There have been times in my ministry where I have understated the importance of spiritual gifts, partly because of the way some spoke of such gifts with an air of spiritual elitism and partly because I didn’t want to mislead church members into thinking they should only serve in areas where they are specifically gifted. I readily identify with Andy Stanley, who urged, “When the house is on fire, don’t tell me what your spiritual gift is, just grab a hose and put out the fire.”
However, so long as we are not legalistic or elitist, I am convinced that a deeper understanding of spiritual gifts can help a local church become more missional and less conflictual.
In I Corinthians 12:1, as Paul urges the believers to serve and grow, he writes, “Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers, and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.” Unfortunately, many long-time church attenders are uninformed or misinformed about the gifts of the Spirit.
What is a spiritual gift? A spiritual gift is a God-given potential or ability distributed to individual Christians by the Holy Spirit that enables them to work and serve as a team to help the church execute its mission on earth.
In I Corinthians 12:7, Paul continues, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” The Greek word for grace is Karis which means gift. Paul proposed that every believer is endowed with spiritual gifts or grace gifts. Here are seven things every church member should know about spiritual gifts:
- Every Jesus follower is given at least one spiritual gift. Everybody has one, and some have two or three. Some gifts are not as obvious, and some gifts surface later in life. Know this for sure: whatever your age or stage in life, you are a gifted follower of Jesus.
- Spiritual gifts usually come with “some assembly required.” Most spiritual gifts are given to us in raw form and need to be refined. Some spiritual gifts are like the Christmas gifts we get for our children, and we have to spend time “putting the parts together.” Other spiritual gifts are like precious metal or blown glass; they need to go through the refiner’s fire to reach their full potential.
- There are a variety of gifts. Paul mentions the gift of being an apostle, prophet, evangelist, or pastor/teacher. Other passages mention the spiritual gifts of leadership, compassion, encouragement, intercession, and service. I think the biblical list is exemplary and not exhaustive. There may even be gifts given just for our era in time, including things like peacemaking, worship planning, consensus building, social connectivity, missional innovation, and technology management. These may be new gifts or even subsets of the examples Paul identifies.
- No spiritual gift is more important or less important than the other gifts.
Spiritual gifts are not given to create a class system but to generate a community system. Gifts are not given to entertain the church but to encourage and equip the church. Gifts are not given to rank the saints but to retool the saints.
- Spiritual gifts are best used in a spirit of teamwork. Whatever our spiritual gift, our gift is best used alongside other believers with compatible and complementary gifts. Teams who work cooperatively and collaboratively make better decisions and engage in more effective ministry initiatives than any one individual on those teams. Brene’ Brown reminds us, “You don’t have to do all of it alone. You were never meant to.”
- Ministers also have one or more spiritual gifts. Some church members mistakenly think that those who are called to serve as ministers have all the spiritual gifts. However, like other church members, ministers have one or two, maybe three spiritual gifts. This means that when a church calls a minister, they should consider how the minister’s spiritual gifts correspond to the congregation’s needs and gifts. For effective ministry to happen, the spiritual gifts of the members must be activated and leveraged alongside the minister to maximize the giftedness of the congregation.
- Spiritual gifts are given for the equipping of the church and the advancement of God’s kingdom. Spiritual gifts are given to the church, and we, as individual believers, are simply the human conduit God uses to deliver the gifts. Spiritual gifts are not given to advocate for a personal agenda but to advance our God-given mission. One litmus test that determines whether we are using our spiritual gift appropriately is whether we are equipping and encouraging the church. If our efforts or influence create division in the church, likely, we are not using our spiritual gifts as God intended.
Rick Warren urges us to remember, “Your spiritual gifts were not given for your own benefit but for the benefit of others, just as other people were given gifts for your benefit.”
What is your spiritual gift? Some of us need to discover our spiritual gifts, while others of us need to recover our spiritual gifts. If you have not completed a spiritual gift assessment recently, I encourage you to visit one of the following websites and complete an evaluation to help you discover and develop your spiritual gifts: Spiritual Gifts Assessment or Free Spiritual Gifts Test & Assessment (lifethrive.com).
Recently, while making a cup of coffee in my Keurig, I put the coffee pod in, made sure the water level was full, and hit the button for a large cup. Just one problem. In my busyness, I forgot to put the cup under the dispenser. Like a chocolate fountain at a banquet or a spring in the countryside, the coffee maker was dispensing, even though there was no container to receive it. God’s spirit is pouring out gifts on the church in this generation. Make sure your cup is there to receive it, then use your gifts wisely.
John Maxwell reminds us, “When you find your spiritual gift, God will give you an opportunity to use it.”
(Barry Howard serves as pastor of the Church at Wieuca in North Atlanta. He also serves as a leadership coach with the Center for Healthy Churches. He and his wife, Amanda, live in Brookhaven, Georgia.)