Truly Gifted

Ministry is a challenge, and I think many of us pastors make it harder on ourselves than it needs to be. It’s easy to feel alone in ministry, especially in the pastorate as we try our able best to guide, direct, and grow our churches. I think that too often we forget how truly gifted we, as the body of Christ, are. Most of the time, when spiritual gifts are mentioned, it’s addressed in the context of “That’s really not my gift.” We view spiritual gifts through the lens of self and very often wind up trying to protect ourselves from the beauty and richness God intended for us to enjoy.

Recently I’ve been looking at the body of Christ and God’s intent for his church as I seek to follow God’s leading in overseeing the church where I serve as pastor. Though scripture never prescribes form and style, it does give insight into God’s intended structure. I don’t mean a business model or liturgy, but rather the anatomy of his body–the church. The church is meant to have four corners in its foundation. Jesus, of course, is the capstone, and we are told in Ephesians 4:11 that he gave four parts to our framework: “It was [Jesus] who gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some shepherds and teachers.”

When you read through 1 Corinthians 12 we find listed a number of spiritual gifts which are gifts given to men–these are manifestations of God’s Spirit in, to, and through people. In the Ephesians passage however, we see that these apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherds/teachers are people given as gifts to the church. Just like Jeremiah, to whom God said, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you and appointed you to be a prophet…” So also these people were known and created to fulfill their purpose in the kingdom of God. That purpose is to “equip the saints for the work of ministry,” to “build up the church,” to promote unity and sound teaching, strengthening the church.

Our problem, in many churches, is that we neglect God’s intended order and deny the gifts he has given. An apostolic presence is necessary in the church. These are people who have been given skills, talents, abilities, and the desire to establish churches, mobilize believers, empower the people, and send them to carry on the mission of Christ. We see in Acts when Phillip preached the good news in Samaria, Peter and John went to establish that work and empower this new church. Likewise, Paul, after planting many churches, setting leadership in place (Timothy in Ephesus and Titus in Crete for example) continued to encourage them through letters and visits as he served in his apostolic ministry. The other side of that coin is that apostles do not make good pastors (shepherds). They will have a tendency to enlist the help of elders or other preachers to cover the pulpit because they’re never there. They are usually traveling and bringing ministry around the country, or around the world.

Phillip is a great example of an evangelist. You may feel tempted to label me as a heretic, but not everyone is called to an evangelical ministry. What I mean by that is that not everyone is called to the public proclamation of the good news.  Ever believer is called to be a witness for Christ, but there is a difference between bearing witness to people and proclaiming the gospel as an evangelist. We might call them either missionaries or evangelists. Evangelists, when not preaching, are thinking of new ways to communicate the gospel to their world. They usually don’t last long in their term as pastor of a local church. Billy Graham is a powerful example of a true evangelist. He is an amazing communicator and a powerful preacher. He has one message and has been used to bring the gospel to millions. Evangelists have one message, and because of that, people who call an evangelist “pastor” often find themselves feeling, after a while, like they “aren’t being fed.” Evangelists aren’t good at preaching to the same group of people week after week, year after year because they are focused on the one message: salvation.

Prophet is a ministry that is more veiled and mysterious to most Christians. I was raised in the Presbyterian tradition and now serve in a Southern Baptist church and mention of the word “prophecy” seems to cause more tension than anything else. It is true that this ministry of the prophetic has been greatly abused, but we cannot allow that to become an excuse to forsake God’s gift. The prophet reveals eternal truth, encourages and equips through words of knowledge, and speaks the will of God in regard to future events. The prophet and the apostle have very close ties. In fact, some scholars have said that every apostle is a prophet, but not every prophet is an apostle. Paul wrote in Ephesians 3:5 that the inclusion of the Gentiles in the covenant of God was revealed to and through the apostles and prophets. This was not a new truth, an afterthought of God. It had always been there, plainly, in the Old Testament prophets. Yet as part of God’s progressive revelation to his people, it was through the prophets and apostles of the church that this truth was revealed and made a reality. Having a prophet as a pastor can be a challenge too. They, like apostles, often travel and require the partnership of others to oversee a local church fellowship. They tend to be visionaries and might have trouble leading people to fulfill the vision.

That brings us to Shepherd/Teachers. You’ll notice that in the Ephesians 4 passage, it says that he gave “some apostles,” “some” prophets,” “some evangelists,” and “some shepherds and teachers.” Only the functions of shepherd and teacher and paired together with no separation. Shepherd/teachers are meant to be pastors of local fellowships. They are wired to care for and nurture a group of believers week after week, and year after year. They are meant to be able to have long tenures in their ministries as they lead a fellowship to mature and grow in the knowledge and grace of Christ. I am a shepherd/teacher and have served my fellowship for almost eleven years. The catch is, we cannot do this alone. We need the apostolic presence to equip, encourage, and hold us accountable. It is through the ministry of the apostle and the prophet that we receive guidance and direction from God–not because we can’t receive such direction ourselves, but because this is how God has structured his body for the sake of unity–an interdependence that benefits the whole. Shepherd/teachers may understand the importance of evangelism, but it’s just not their bent and they can struggle to make it happen.

Many pastors wrestle with feelings of guilt and inadequacy because they feel they are failing in a few areas. They aren’t failing. We aren’t failing. We just need help. We find ourselves sitting in a one-legged chair. The preaching and teaching are strong, but outreach is weak and there isn’t a strong vision for the church–an empowered and empowering vision. We rely more on business models, trends, and catchy gimmicks to guide and grow the church than we do on the gifts God has given. What if our chair had all four legs? That would be a God-glorifying, kingdom building, world-changing church.

Not everyone is called to fill these roles. He gave “some.” Now, let me clarify: this does not mean that any child of God cannot at any time find themselves in a position to teach, prophesy, evangelize, etc. Even though you’re not a mechanic you may still need to change your oil. Even though you aren’t a plumber you may still need to unclog a drain. These gifts, however, are not so narrow in scope as a local fellowship; these gifts are given to the church universal. An apostle, for example, will most likely have a “home church,” but will spend most of his time going from place to place. In Southern Baptist tradition we call these a Director of Missions, who oversees a local association of churches and serves as a sort of pastor to pastors. Unity in the body goes far beyond a warm and common association within a local fellowship. Unity in the body of Christ binds us all together. If a pastor feels alone, it’s likely because he’s sitting in that one-legged chair. That may be because he doesn’t know better, or because his pride wants it that way, but in either case, it needs to change. The neglect of God’s gifts is wrong, and it cripples the church.

There are gifts that are meant for everyone without exception. In 1 Corinthians 12:27-31 Paul reiterates that not everyone is appointed an apostle or prophet or evangelist or shepherd. Yet most of 1 Corinthians 12 describes a host of manifestations of God’s Spirit within the body of Christ. It is important to keep in view the context that Paul is speaking in, which is unity in the church. Regardless of how our experiences in Christ may differ, we must not allow neglect or division to gain a foothold…which all too often, we have. Any child of God, at any time, can experience a manifestation of God’s Spirit for God’s glory. There are many kinds of gifts, which Paul points out are the work of the same Spirit. Most often, we view these gifts as things we are enabled to do (heal, prophecy, miracles, etc). We try to find our identity in this “gifting” and subsequently define what we will and won’t do based on our perception of how we are “gifted.” The text, however, is not that specific. Paul paints a picture of God’s Spirit moving in such a way that the spiritual gift of healing could be either the ability to heal someone, or the gift of being healed; it could mean the gift of being able to prophecy, or the gift of receiving a prophecy; doing miracles, or experiencing a miracle. My point is this: we need to ask ourselves if we are wholly surrendered to God and his will, or if–whether in church leadership, or membership–we simply want to build our kingdom or have our expectations met? Do we want to experience the work of our own hands, or do we want to live a truly gifted life–living in the fullness of God’s powerful and fulfilling provision? Will we seek the gifts of God so that we can experience the power of God to us and through us? This is my prayer!

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