Friday, November 7, 2014

Discovering Spiritual Gifts....It's Not What You Think!

Since approximately 1972 a significant number of churches in the United States have increasingly regarded a conscious understanding of spiritual gifts and the utilization of those gifts in the life of the church as important for individual followers of Christ. Over the past thirty-five years or so, an increasingly large amount of material on the subject of spiritual gifts has been produced. C. Peter Wagner, a prolific writer on the subject of spiritual gifts, is a strong advocate for the use of spiritual gifts in the life of the church. Wagner contends that there is no “dimension of the Christian life that more effectively joins the teachings of Scripture with the day-to-day activities of the people of God than spiritual gifts.”  Thom Rainer is a scholar, researcher, and prolific writer in his own right. He suggests that churches will grow as Christians discover their spiritual gifts and then use those gifts to build up the body of Christ.  

The effort of local churches to help people discover their spiritual gifts has the goal of helping people to get engaged in the ministry of the local church. And, this effort has created a plethora of material, including books, seminars, and spiritual gift inventories (both paper based and online). Of these resources, the “spiritual gift inventory” has become a frequently used method by which churches aim to help believers discover their spiritual gifts. Yet, is the use of a spiritual gift identification instrument the best way for people to find their place of joyful service within the church? 
It goes without saying that there is a lot of debate among scholars, pastors and lay people about the nature and purpose of spiritual gifts. Most of these debates pertain to the nature of certain gifts (i.e. tongues, healing, etc) and whether those gifts are still active today. Although there is debate about some gifts, the conventional view seems to be that spiritual gifts are divine abilities given to believers by the Holy Spirit at conversion. Yet, there is terribly little in the Scripture to support this view. Indeed, it is my contention that the emphasis on divine enablement has led to an unfortunate and fundamental misunderstanding of the best way to “discover” spiritual gifts; namely the use of spiritual gift inventories. 

What if spiritual gifts are really more about what you do with the skills, talents, and passions that God has placed within you from birth? What if the lists of spiritual gifts in the Bible are different because the needs of the individual churches are what the Holy Spirit responds to by placing gifted individuals within that local body? I've been on a quest to discover the nature of spiritual gifts in the Bible and how to best help other believers figure out their place of joyful service in God's kingdom. In fact, I considered this issue so important that I devoted my Ph.D. dissertation to the subject. I have now turned that somewhat technical and academic work into a book that I pray will be a blessing to the church, pastors and believers everywhere.

If you are curious to learn more, I invite you to check out my new book The Unleashed Church: A New Understanding of Spiritual Gifts to Move Attenders to to Participants. 


Bob Cleveland said...

Ken Hemphill wrote a wonderful course .. 8 weeks .. entitled "Serving God .. Discovering and Using Your Spiritual Gifts". His assessment concurs with yours. Spiritual gifts inventories are definitely not the best way.

He starts with a definition. From memory ... "A spiritual gift is a individualized manifestation of the grace of God, in the life of the believer, which enables the believer to join God in the Kingdom work which God has in mind for that believer".

He wrote a later, longer course which I do not like as well as the first, as it really doesn't do anything the first one didn't, and it's more complicated and longer.

Pastor Rob Pochek said...

Hey Bob!
Thanks for the interaction.
I actually interviewed Dr. Hemphill as I did the dissertation research that the book (in the post) is based on. He was a wonderful resource and his view and mine are very close. Indeed, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge how indebted I am to him and to Ken Berding. Their work was very helpful during this process.