Here’s a plea to churches in N America: Stop organizing the spiritual gifts around the Sunday morning gathering. Start organizing and developing the gifts of God’s people in homes and neighborhoods.
Somewhere in the seventies, evangelical churches started recognizing the centrality of the gifts of the Holy Spirit as God’s way of empowering local congregations. Every one has been given a gift by God. The body of Christ works through all the gifts not just a few (1 Cor 12). It is essential therefore for the functioning of “the body” that the gifts be empowered and not centralized in a clergy staff.
1 Cor 12:7-11: Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 1 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues,and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.
Somewhere in the 80’s, large churches began ”technologizing” this gift theology. Every member of a mega church was urged to take a “gift inventory” in which he/she would be able to locate his/her gift. It was a survey of some sort, not unlike a Myers-Briggs personality test. Taking this survey would help each person find their gift and place within the body. What happened however, all too often, is that this process began to funnel people’s participation in church to Sunday morning and/or other programs at the local church building. You got your gift “score” and then you were plugged in. If you had the gift of service, serve in the children’s ministries, the gift of faith, then counsel people after church in the counseling ministry, you’ve got the gift of singing, be on the worship team, etc etc. It turned 1 Corinthians 12 into a new form of church volunteerism to staff massive church programs.
Several bad habits happened out of this:
a.) people started to see gifts as a personal orientation. Subtly the gifts became all about “me,” who I am, me being fulfilled, and finding out what my role is. This, I contend, undermines the functioning of the gifts and Christ’s authority in the gifts. I continue to think the first practice of the gifts is for each individual to learn to recognize and submit to the authority of Christ in the giftings as they function in a Body. Out of submitting one finds one’s own gifting and authority. Seeking one’s own self interest always undermines Christ’s work in us.
b.) people started to see church as what happens on Sunday morning or around the building during the week (this was at the very least reinforced in a bad way).
c.) the gifts were shaped away from an organic everyday living out of one’s gifting in a local body to a programmed time for service.
d.) people started to think using my gift was the equivalent of being used in some way at the Sunday gathering. They started to get frustrated from “not being used.”
I’m all for sticking a wrench into this machinery and grinding it to a halt. Let’s stop organizing the gifts around the Sunday morning/other church programs.
I am convinced the gift matrixes of the NT are about the functioning of the gifts in local bodies in the neighborhood. In fact I am convinced that every neighborhood group needs to locate its apostles, prophets, teachers, evangelists, pastors as a first step to unleashing all the gifts in the neighborhood. But it begins by locating the apostles (first the apostles 1 Cor 12 )
Here are three suggestions toward this end:
a.) Instead of the gathering being the place where all the community’s gifts function, nurture an understanding of the gathering as a place for the main equipper leaders to model leadership and gifting for the flourishing of the whole body’s gifts in the neighborhoods. (more on this in a future post) .
b.) Set into motion an understanding of how all these gifts work to minister the extension of Christ’s authority humbly in the neighborhood (more on this in a future post).
c.) Seek first to locate the apostles in each neighborhood and mobilize them. I know the ongoing gift of apostleship in the church is controversial. I’m convinced that there are two categories of apostle in NT and it is clear from the way the terms are used. But more on this in another post.
So, again, I suggest that what we need in missional churches, churches that seek to take a turn away from internal to the external inhabiting of mission as a way of life in the neighborhoods, stop organizing the gifts around church gathering on Sunday and the programs of the church in the church building. STOP! Start nurturing the gifts discovery process and organizing them around the life of home and what God’s doing in the neighborhood. Doing this is part of bringing the Kingdom in!
What are the hurdles?
What are your biggest questions in doing this?
Where would you start?
Is anyone out there doing this and what tools have you used?