fellowship, Witness
Comments 6

Welcoming the Gifts God Sends Us

The gifts [Jesus] gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

– Ephesians 4:11-16

Too often, we in the Church ignore or downplay what the Bible says about the gifts of the Spirit that God bestows on every believer through the power of the Holy Spirit. In more conservative congregations, this may be because of a desire to see authority and influence flow through the “official” channels of church leadership rather than according to the beautiful anarchy of God’s grace. In more liberal congregations, gifts may be ignored or downplayed due to a misguided egalitarianism that studiously ignores the fact that different gifts may entail different degrees of visibility and require different levels of accountability and support. Whatever the reason, we seldom recognize and nurture the gifts that God has shared with the body of Christ for the glory of his name.

Of course, there are some exceptions. Most local churches know what to do with folks who love to teach about scripture: get them involved with Sunday school or, if they are particularly passionate and gifted, send them to seminary. As Neil Cole points out in Primal Fire, houses of worship themselves are typically laid out like lecture halls. What does that reflect, if not a particular focus on the teaching gift? And while seminaries are getting better at equipping students for a variety of ministries, teaching and scholarship remain the heart of the experience. At nearly every seminary, students being prepared for ministry are supposed to gain a certain basic facility in reading, interpreting and teaching from scripture, regardless of their ultimate ministry goals. (Pastoral counseling is also part of the curriculum, though notably smaller in significance.) Similarly universal expectations with respect to evangelism or prophetic discernment or launching new ministries in an apostolic vein seem largely absent.

In my own corner of the Church, the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), it is the pastoral (shepherding) gift that is most easily negotiated. We put our most effective shepherds on committees where they pray for us, cook for us and make sure we are all comfortable and happy. This is a beautiful and essential contribution to the Body of Christ, as long as it does not come at the expense of the other gifts. When shepherding is disproportionately emphasized, we lose the sturdy foundation of sound teaching, we stop sharing the Gospel with our neighbors through evangelism, we stop taking risks to start new ministries with the faith and energy of the apostolic gift, and we are set adrift without the prophetic guidance of the Holy Spirit. When we neglect the full range of spiritual gifts, our activities are increasingly stagnant and self-focused, rather than the dynamic and sacrificial ministry embodied by Jesus and the early church.

Even worse, when we routinely marginalize certain gifts, we begin to see their exercise as dysfunctional and their absence as normative, rather than the reverse. When the prophet challenges us with uncomfortable truths, rather than using our discomfort as an opportunity for reflection and discernment, we tell her to tone it down, complain that she is “unwelcoming” and, if she doesn’t get the message, we run her off. We come up with a hundred reasons not to support the efforts of the evangelist, and if he does by grace succeed in bringing new people to our congregation, we quietly freeze them out unless they are exactly like the people already in attendance. And God help the apostle, who is routinely doubted and perceived as reckless, divisive or naïve (or all of the above), rather than supported and guided in the launch of new and needed ministries.

By marginalizing, suppressing or excluding three or more gifts, we drastically limit our ability to effectively share and live the Gospel. Instead of a hand with five capable fingers, we choose a hand with one or two fingers – and one of the two may be sprained! This is not how the church is designed to function and, as the cultural forces that for centuries pushed people toward religious practice fade away, as shrinking budgets lead to cuts to all but the most essential ministries, churches that fail to nurture all the gifts will wither and die. And if they aren’t forming disciples, preaching the Gospel and serving the needy, they will deserve to.

How does your church identify and nurture spiritual gifts – or not? Have you witnessed the dynamic of gift exclusion at work? How can we learn to welcome the gifts God sends us?

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6 Comments

  1. I love this, Adria! I just took the liberty of reposting it to the Earlham School of Religion / Bethany Theological Seminary Community Life Facebook page (as well as my own Facebook page) so that a maximum number of others might take it to heart.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: What gifts of the Spirit are we marginalizing?

  3. Pingback: Welcoming the Gifts God Sends Us – THE FREE QUAKER

  4. Howard Brod says

    Adria, you so have the gift of expression; the ability to convey life in the Spirit through words that are meaningful, inspiring, and so helpful!

    At one time my meeting depended on designated committees to “run” (read “control”) the meeting. One day we woke up to an empty shell of assumed organization structure that had all but snuffed out the ability of the Spirit to work among us. So we undertook the lengthy and emotionally difficult spiritual work of removing all organizational blockages that we had created over decades upon decades because we thought that’s what Quaker meetings had to have.

    Our eyes began to open as we each personally invited the Spirit to be in control of our meeting. We surrendered each of our “plans”; our ideas of what a Quaker meeting should be like. We longed to become a Spirit-led community instead.

    We are now an organic faith community that eagerly seeks the leadings of anyone to consider at our Meetings for Discernment each month as we seek the Spirit’s direction (yes, we were led to rename our “Meeting for Business” to “Meeting for Discernment” and spend that whole time in worship seeking the communal will of the Spirit for us – no more worldly-like business meetings masked as worshipful). Anyone may have a leading based on the Spirit’s use of that person’s gifts, and present that at our Meeting for Discernment so we all together can seek the Spirit’s guidance. It could come from a first-time attendee at our meeting. In fact such a one is often the tool of the Spirit to see the way forward for us so very clearly. Likewise, any one may step forward with their gift to serve the group as the Spirit uses them to show us the way. This isn’t egalitarianism; its a recognition of who is truly in charge, and that is the One Source of all.

    Too many Quaker meetings slide into the way of the world where rules, tradition, human-designed hierarchy, and organization are in charge instead of the Spirit that truly brings us into the real life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much, Howard, both for your affirming words and sharing the experience of your meeting. What a blessing to be able to seek God’s will together!

      At their best, our traditional structures can provide a space for people with shared leadings and concerns to come together and be led by the Spirit into action that advances the Kingdom of Heaven. Too often, though, we wind up importing the attitudes of our jobs and secular associations – all but snuffing out the movement of the Spirit. Good on your meeting for recognizing this and taking action!

      Like

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