My wife and I recently returned from a trip visiting our son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren in Texas. Baptizing my oldest grandson at the Southlake Campus of The Hills Church highlighted our visit. At the church we experienced an enthusiastic welcome by ushers. They helped us feel at home.
Prior to his baptism our grandson Will and I received encouragement on several occasions by the director of children’s ministries. We enjoyed the worshipful singing. The minister gave a tremendous sermon on “Courage.” We talked with a number of members, some expressed deep care for the unfortunate and some expressed a strong but loving push of evangelism.
The ushers exhibited the spiritual gift of hospitality. The children’s director, encouragement; the minister, preaching and teaching; and the singers, worship and leadership. The members with whom we talked showed gifts of mercy and evangelism. Because of the orderliness of the Lord’s Supper and of the worship we knew someone had planned well—the gift of administration. All the members working together make that campus of The Hills Church an exciting place to worship and to serve.
You may be thinking, “What do these spiritual gifts have to do with the Lord?” Quite a lot! Jesus said, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). Building the church is a vital part of his mission. One of the main ways the Lord builds his church is through the spiritual gifts he gives to his believers.
A Gift for Every Believer
The primary word for a spiritual gift is charisma, a word related to charis (grace). Spiritual gifts are outward expressions of God’s inner work of grace. Paul also used the word charisma for God’s gift of eternal life (Romans 5:15-17, 6:23), but the word is usually found when referring to gifts given by the Holy Spirit to Christians. Scripture teaches that every follower of Christ has a spiritual gift (1 Peter 4:10; Ephesians 4:7). However, not all have the same gift (1 Corinthians 12:29, 30). They are distributed by the Holy Spirit as he pleases (v. 11). Believers have at least one but may have more than one gift (12:8; 14:5, 13).
There are five main biblical passages that deal with spiritual gifts: Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, 28-30; 14; and Ephesians 4:7-12. Most biblical scholars believe these listings of spiritual gifts are not comprehensive—more spiritual gifts exist than those the Bible lists. The biblical writers did not set out to give us a complete listing of all spiritual gifts; rather, they referred to the gifts as they wrote about their practice in the churches.
The gifts may be summarized in several ways. One simple way distinguishes between the gifts that qualify Christians for the ministry of the Word and those that qualify Christians for other practical service.
One way to understand spiritual gifts is to separate them into three categories: miraculous gifts, enabling gifts, and team gifts. Miraculous gifts consist of apostles, tongues, interpretation of tongues, healings, and miracles. Enabling gifts include faith, discernment, wisdom, and knowledge. Some teachers combine discernment with prophecy, knowledge with teaching, wisdom with exhortation, and hospitality with serving.
Gifts that Build Up the Church
The third category, team gifts, includes gifts that show themselves in activities performed. Service, ministry, and actions such as teaching are some examples. Team gifts and enabling gifts are used in the building of the church, a principle clearly taught in
1 Corinthians 12:4-7 and 14:12. Your gift may be manifested in other places but God gave it to you specifically to build up and edify the church.
How can you identify your gift? (1) Ask God to show you. (2) Ask godly friends whom you respect to help you identify your giftedness. A question like, “Where would you say God has gifted me?” can open up solid information. (3) Take a spiritual inventory. (4) Note the areas where you enjoy serving. Often these point to your giftedness. Do you appreciate participating with the praise team or in a choir? Visiting people for the church? Witnessing? Helping those in need? Hospitality? Mercy? Administration?
Sometimes the gifts are special abilities from God you may have never considered before your salvation. At other times your giftedness may reflect a deepening of some talent you had before being saved. For instance, before coming to Christ, you could sing. Now, however, you recognize that your singing moves people to draw closer to the Lord Jesus. You now realize that the Holy Spirit has empowered you to use your voice to join with Christ in the building of his church.
We often compare ourselves with others. Christians need to guard against that tendency, especially in the area of spiritual gifts. After all, the Lord has given gifts as he desired. One with an exceptional or publicly displayed gift should not feel superior to those whose gifts are less noticeable. The apostle Paul used the example of parts of the body to show that the eye cannot gloat over the hand just because a hand cannot see (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). It takes all of us to make a healthy church body for the Lord Jesus.
Likewise, those whose gifts are not publicly displayed should not exhibit jealousy over some whose gifts place them in the spotlight. For instance, I have preached the good news for several decades. Some believe I am good at it, but I know I don’t have the giftedness that some preachers exhibit.
Frankly, I never compare my gifts to others. I just praise God when I hear an exceptionally good preacher. After all, it is not the preacher but the Lord we exalt! And so it is with all the gifts. A good rule of thumb might be John the Baptist’s statement, “He (Jesus) must increase but I must decrease” (John 3:30, ESV). After all, the purpose of spiritual gifts is not to build us up but to build up his church.
Identifying and Using Your Gift
What is your spiritual gift? While preparing this article I talked with Dr. Ron Osborne whose PhD studies centered in the area of spiritual gifts. Ron said he studied over 100 separate spiritual gift surveys (often called “inventories.”) He found several of the surveys exceptional and especially recommended one located on the website churchgrowth.org. You can go to the site and take a spiritual gift survey (without cost) in less than 30 minutes. The survey will show your major team gifts (the third category described above) and enable you to understand how to use your spiritual gifts most effectively in building the church.
What is the role of the church leader in the understanding and use of spiritual gifts? Ephesians 4:12 tells us that it is “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” Church leaders encourage people to find and use their gifts. They may preach about spiritual gifts. They may provide surveys to help members identify their gifts. This will be important every few years—more often in rapidly growing churches.
The leader not only helps people discover their gifts but can also identify how members can “plug in” to the total church life. The aim is to enable members to use their gifts to strengthen and build the Lord’s church.
Dr. Bill Patterson is a minister and an award-winning writer in Henderson, Kentucky.