It’s one thing to embrace Paul’s metaphor of being the Body of Christ, where everyone is a different part as we participate and minister one to another according to our unique spiritual gifts.
It’s quite another thing to figure out how to do that in practical terms, especially when we meet together and abstract principles hit cold, hard reality.
The Motivational Gifts
Although the New Testament contains several lists of spiritual gifts, the one in Romans 12:4-8 seems most closely tied to our basic personalities.
Often called the “motivational gifts”, they tend to correspond to innate God-given motivations and abilities that allow different people – when surrendered to the Lord – to fulfill different roles. Those roles are the prophetic, teacher, helper, exhorter, giver, ruler and mercy. See Gifts, Calling and Validation.
Over many years of pastoral counseling, I’ve learned that those seven gifts seem to cover the full range of motivations and personalities found in people. Yet none of those gifts, as Paul tells us in Romans 12:3, are to predominate over the others. If they do, or if any of them are used immaturely, they can be incredibly destructive.
When used in harmony and maturity as God directs, however, they are incredibly edifying and vitally needed for healthy ekklesia. (“Ekklesia” is the Greek word translated “church” in the New Testament, but means so much more than our modern concept of church, although I’ll use both terms interchangeably.)
If a church fails to allow the full expression of each of those gifts in its overall structure and primary meetings, it will fail to become the fully-functioning, healthy Body of Christ.
Instead, it typically falls prey to two extremes:
The fellowship becomes collectively fixated on some unitary “vision”. It may be some “deeper life” theme, doctrine, mission (like evangelism, ministry to the poor and needy, forming community, etc.), or idea of church structure (like organic, simple or house church – which I agree with, but it ain’t some cure all!).
When that central vision is allowed to stifle the dynamic life of God’s multi-functioning, multifaceted gifts, it eventually brings stagnation and death – no matter how conceptually right it otherwise may have been.
Alternatively, the church adopts a more congregationally passive, directed focus with a hierarchical structure built around the support, promotion and reliance on one man’s (or group’s) vision and ministry, based on his (or their) particular gifts and abilities. It then becomes an organized extension of him – including his limitations.
Tragically, sometimes both extremes are present when a group of believers form a new fellowship around the singular vision of a charismatic leader, church planter or author, and becomes depended upon him by never growing beyond his influence.
It’s More Blessed to Give Than to Receive
As someone who helps start and encourage new fellowships, I agonize daily over their health and welfare. Our churches are nothing special. We are just groups of believers who are hopefully learning to be functional communities that exult Jesus – by expressing the life of Christ in us, among us and through us. And by so doing, we edify each other in our day-to-day lives and in our weekly meetings.
The key, I have found, to healthy fellowship is laying a good foundation, which includes fostering an environment where everyone expresses their gifts when they meet and within the context of throughout-the-week community. See Participatory Church.
What I’ve found is that if folks can’t, or aren’t, developing and expressing their gifts in their gatherings and in the context of community, then they – and the fellowship – likely aren’t growing towards maturity.
It also means they likely aren’t using their gifts anywhere else, like in their jobs, neighborhoods, relationships, and broader spheres of influence – at least, that is, in ways that are significant and God-centered.
Scripture tells us that using our gifts, and allowing God’s gifts to be expressed in the Body of Christ, is not optional (e.g., Rom. 12:6 and Eph. 4).
For example, the only way to become the mature, complete man that God created me to be is for me to bless others with the gifts He’s given me – even if tenuously or unskillfully. When the church meets, that’s where I should find the freedom, and the security, to make mistakes as I learn to identify, develop and use those gifts.
As Paul says in Ephesians 4:4-14, the church is where we are equipped to minister and serve (i.e., give) – according to our unique gifts – so that we can become mature in Christ (i.e., receive).
If you are seeking authentic ekklesia, and ignore that reality, your church will be crippled. It will lack the authentic (as opposed to man-made) dynamic life of Christ, because no one gift, vision, person or ministry can ever contain or express all that He has for His people – or a watching, waiting, needy world.
You, and the unique gifts God has given you, are just as vital and important in the life of any fellowship as anyone else’s – including the leadership.
Healthy leadership, and ekklesia, understands that.
See Part 2: The Imperative of Participation
See Part 3: What A Meeting Looks Like