Do you remember taking those 20 to 50 question tests that help you determine your spiritual gift, and then looking on the ministry spreadsheet for areas where you could exercise your newly identified gift? It was great if you had the gift of teaching, then there were multiple options in Sunday School for you to use your gift. If you had the gift of hospitality, then you certainly need to serve on the social events team. Or maybe if you had the gift of mercy, you were perfect for the shut-in visitation team. No matter what the test revealed, your spiritual gift was there was going to be a spot for you to fill unless, of course, your spiritual gift was sarcasm. These tests and the ministry spreadsheet were helpful to allow you to begin to discern where you might be able to serve in the numerous programs that churches tend to offer. But what happens when the programs stop or the church no longer gathers on Sunday, or Wednesday, or any time really? Does this mean you are no longer able to use your gifting for the church, or does it mean maybe we need to re-examine God’s intention for gifting us as the church?
No Spreadsheet Required
During this period of a global pandemic, we have been allowed to clarify a lot of things: where are we wasting time in our days? What do we truly value and need? What is the church? Yet, there is more clarity that can be brought to what we deem as normal in the life of the church. One of the most significant categories of thinking that we must allow to be shaped is our understanding of spiritual gifts. If we tend to view our spiritual gift as something related merely to a ministry spreadsheet, then we will tend to encounter several problems, which include:
- We minimize the use of our spiritual gifts to a location like the church facility.
- We reduce the power of our spiritual gifts to be something only meant for programs.
- We wrongly feel a burden for not using our gifts during seasons of isolation (sickness, work-related travel, or even now — global pandemics
However, if we can take a brief survey of the Bible’s explanation of spiritual gifts, we can begin to see the gift we have been given to serve the church in a brighter light. After seeing the gifts more clearly, we will understand how to show those gifts both while we gather and even more now that we’re scattered.
In 1 Corinthians 12, we see Paul speaking about understanding the gifts correctly, and he begins in verse 4-7 explaining gifts this way:
“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (emphasis added)
One of the truths we need to understand here is that God, the Father, is the one who empowers all the services. The services are meant to take place in the body of Christ. And the Holy Spirit is the one who distributes gifts to each. All three persons of the Godhead are active in a person’s use of their spiritual gifts. Why would Paul want the church at Corinth to understand the gifts are given by our Triune God (meaning he’s three persons)?
Well, one reason is that Paul is trying to help us see that our spiritual gifting is an aspect of being unified to God himself. Every follower of Jesus Christ is placed in the body of Christ for a specific purpose, as we read above “for the common good.” This means several things: the fact that everyone is gifted if they have God’s Spirit in them, and that the gift is not dependent on a building but a people — the people of God. One implication for us right now is that if we think our spiritual gifts are intended only to be used when we are at a church facility, we have unknowingly minimized God to a building. Now, I do not think any of us would say this, but if we only practice our gifts when we gather, then we have quarantined God to a specific location.
Instead, may we understand that our gifting is a result of our connection between God and his people, which means no matter our place in a city or in the globe, we are called to love others in the Body of Christ for their common good. God is not confined by any geographic location, and neither are we when it comes to using our spiritual gifts for the common good of the Body of Christ.
Next, look at Paul’s words to the letter of Romans, where we read in Romans 1:11-12 these words;
“For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.”
Paul here is not saying that he wants to give them a gift, but instead they may be strengthened in their faith by his gift. Essentially, he is saying, “I long to be with you that I may use my gift to strengthen your faith.” Paul is helping them to understand a significant point of the purpose of spiritual gifts, which is that they are given to strengthen the faith of other believers. This is way different than what we think. That means they are not necessarily for the purpose of running programs of your church. Don’t get me wrong, I know we need some idea of structure and programs within the church to keep our ministries organized and on track. But, I am afraid if we immediately correlate our spiritual gifting to filling in a hole in a ministry spreadsheet, we will reduce the power of the gifts to nothing more than running the church programs. I don’t know about you, but in my own mind, I think, “Oh God, forgive us for thinking so little about the power of the gifts of grace we have been given.”
The Purposes of Our Gifts
Paul shows us the primary purpose of gifts within the body of Christ is, 1) to strengthen one another’s faith in the certainty of our great God, and, 2) to prove the promises he has given us through Jesus Christ. God, in His kindness, has called us the church to come alongside each other for one key role – to strengthen each other’s faith. The evidence of using our gifts well is not whether we have a well-run program, but if the people around us are growing in their trust and obedience to the Lord. God desires a people who believe in him, which will be seen in love for Him, and an ever-increasing faith in His promises. When we link our gifts to just running programs in the church ministry, we, unfortunately, limit the power of our gifts. May we see God’s design with gifts is to strengthen the faith of others so that others in turn can see God’s influence reaches far beyond the church’s programs.
Finally, we need to understand the implications of the two above statements being correct. What does it mean for using our gifts during seasons of isolation? If we believe the gospel, that a holy God has saved a people from the wrath they deserve by substituting his son to take their place, that he calls us by faith to become co-laborers with him, and we think that is a once-a-week thing, have we not settled for less? Knowing that our God is not limited by any geographical location or particular programs frees us to believe that our gifting is connected to a people for the common good of strengthening their faith in God’s great promises. This simply means that any burden that you — the nursery worker, the bulletin folder, or the greeter — are feeling during this season of isolation from the gathering may be illuminating a needed adjustment in your practice of spiritual gifts. You may be settling for something good when God has called you to experience and be so much more.
We are given the Spirit as a seal and guarantee of our inheritance as co-heirs with Christ and also are given specific gifts for the strengthening of other’s faith. There is no more significant time than right now that we need to use our gifts for the building up of the faith of the body of Christ. Today you have been called as part of God’s eternal purpose as he is making a people for himself. These people trust, love, and worship him — especially when all else looks hopeless. So in closing, let me offer a few suggestions on how to continue to exercise your spiritual gifts for the common good of your church:
- Never underestimate the importance of prayer! I know, we all say we pray for each other, but make intentional efforts to pray specific promises of God over the people in your local church. Go through a page of your church directory every day and then give them a call, text or email letting them know the exact promise you prayed for them.
- Take time to use your skills, whether that is writing, baking, singing, or creatively making a craft and send it to the people of your church. In doing this, you are reminding others that God has not forgotten them, and you simply are a vessel in the hands of our creative God to show them this.
- Do not underestimate the ministry of listening. Spend time listening well — not interrupting to talk about yourself or give your thoughts — but listening well. You will help them to acknowledge the struggle they are feeling and will know more specifically how to encourage them as well. Call a fellow church member and ask questions that can’t be answered with a yes-or-no:
- “What is your greatest struggle during this season?”
- “How has God shown Himself mighty through this?”
- “What emotions are you wrestling with during all this?”
Remember, our God is not limited by a place or a program, but He is mighty to use His people to strengthen the faith of others in his unshakable promises. May we all seek to be used for others during this season of isolation, and in doing so, build up great anticipation for the day when we do get to gather again as God’s people, and more importantly, for the return of our great God and king. Grace and peace in Christ Jesus to you all.