Myopic Ekklesia

In Romans 12, Paul lists what Biblical scholars often call the seven “motivational gifts”.

Promoting Our Own Core Motivations

I like that description. After years of pastoral counseling with hundreds of people, I’ve come to deeply respect how God creates each of us with different core motivations. Furthermore, among Christians, those seven core motivational gifts often correspond to God’s unique calling for each believer.

When we tend to elevate our own gift, motivation and calling above all others, however, and think the Church and God’s people need to do the same, our “gift” becomes oppressive.

Individual Gifts

Consistent with Romans 12, I have seen how some have a prophetic outlook, others have the motivation and perspective of a teacher, while others tend to be a helper, an exhorter, an executive leader, a giver or a person of mercy. See Gifts, Calling and Validation.

That doesn’t mean we don’t have other qualities, passions or abilities. It also doesn’t mean that our lives are narrowly defined or limited by our primary motivational gift.

Nonetheless, one of those seven motivational gifts generally will tend to prevail in each of us. It is part of our core personality, and colors our actions, reactions and overall perceptions.

Diversity of Gifts

When we understand that our core motivational gift is just one of many that God distributes among His people, stop esteeming it above other motivational gifts, and learn to use it maturely, it becomes a source of great blessing to us and to others.

However, if we become myopic (i.e., nearsighted) by viewing everyone and everything only in terms of our own core motivation and perspective, and expect the church to adopt our perspective as its main focus, then our gift becomes a source of bondage to us and a hindrance to others.

This happens when we ignore, or never learn, what true church – ekklesia – is all about. It is not an organization focused on a particular overarching mission or ministry, or on some leader’s gift and calling – including mine.

Instead, ekklesia is suppose to be an organism – the multi-member Body of Christ, with many different gifts, motivations, perspectives and callings. (Eph. 4)

Gift Abuse

It’s bad enough when individual believers never take the initiative to pursue the richness of their own gifts and callings. But it is far, far worse when others prevent them from doing so.

This happens when we start expecting others to fall in line with our own (or someone else’s) perspective or agenda, to the exclusion of their own gifts and callings. We don’t necessarily do this consciously – it may arise from innocent enthusiasm over what naturally motivates us.

Nonetheless, we often come across as dismissive of other gifts and callings when we promote (maybe even charmingly) our own goals and perspectives over all else. In more extreme instances, I’ve seen some push their vision and perspective by openly dissing God’s gifts and callings in others. See The Problem With “All”.

It is easy to make my own myopic perspective and agenda very appealing, especially when I’m acting with the best of intentions, reacting to some prevailing problem, expressing legitimate enthusiasm, or speaking from God’s valid call on my own life. But my vision must never, ever come at the cost of your God-given motivations, gifts and callings.

When one theme becomes the prevailing “group think” for God’s people in general, or for a particular fellowship, bad fruit always results. It produces passive Christians, who simply go with the flow, repressed Christians, who learn to shut up to avoid being branded “divisive”, and stifled Christians, who have been convinced to use all their time, energy and resources to support someone else’s vision and ministry.

This is the antithesis of true ekklesia, where God’s people are equipped for ministry in their own unique gifts and callings – not someone else’s gifts and callings! (Eph. 4:11-12)

A Simple Test

This problem is not unique to the “traditional church”, which often becomes little more than a platform for some gifted man and his anointed vision. It is a very common problem also within the “organic” church community – especially when we project on others, or on a fellowship, our own motivational perspective.

So here’s a list of simple questions, tied to each motivational gift, to help you see if you have fallen into this trap:

•  If you are prophetically motivated, do you think that the primary problem with the church and God’s people are lack of vision, overarching truth or commitment to justice?

• If you primarily are motivated to help and serve others, do you think the main mission of the church and God’s people is to help and serve others?

• If you have a teacher perspective, which values comprehension and understanding, do you think that most problems in the lives of believers and in the church come from inadequate teaching, bad doctrine or lack of knowledge?

• If you are an exhorter, are Jesus and the Body of Christ all about relationships and encouragement?

• If you are a giver, are you frustrated because other believers and the church, as a whole, are not innovative, lack initiative and ignore problems that pop up?

• If you have good executive and administrative leadership skills, are the primary problems lack of self discipline in individual believers, and lack of structure, mission or leadership in the church?

• If you are motivated primarily by mercy, are compassion, harmony and intimacy the biggest needs between others and in the church?

Healthy Ekklesia

I suspect that one of these questions resonated with you. You may even be offended at my suggestion that the things you see as most important are not, in fact, the most important – at least for everyone. That’s because we all tend to filter everything through the lens of our own motivational gift and associated perspective, and it is hard to see equal validity in another person’s God-given focus.

Each of those questions involves a valid perspective, with valid goals. The question that resonated most with you likely involves things that God wants you to focus on as part of the Body of Christ.

Trust me: Your focus is not His most important priority for everyone else – although one thing may stand out for a season as the Lord has you or your fellowship deal with some specific situation.

In the Body of Christ, our unique motivations, gifts, callings and perspectives must be done in submission one to another. (Eph. 5:21) My part integrates with your part, as I esteem you enough to give you the freedom and the encouragement to contribute your unique function to the whole. But the whole is bigger than just your motivation, gift, calling or perspective.

So please, let’s resist those trying to make everyone be like them, think like them, act like them, and conform to their passions and non-essential pet doctrines. God never intended for His church – His Body – to be just like you or me or anyone else, or to revolve around anyone’s particular perspective.

Understand this, and you might actually start to see healthy ekklesia emerge – the wonderful, multifaceted, multi-gifted Body of Christ.

~ Jim Wright

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11 responses

  1. Thanks Jim. What a liberating, glorious truth this is. The very thing that God has given us for our wholeness has been the cause of our division, i.e. our diversity! Interestingly, I wrote a little parable about this recently and it has become (by far) the blog post with the most hits in my blogging history. I think the body of Christ is thirsting for this truth more than ever before. We have worn ourselves out trying to be Jesus Christ instead of allowing Him to be Him.

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  2. Thanks Jim, this is an excellent post and a good reminder for me to consider whether I am REALLY esteeming everyone else with their gifts. Your post goes well with Philippians 2:3-4 which gives us the mindset in which the Ecclesia functions best. It says, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Rob

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  7. It follows, then, that the call of the Lord to church eldership or pastoral ministry (as in every calling) comes to all those who have been given the necessary gifts for such a ministry. In possessing these particular gifts, the man of God is made responsible to all who would hear the Word and Gospel from his mouth. If a man has the necessary gifts, desire, and temperament (1Tim.3:1-13; Titus 1:6-9) for this ministry, he may reasonably rest assured he has been called to such a ministry. There is no special revelation from God needed to prove one’s calling. In fact, those who wait for such a confirmation often squander precious months or years waiting for a word from God which never comes, or unconsciously manufacture such a word out of frustration or desperation. Yet, as with any spiritual gift, the voice of God’s people should be consulted. Honest feedback from trusted, mature saints and church leaders should be sought and highly pondered. One of the many functions of the local church is to give public recognition and approval of God’s gifting and calling by the people of God. However, the church alone cannot call a man to pastoral ministry; It may only publicly confirm to others that God has indeed made such a call on a person’s life.

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