Tuesday, January 27, 2009
How Shall We Then Live (Given a Redefined Understanding of the Spiritual Gifts)?
By Jeff Bruce
N.B. you might want to read this, this and this before reading this post (if you haven't already).
Assuming Andrew's take on the spiritual gifts is correct (and I think it is), what are we to do? How does a redefined view of the gifts work its way into the nooks and crannies of church praxis? Some implications/applications stemming from said view are readily apparent. E.g., this understanding of the gifts reveals that the use inventories/tests/quizzes/boardgames/et al. to discern one's latent spiritual powers is at best unhelpful, and potentially misleading. However, there's a tad more to glean from this new perspective. Here are three applications I think to be significant.
(1) Focus on Getting People to Serve; Don't Focus on Getting People to Discover What They're Good at. Pastors have a monumental task. God calls them to equip the saints so that each and every last member of the church ministers. This is how the body of Christ grows to maturity (Eph 4:11-16). Further, since the church is a living organism, each member is either contributing to the life or death of the entire body. I remember sitting in a class on ecclesiology with the sagacious Dr. Saucy. He asked us, "how would your body be affected if, say, %20 of it failed to function properly? Now, how many churches out there are functioning at a far lower level?" That's a sobering thought. The body dies when people aren't ministering, and a redefined understanding of the gifts helps us remember this. God has granted each and every person a function (Rom 12:4). The conventional view can erect barriers to ministry, since it fosters the need to find some elusive gift before ministry can begin. The New Testament imperative is not, "please perform a lengthy assessment of your abilities to determine which ones are/are not spiritual so that you can serve." Rather, the repeated injunction is, "serve!"
(2) Focus on Needs in the Church; Ministry is More than Doing What You Like. I have ministered in a number of areas in which I did not feel particularly "gifted." For instance, I was a Junior High director for two years. I didn't feel uniquely gifted for youth ministry then, and I don't feel that way now. However, God did profound refining work in my life through the experience. I don't tell the story to toot my own horn. It took a rebuke from God (through some good mentors) for me to accept the position. My point is that a redefined view of the gifts instructs us to look outward; to look for opportunities to serve. The conventional view instructs us to look inward, and it can lead to endless contemplation of one's gift-mix. If needs in the church are to be met, members must do things they don't feel peculiarly inclined to do, which leads me to my third point...
(3) Focus on Serving in Weakness, Not Just Strength. Serving in weakness is a rather conspicuous theme in the New Testament (cf. the book of 2 Corinthians). As Ken Berding points out in his book, this fact is difficult to account for under the conventional view of spiritual gifts. Conversely, if one adopts the redefined view, serving in weakness is eminently understandable. God calls us to do all sorts of things that we feel remarkably incapable of carrying out. Yet, we trust that if our Lord gives us a ministry, He will empower us by his Spirit to do it. If I consistently play to my strengths in ministry, I severely curtail what God wants to do through me. However, if I have a redefined view of the gifts, my chances of suffering from such ministry myopia diminish, and I am more useful to Jesus.