Five Kinds of People You’ll Meet in Ministry

MacDonaldbookWhile reading Gordon MacDonald’s thoughtful book Renewing Your Spiritual Passion, I encountered his brilliant taxonomy of “five kinds of people that affect spiritual passion.” His insights here are leadership gold. Every leader who wants to make it for the long haul needs to identify these people in his or her own life.

[The following is adapted from MacDonald, Renewing Your Spiritual Passion (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1986), 69-88.]

The Very Resourceful People (VRP’s): They ignite your spiritual passion. These are mentors, coaches, trusted advocates who inspire you in ministry and help you grow in your skill and wisdom. These people always make a positive contribution to your world. Impact upon spiritual/leadership energy: +3.

The Very Important People (VIP’s): They share your spiritual passion. These are teammates, close friends, disciple-makers who labor in ministry alongside you. Together you stir one another up to faithful and fruitful ministry. “We do not spend large amounts of time trying to get along, or debating over whose philosophy will prevail, or determining who is in charge. We are bound together to get a task done, and get it done we will.” Impact on spiritual/leadership energy: +2.

The Very Trainable People (VTP’s): They catch your spiritual passion. These people want to grow and serve, and they have a teachable spirit that’s willing to learn. “We draw them to our side and open our lives to them. In the very sharing of ourselves we stir our own passion to serve and grow because we see the immediate effect it has upon them.” Impact on spiritual/leadership energy: +1.

The Very Nice People (VNP’s): They enjoy your spiritual passion. These people don’t want to share your ministry; they want to benefit from it. They are wonderful to be with and are often encouraging, but they are not always on the serving and growing edge. “Although the VNP’s may swell the ego with their applause and conditional loyalty, they exhaust the spirit through their desire to take what the leader has to give.” Impact on spiritual/leadership energy: 0.

The Very Draining People (VDP’s): They sap your spiritual passion. “I do not wish to write of VDP’s unkindly, but they exist in all of our worlds and must be carefully identified. Until we understand who they are and how they touch our lives, we will not fully understand why we experience weariness and passionlessness at times.” Three realities about VDP’s: 1) they are drawn to any healthy group of people; 2) A healthy group can lose its vitality if there are simply too many VDP’s to sustain; 3) VDP’s who are permitted to relentlessly drain leaders of their passion will create a climate in which no one wants to serve as a leader. The VDP’s impact on spiritual/leadership energy: -2.

MacDonald observes:

Our Lord spent ample time with the draining and the nice people in his path… but they never captured his full schedule. Rather, Christ seems to have maximized His time with the resourceful (in His case, His heavenly Father), the important, and the trainable… I do not want to be misinterpreted in my discussion of the VNP’s or the VDP’s. They are very much a part of the assembly of believers. And they must be ministered to. But we must understand that they will make greater and greater demands [on our spiritual energy]… If our calendars reveal that the predominant part of our time is merely with the nice and the draining, then we must not keep wondering why we lose our vitality. These people take but do not give, and unless we pause and rebalance, the result is often disaster… Leaders who permit an imbalance of contact with these… can expect to pay a massive bill in inner exhaustion.

Practical Application:

  1. Identify 2-4 people in each category right now in your life.
  2. Evaluate your calendar over the last 4 weeks. Who have you spent time with? Who have you invested energy into? If it’s primarily VRP’s, VIP’s, or VTP’s, you’re doing well. If you’re investing primarily in VNP’s or VDP’s, make adjustments.
  3. Be watchful against the temptation to merely avoid VNP’s or VDP’s. Instead, by God’s grace, challenge them to become VTP’s. Be honest with them about where they are in their ownership of ministry and/or their spiritual and leadership maturity, and challenge them to more. VNP’s and VDP’s CAN become VTP’s and even VIP’s, by God’s grace through good, honest leadership.
  4. Connect VNP’s and VDP’s to a community (small group, church) of VIP’s and VTP’s. If you try to minister to them alone, you will quickly lose energy and passion. But if you connect them to others, you can minister to them effectively AND develop the VTP’s (emerging leaders) around you.

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