Serving Others Starts with the “Law of Depth”

Depth of character and spirituality form the strong, unwavering foundation of your church’s ministry. The Law of Depth states that depth determines height and durability — in construction and in life. We must use our God-given gifts to transform shallow commitments to deep ones. | by Dale O'Shields

Every pastor envisions a friendly church that equals or surpasses Disney services, from the moment a car drives into the parking lot to the very last “thank you for coming.” The problem is, the pastor sees none of it. These functions are all up to the volunteers.

Part of the exponential growth we’ve experienced is due to volunteers who offer umbrella escorts during inclement weather, put out cones to lead the way to church every week, and even walk people to bathrooms instead of merely pointing. The first step in training our volunteers is to help them understand the “Law of Depth.” Let me encourage you to adapt this lesson when training your volunteers:

My home water supply comes from a well. Occasionally we have to monitor the water quality. I’ve learned that the quality of water in a well is determined by its depth. If a well is shallow, you run the risk of ground water contamination. Water from a shallow well can be deadly. Deep is better. When depth is present, something strong and healthy can be built. Depth provides safety. It protects from pollution.

But depth costs something to achieve.

In the construction world, lots of money is spent on the parts of a structure that are never seen but are essential to its endurance. If investment in a solid foundation is short-changed, it will eventually become evident.

The Washington Monument has always intrigued me because it’s one of the most visible landmarks of Washington DC. From many parts of the city, you see its profile towering above the landscape. How has it stood the test of time? How has it been able to endure?

In 1791, two years into George Washington’s first term as president, a place to memorialize him was envisioned by Pierre L’Enfant. L’Enfant designed the layout of Washington DC with a prominent space reserved to honor its premier leader. In 1845, a design was drawn up for an obelisk to stand in that space. Construction began in 1848. When it was completed in 1884, the Monument was 555 feet tall—making it the tallest building in the world at the time. Without all the advances in engineering we have today, how is something envisioned in the 1700’s and built in the 1800’s still standing? What holds it up? The answer is found in the foundation—a massive support structure, 37 feet deep and 55 feet wide. The Washington Monument has survived because it has substance beneath it.

The point is, the height of a building is always determined by the quality and depth of its foundation. You can’t go high without first going deep.

Have you ever seen a building that’s sinking? First, the cracks give it away. They tell you that something is happening you can’t fully see … yet. These outward signs warn you of a more serious issue. It’s only a matter of time before the little cracks reveal a significant and potentially dangerous underlying problem.

In Shanghai, China, a group of real estate and construction personnel were thrown in prison when an apartment building fell in 2009, killing one person. It didn’t collapse but tipped over.

Fortunately, it landed short of neighboring buildings, so there wasn’t a massive disaster or collateral damage. What was the problem? They cheated on the building’s foundation.

A number of years ago as I watched the construction of our main church campus facility, I was amazed at how long it took to put in the foundation. I was on the site when the concrete trucks rolled in to pour the footers. I was shocked! I couldn’t believe how much material and money was required for this phase of the project.

I actually thought, “How much concrete could you possibly need for a foundation?” As this unending line of trucks continued rolling in, I felt like saying, “Hey, let’s see if we can get by with just a little less concrete.” Now I’m so glad we bought it all. The building is still standing and shows no signs of falling apart, despite its constant use.

I’m reminded of two things when I reflect on that experience:

First, I took no pictures of the foundation. The footings didn’t seem photo-worthy. At no time since then has anyone driven up to our building and said, “Wow, that’s a beautiful foundation! Can I see a portrait of the footers?” Foundations aren’t beautiful, but they are essential.

Second, it costs something to build a foundation. It isn’t built without a significant investment.

The Law of Depth states that depth determines height and durability. It’s true in construction and in life. The consequences of a shallow life, shallow commitments, shallow relationships, or a shallow approach to ministry eventually show up.

Even in church life, shallowness will eventually come to light in a person and in their ministry assignments. You cannot fool The Law of Depth. For the church to be effective, we must accept responsibility to develop depth—spiritual and character depth. You cannot fake it. You can’t cover up for its lack.

Depth is something that requires effort and investment. It involves inside, “underground,” personal work that others generally never see. While character-building effort is unseen, the fruit is seen. Foundation work is always worth the investment.

Why? Because among many other things, depth makes us usable by God.

Unfortunately, we humans are often more interested in and impressed by the seen talent of a person than their unseen character. Scripture reminds us of this natural tendency: “Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7 NIV). It’s true. All of us tend to look at exteriors. As a result, people easily substitute and celebrate the superficial over the substantial. We’re quick to be wowed by the gifts we see in a person without taking time to consider spiritual and character depth. We forget that, like a tall building without a good foundation, giftedness without character depth is an accident waiting to happen.

Character is the foundation for ministry, gifts are the expression of ministry

Serving in church involves using our talents for the glory of God and the good of the church.

Your gifts are how ministry comes through you. Depth of character is what enables your gifts to be used and sustained over the long haul. It’s the foundation for your gifts.

Gifts are given, but character is formed. You don’t choose or earn your basic gifts and talents. Your gifts are freely given to you by God. Look at what the Bible says:

For God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. (Romans 11:29 NIV)

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17 NIV)

He said: “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’” (Luke 19:12, 13 NIV)

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us. A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. (1 Corinthians 12:4-7 NLT)

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. (1 Peter 4:10 NIV)

As a uniquely created person, you have something special to add to the life and ministry of the church. God expects you to use the gifts he gave you in the work of his Kingdom. The contribution of your gifts, in connection and harmony with the gifts of others, results in a beautiful symphony that honors God and blesses people. All of us working together make a church. Each one of us is vitally important to God. But our gifts need to be solidly secured on the foundation of deep character. CGM

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