With 2 weeks remaining for our Spiritual Gifts Series, I thought it would be a good idea to talk about the temptation for church leaders and spiritual mentors to avoid developing spiritual gifts by ignoring them. In line with the ongoing divergence of views regarding spiritual gifts, Christian leaders lack no excuses for avoiding the messy work of helping people develop their spiritual gifts. And it is messy work. There is a ton of misinformation out there about spiritual gifts, their modern validation, their modern manifestations, and more. Sadly, no one has the ultimate authority about them. Even those of us that appeal to the Bible struggle with the difference of what the Bible says and what our interpretation of the Bible says. So I’ll lay this as the the foundation of my teaching premise: The basis for growing in spiritual gifts may vary from church to church and culture to culture. However, there are non-negotiables that must govern their practice–Love of God and People & Godly Character. Without those, we fall into the danger of misusing and abusing spiritual gifts. We may also fall into the danger of manufacturing false spiritual gifts. Yet in our fear of causing such infractions, we may opt to avoid the training and practicing of spiritual gifts with a ten foot pole. But we must not fear the mess. We also must remember the purpose of spiritual gifts is not to create and impress followers, but rather to build up the body of Christ. Having said that, I’d like to look at a couple reasons church leaders use to avoid developing spiritual gifts.
Cessationist Leaders Discount the Modern Practice of Spiritual Gifts
Cessationists in Christian lingo means people believe that the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased at the close of the canon of Scripture in around A.D. 95. They believe that once the New Testament was penned, there was no longer any need for the supernatural gifts (with the plausible exception of the mission field). So all the guidelines for prophesying in an orderly fashion in 1 Cor. 14 is a moot point, as well as the practice of tongues and other miraculous gifts.
Cessationists tend to believe that Scripture and the more conventional gifts are sufficient to spread the Gospel in modern times, and have been for a thousand years. For this reason, cessationists have a great excuse for not helping people develop their spiritual gifts (particularly the power gifts). If they’re not around, they don’t have to be addressed and developed.
Cessationists will, however, put great energy into developing the gifts they have chosen to believe are still relevant (teaching, administration, helps, etc.). Yet in the end, at least ⅓ of the spiritual gifts found in the Bible are ignored and remain undeveloped in their communities (or at least developed covertly).
Pentecostal/Charismatic Leaders Can View Spiritual Gifts as an All or Nothing Endeavor that Cannot Be Taught Through Practice
Cessationists aren’t the only ones who may lack intentional development of spiritual gifts. It is not uncommon in Full Gospel (Pentecostal/Charismatic) churches to not develop people’s spiritual gifts. Many times the reasoning behind this is something like “The gifts are given by the Holy Spirit, so the Holy Spirit has to teach them how to use them.” This is a convenient way to avoid dealing with guiding people into using their gifts adequately. Often times this may be due to a lack of understanding on behalf of the leaders to develop such guidance.
Gifts like teaching can easily be seen to develop through guided practice–that’s what seminaries are for. However, developing the gift of prophecy or healing isn’t as easily built into a curriculum. That means there is an element of sink or swim with practicing the gifts. That is harder when we are trying to learn in environments that aren’t conditioned for hit or miss practice. So it is convenient for Full Gospel leaders to just let people sink or swim with the gifts where only the internally resilient will succeed. This may be explained as leaving it up to the “sovereignty of God.”
Even in Full Gospel churches, growing in spritual gifts, godly chracter, and love are messy endeavors, because it is all relational based. Relationships are messy. And for leaders, it is tempting and easy to rid ourselves of messes in favor of the cleaner, less engaging elements of ministry (pray for people, but don’t mourn with them, administrate, but don’t engage, etc.).
It is easy to relegate growth in spiritual gifts to the person and Jesus and see what happens. This is much like the solution to how much to tithe being, throw the money in the air and whatever God wants, he keeps. Somehow, that doesn’t strike me as how God does things. It seems the character of the Gospel is deeply relational, and by extension, messy. So how are we to make sense of the Spiritual Gifts? My answer is below.
The Mandate to Make Disciples Must Encompass All of the Gospel, Spiritual Gifts Included
The Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 is “Go into all the world, making disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them all I have taught you.”
This is what is commonly called “the Gospel Mandate.” Making disciples is not the same as making converts. Disciple means training in the disciplines of the faith. This is done to forge a value system, a series of habits (both physical and mental), a way of thinking and acting in line with the Kingdom of Heaven (instructions to be found in the Torah and the New Testament). Like I said in the beginning, character and love are the most essential aspects of becoming a follower of Jesus. As a means of advancing the work of God’s kingdom on earth, God has granted spiritual gifts as tools for the growth and maintenance of the church. Those gifts are given to members of local bodies for use in the context of relationships both with believers and non-believers.
Much like any other skill or ability, those gifts can be honed and enhanced with experience and practice. That is the element where discipleship is involved. More experienced, mature believers can help guide and mold younger disciples in character, love, and their spiritual gifts in the context of relationship. The mentor has to be as dedicated to raising a healthy disciple as the disciple is to growing in the faith. That means the mentor plays a role of addressing the disciple’s use of spiritual gifts when it is practiced without godly character or ungodly attitudes. It is messy to deal with conflict in relationships. And there are many a church leader and mentor who aren’t even capable of dealing with conflict in a healthy way themselves, let alone teach others to deal with it. So it is easier to take a laissez-faire approach to discipling in the area of spiritual gifts that it is to delve into it and give some guided instruction.
As part of our Gospel mandate, guiding people to better develop their spiritual gifts is an integral part of their maturing process along with character and love. So we at TGP have put together this spiritual gifts series to bring to light spiritual gifts, recognize them in our congregation, and work to engage those gift settings in our ministries.
We hope to create an environment where the gifts can be practiced and guided by the leadership by everyone in the church-for the purpose of helping members grow in their giftings and by extension grow the church in depth and breadth. We want to have an environment where things are done in a loving and cultivating way, so when spiritual gifts are practiced, there is grace to fail or get it wrong, because the leaders are for each person’s best. We want to be a church where people can and do grow in their spiritual gifts alongside their character and love. We want to be a church that can offer tools for healthy relationships and conflict resolution.
So if you call TGP you home, will you prayerfully consider ways in which we can all work toward these goals so we can further fulfill our call to the Isaiah 61 initiative and better experience our Lord’s
Presence. Love. Power.