. The "blessed" ones, Jesus said, have the "capacity to believe." They believe even the most miraculous working of God even when others can't imagine the possibility of it even being a potential happening. Can you believe in God's promises to you? Do you have the capacity to believe what God's power really can do in your ministry?

Capacities In Other Areas...
 
Capacities also apply to such Biblical concepts as spiritual gifts. The Holy Spirit not only gives His gifts as He chooses and according to His gracious working. He also gives capacities with each of these gifts. For example, someone may be endowed with the gift of helps. Yet, the capacity of that giftedness may not extend to a ministry of help in a prison.
 
The gift of leadership also has with it various capacities. Some leaders have very high leadership capacities in working with entire dynamic congregations but may find leadership capacities in a Sunday School program somewhat taxed.
 
Fruits of the Spirit are also subject to capacities. In an imperfect world corrupted by sin, it is impossible to see "patience, kindness...self-control" in their perfect, unlimited capacities. Instead, those demonstrating extreme patience with others' children may have little capacity for their own. Those with a capacity for "self-control" around those whom they know and trust may find that, in the face of opposition, that capacity may increase or decrease.
 
Observations Regarding Capacities
 
1) Capacities are, to a large degree, situational.
The capacities individuals are able to demonstrate are often influenced by the environment. Is it hostile or friendly? familiar or strange?  Is there a general attitude of trust or distrust?
2) Individuals and Groups each have Capacities.
Every pastor has different capacities for each unique circumstance of leadership. Every congregation also has its own set of capacities. Every sub-group within the congregation also has capacities.
3) Capacities Influence Behavior.
Some of the most supportive churches have the capacity to develop long-standing supportive relationships with pastors. They have the capacity for gratitude. They have capacities for leadership, for empathy, for understanding and for working things out. Because they have these capacities, they are able to respond in such constructive ways. Unsupportive churches, on the other hand, may have these same capacities but not be able to exercise them at such high levels.
4) Capacities Can Be General Or Specific.
The capacity for giving may be quite strong relative to some organizations and individuals but be nearly non-existent for others. Others, however, may have more generalized capacities for generosity regardless of the specific situations. Every situation and circumstance test capacities. Some are able to generalize their capacities consistently in all situations. Others have less of a capacity for capacity generalization. All, however, have capacities which tend to be general or specific.
5) Capacities Enable Understanding And Relationship.
Marriages, like nearly all human relationships, are sustained and broken on capacities. Marriages which don't have the capacity for trust, friendship and intimacy are doomed. But not always. Sometimes couples stay together who have no "real" relationship base or sharing. Though they could split up, a main reason they don't is that there is a recognition that one or both parties simply don't have the capacity to go beyond what they are doing.
 
When the couples understand that there are built-in limitationscapacitiesto their relationship, they gain a sense of toleration, perseverance and understanding. Though it may not be "love" in the fullest capacity which God has given us, for such couples it is, nevertheless, "love." Their love has its limits, but knowing and accepting their limits enables them to resource other compensatory capacities allow the marriage to "work."
6) Capacities Compensate For Other Lesser Capacities.
As in the example above, when one capacity is low there may be another complementary capacity to compensate. "Compensative capacities" are an outstanding resource that people often use to make up for other areas of their own individual weakness.
7) Capacities Compliment Others' Capacities.
Since no one has a full panoply of capacities in every area of life and ministry, it is important to recognize that one person's capacities complement another's capacities. For example, a pastor who has low capacity to create vision to unify people may use capacities of caring to draw people together. Recognizing the lack of capacity to create vision, this same pastor can seek those with a greater capacity for vision-directed leadership.
8) Capacities Combine To Increase Capacity Thresholds.
When individuals with complementary capacities (or lack of them) link together, the result is a magnification of the capacities. On the positive side, this means that when   those with high capacity for risking, entrepreneurship, faith and vision connect with others with similarly high capacities in these areas, the capacities greatly increase arithmetically or exponentially.
9) Low Capacities Combine To Decrease Capacity Thresholds.
The same effect described above can also be demonstrated in the negative. When people with low or non-existent capacities for risking, entrepreneurship, faith and vision get together with other like-capacitated individuals, the lacking of these capacities is greatly magnified...arithmetically or exponentially. The result is that the effects of the low capacities are magnified, resulting in things such as fear, hesitancy, anxiety and even self-sabotage.
10) Capacities Can Be Changed.
Though there are certainly upper and lower limits, capacities can be changed. They can be changed through education, experience, changes in spirituality, life experiences, altered cerebral chemistry, attitudes, and developmental experiences.
 
Perhaps one of the greatest capacity change catalysts is pain. Pain causes individuals and organizations to test the thresholds of their capacities. When tested, the thresholds respond by increasing them or decreasing them. The phrase "Once burned, twice shy" indicates that several capacities have been challenged and changed. Whereas the capacity for caution has increased, the capacity for trust has decreased.
 
Another capacity changer is prayer. The cliche "Prayer changes things" testifies to this. One need think only of the Psalms to recognize that prayer often has a strong element of capacity expansion in its expression. St. Augustine's prayer, "Lord, I believe, help my unbelief" is a classic example of the believer seeking greater capacities of faith. Of course, the ultimate prayer to expand capacities is the prayer, "Thy will be done."
God Changes Capacities
 
Scripture is full of examples in which God used prayer and pain to change capacities. The prophets incessantly preached words of capacity changing. In urging God's people to turn from their sins, they called the people toward eliminating their capacity to tolerate wrongdoing, injustice, and other abominations. At the same time, they gave the invitation to experience God's capacity for love and forgiveness and to reflect that high capacity in their love for others.
 
Those specifically called by God were often called through painful experiences. Abraham may have felt great pain in leaving his home. The disciples experienced painful transformation as they left everything to follow Jesus. Saul experienced excruciating pain and self-searching throughout his ministry. Indeed, those who faced and paid the greatest price of God's calling, martyrdom, perhaps experienced the greatest capacity changes of all.
 
The Call To Ministry: A Call To Changed Capacities
 
It's always intriguing to hear retired, faithful pastors (if indeed pastors really do "retire") reflect on their ministry. Virtually every time they will say things like "If only I could have started my ministry knowing what I now know," "Ministry was much different than I thought it would be," and "I turned out to be a much different kind of pastor than I ever thought I'd be," indicate that the calling to ministry is, like those Biblical examples before us, a painful and prayerful changing of capacities.
 
Perhaps that is why ministry is such a challenge to those in active ministry. During the height of conflict, on the verge of a major capital fund drive, or in the consideration of how to deal with some difficult people in a seemingly irreconcilable situation, capacities are changed. How pastors and others deal with these capacity challenges is important not only to ministry, our church, and to those affected by us. It is important for our spirituality as well. Indeed, such challenges will demonstrate our spiritual capacity to trust God.
 
Capacities In Your Ministry: Two Applications
 
Application One: Congregational Ministry
When pastors and Christian leaders recognize that individuals have capacities it can change everything. Some individuals don't have the capacity to follow through. If one recognizes that, it will result in
1) a greater patience with that individual's lack of capacity, and
2) a reorientation of the expectations for that individual.
Recognizing who has greater and lesser capacities is as critical as knowing their spiritual giftedness, their talents, etc.
 
Capacities also may help resolve those sometimes difficult relationship issues between staff members, congregational members and pastors. Recognizing that some staff members, congregation members and pastors have various capacities to sustain relationships, to seek forgiveness, and to work in a team can help ease frustration of expectations when such capacities appear to fall short of desired levels.
 
Congregational conflict, especially that of the recurring type, may be indicative of congregational capacity levels in various areas. Those who can't see any other way but their own are working from a set of capacity levels which will virtually always result in the repeated emergence of recurrent conflict issues. Individuals always asking "Why can't everyone be more like me?" also demonstrate a lack of awareness of numerous things...including the awareness of others' capacities and their own limited capacities.
 
Recognizing capacities is not, of course, a panacea for everything that befalls the Church. But in those with a capacity for recognizing capacities, it can give a sense of "normalcy" when all else seems to fail. When situations or people can't be changed it can be an effective coping mechanism to know that a reason these situations or individuals may not be able to do other than what they have done is because they don't have the capacity to do otherwise...at least for the time being.
Application Two: Your Personal Pastoral Ministry
There are a "variety of gifts" all given by the "same Spirit," Paul said in Ephesians 4. What he didn't indicate was that there are also a variety of capacities, too. Or did he??? In Romans 12:6-8 Paul wrote, 
"We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully." (NIV)
Everyone in ministry has different capacities. Those who can serve well may not have large capacities for teaching. Those gifted with impressive capacities for prophesying may not have capacities for contributing to the needs of others. Those who can demonstrate remarkable capacities for leadership may not have capacities for showing mercy.
 
Though virtually every minister desires to have unlimited capacities in every area of potential ministry, God does not give His grace as we choose. He blesses us with some wonderful, life-changing, ministry-energizing capacities while making us sometimes painfully aware of our lesser capacities.
 
Recognition and acceptance of limited capacities in self and others can also go a long way to discover complementary capacities. After all, the ministry is not a "go-it-alone" proposition. Ministry is a Body activity which, working in fellowship with others, attains to the full unity of Christ as each part works together to complement each others' capacities.
 
God's Unlimited Capacities
 
Perhaps the most grave failure is to fail to recognize God's unlimited capacities. The greatest calling of the Christian pastor is to continually resource higher capacities of faith. Such capacities to which we are called include unlimited love, unlimited forgiveness, unlimited vision, unlimited zeal, unlimited trust in an unlimited God who knows no limits to capacities.
 
Indeed, to acknowledge, trust and proclaim a God with illimitable capacities is not only the core of our preaching, but it's the core of the Gospel-driven belief that, in God, the impossible becomes possible, the unimaginable becomes realizable, and the unexpected becomes nothing short of a concrete display of God's power.
 
The greatest display of this, of course, is in Christ's victory over Satan. With supra-cosmic capacities, He "made a spectacle" of Satan. By the work of the Gospel, Christ overcame the limiting effects of the Law to create fear, guilt, insecurity, feelings of loss of control, and focus on man's powerlessness. Indeed, it is also in the area of capacities that man "falls short of the glory of God."
 
Unlimited Gospel Capacities
 
The Gospel which we preach, however, knows no end to the capacity of God to work among men. It knows no end to the extension of unconditional grace and forgiveness to sinners. It is the belief in the Gospel which, in the final analysis, responds in weakness, humility and joy before the God who alone has unlimited capacities.
 
It is those capacities which the prophets and apostles drew upon regularly. It is why each day we live "in Christ." It is why we are "baptized into Christ", His death, and His resurrection. Indeed that is why Paul said, "I can do all things in Christ Who strengthens me."
 
Look Beyond Your Capacities
 
What is it that God is calling your church to do? Does it seem difficult...or impossible? Does it seem to be one of those divinely postured BHAG's?* Do you get discouraged because you don't think it can happen and see no evidence of the same?
 
Then quit looking to your own limited capacities. Preach, teach, model, and live by the ultimate capacity of capacities--the capacity to look to God's power and trust Him to do the unthinkably miraculous in your ministry.
 
God has the capacity to act. He has the capacity to be faithful. Quit relying on your capacities. He's got more capacity to build your ministry than you can ever imagine! Just try it and see!
 
Thomas F. Fischer
 

* For more information see Ministry Health Article #169, "Get A BHAG."

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