Friday, December 07, 2012

The Pendulum: Service and Spiritual Gifts

Some churches are really big on every member discovering where their gifts and passions lie so they can serve Jesus and the church in those areas.  Often they run 'spiritual gift courses' so you can find out how God has wired you and where you should serve.

But many people in the evangelical circles I associate with sneer at such a view.  "What?  You need a spiritual gift for stacking chairs?"  They lean more towards the 'everyone can do everything' view.  If you see a need in the church, you should just step in and serve.  Don't worry about whether you're 'gifted' or not.

I sit in the middle.

I do not believe everyone can do everything.  I think Scripture is clear that the church is a body made up of many different parts.  Each part is needed to serve Christ.  While special emphasis is placed on teaching, all gifts are valuable in building up the church.  In fact, teaching is serious business.  Not everyone should do it.  There are special criteria for serving as an elder or a deacon.  It's not a matter of just filling gaps.  While it's true that there is no real talent or giftedness required for stacking chairs, not everyone can do it either (the elderly or people with disabilities, for instance).  If you start to believe everyone can do everything, then it can lead to people feeling used and like square pegs being cut to fit round holes.  I felt like that when I kept getting nagged to teach Sunday School.  In the end I gave it a go, but I found it very difficult and stressful.  I wanted to serve in other areas.

Yet, I also think that some churches place too much emphasis on possessing spiritual gifts and forget about what they're for.  The emphasis should be on using those gifts to build up the church, not the person with the gift using it for their own fulfilment or so they can feel superior to others.

The problem comes when churches try to build their congregational activities on a certain model.  The church up the road has a Sunday School, youth group, ladies' fellowship etc so we need to have those groups too.  They forget that there is no rule saying a church needs to have those formal ministries, and start to accuse members of being lazy if they don't want to serve in those areas.

I like what The Trellis and the Vine has to say about building ministries around the gifts of those in the church.  If there are a number of people passionate about reaching out to the elderly, for example, then let's get those people together and train and encourage them to pursue this, rather than forcing them into areas they are less suited to.

But I can also see that sometimes the church is presented with certain needs and somehow those needs need to be met e.g. there are all these kids in the church; who is going to teach them?  Although, having said that, my husband grew up in a church where there was no Sunday School and he had to just sit still and draw or something during the service.  He reckons if there aren't enough Sunday School teachers then it's perfectly ok not to have Sunday School every week, rather than overburdening the teachers.  He said he didn't think it did him any harm to learn to sit still with the adults (even though he is an 'outdoorsy' fellow).

Can people learn new skills, even if they feel they don't possess a certain gift?  Absolutely.  But some people are gifted by God and will find it easier.  Some people find it naturally easy to speak in front of an audience and have very little or no fear.  Others battle with nerves every week, but keep on doing it anyway.  The quiet 'behind the scenes' people can be encouraged to step out of their comfort zone and try something 'up front', while the leaders and teachers should not feel or be treated like they are above stacking chairs or cleaning.  But being more of a 'behind the scenes' person, rather than a leader or organiser, I am happy to take on the less flashy roles to free up the leaders to lead and teach.

God has given each congregation who He has given them for a reason.  Rather than lamenting over the fact that they need more musicians or service leaders or Sunday School teachers, congregations need to learn to give thanks for who they DO have in their midst, and encourage those people to serve and honour Christ in all that they do.

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