I was reading Matthew on Thursday and I came to Matthew 25:14-30, the Parable of the Talents. I've read this scripture, or had the parable explained to me in sermons and Sunday school, probably a thousand times. But it never occured to me that there are four servants in the passage, not just three. First, there's the guy who gets five talents to start with and ends up with five more - pretty good investing. He gets some pretty high praise. Next up, guy with two talents; he also doubles what's been given to him and also gets praised. Now, the last guy brought back no decrease, but also no increase. He gets slammed.
Wait, that's only three guys! Right you are. The ‘fourth servant’ is the bare minimum, mentioned by the master as he chastises the servant who brought no increase. “Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest.” That's the bare minimum.
Now, let's talk about the bank. If you go to the bank, you get maybe three or four percent. Not a great return. But the banks, in the long run, actually make a lot because they make four or five percent on everybody's money. So who's the bank? The church. At a bare minimum, you should go put your talents into a church. I don't care where, just as long as it's a Christian church. Some churches will realize a better return on your investment, but they'll all do something. According to the parable, it doesn't matter if you never hurt a fly - if you don't increase the kingdom somehow, you're thrown to “the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
A lot of the time I think we are timid about our talents. We don't really know what to do with them, we don't know how good they are, we don't know how people will look differently at us if they know we do x. But the bare minimum is to use those talents within the church. If you can take care of children, volunteer your time! If you can keep up with a Google calendar, volunteer your time! If you can do x, volunteer it!
If you want to go deeper, I think the investment metaphor works pretty well. If you're looking for something to do with your money that will make it grow faster than your bank, where do you go? A financial institution - maybe even a bank! Maybe you go to a different wing of the bank, where the financial advisors are. So if you find financial advice at a financial institution, where do you find ministerial advice? At a ministerial institution (read: a church)! If you're gonna be that guy doing the risky stuff and trying to make ten talents out of five or four talents out of two, it's probably advisable that you diversify and put some stuff into a bank, and talk to people there about what to do to best utilize the rest. If you want to get involved in ministry (hint: you do), the best place to start is by putting some time and effort into a church, and talk to people there about what to do to best utilize the rest. Ask questions. Learn. Do the minimums for a while, and then keep working it up!
We all want to be that servant handing Jesus a 100% rate of return. None of us are perfect, but He can do it. But don't let the enormity of the task scare you - at least do the minimum and go put your talent(s) to work somewhere. You might find out you have more than you thought.