Sunday, August 31, 2008

where are all the spiritual gifts in your church?

So which is harder? Helping a church which has not been practicing its spiritual gifts to start practicing them, or helping a church which seems to be using the term “spiritual gifts” rather loosely to reel those practices back in? This is the question that Jamie and I have been asking lately.

There doesn’t seem to be much balance where spiritual gifts are concerned. Either a church doesn’t practice them at all (outside of preaching, teaching, evangelism, and pastoring) or, in my opinion, they manufacture them and throw in a couple of extra gifts to boot.

But let me pick on the churches that I'm most closely associated.

If you’re in a church which does not see outward manifestations of spiritual gifts much, does that alarm you? Does it alarm you that nobody in your congregation speaks in tongues? Does it alarm you that nobody in your congregation has ever spoken a word of prophecy? It should. The New Testament tells us that those gifts exist and that they’re to be used to make the church effective. So how is it that so many churches continue to exist without so many of the spiritual gifts? Again, it isn’t as if those gifts don’t exist. In fact, it isn’t even likely that those gifts don’t exist within your congregation! It’s just that they’re not being used. In fact, the people in your congregation who have those gifts may not even know it! And that should bother you.

To be clear, I am not a “charismatic”. At least not in the traditional sense. I have never spoken in tongues, nor have I ever translated a message that was delivered in tongues. But I do believe in the gifts of the Spirit and I find it alarming that so many churches seem to be completely void of so many of the gifts. How can that be and why aren’t more of us questioning that fact? No wonder so many of our churches are ineffective. Without the gifts to make us effective, what did we think would happen?

These questions have been on my mind a lot over the past couple of years. In fact, it all started when I moved to London and began following the resurgence of the Anglican Church (The Church of England). Mind you, the Anglican Church is a traditional and liturgical church. They like robes, collars, incense, and weekly communion. In fact, I’ve always described the Anglican church as existing somewhere between Protestants and Catholics (kind of like a group of people who loved the traditions of the Catholic Church, but not the doctrine). With that in mind, you’d think that the Anglican Church would be fading fast. But not so fast! Over the last ten to fifteen years, the Church of England (in particular) has been experiencing a huge resurgence in membership and attendance. In fact, it’s become a young people’s movement. But what I found most remarkable as I began to pay more attention to the movement was that it is almost exclusively charismatic in nature! Imagine that! A former high brow, very traditional and “orderly” denomination is becoming increasingly charismatic. And to be clear, it’s largely only the charismatic congregations of the Church of England which are experiencing this revival!

What does that say? Again, I would not consider myself a charismatic nor would most people who know me, but as somebody who is deeply passionate about the local church and its mission to the lost, how can I ignore this movement that is not only sweeping across England, but also the world. In fact, many church statistics suggest that the only denominations still growing across the world are charismatic in nature. The rest of the church growth is happening through non-denominational churches (especially in the West).

Those of us who stand strong in our effort to not be charismatic must take note of this. Ignorance is not a good excuse. What gifts are present in your church but are not being used? Do you regularly see manifestations of the Holy Spirit through the spiritual gifts of your congregation. If not, why not?

In my right hand column are links to a couple of files on spiritual gifts. One is an assessment quiz which allows you to identify what your gifts are. The other is a sheet that helps explain the gifts and also gives you some scriptural warnings concerning each of those gifts. Those who have taken the time to fill out this assessment all come back with the same response; it is very affirming and encouraging.

One little disclaimer, however. As gifts like tongues and healing tend to be pretty obvious, they are not included in the assessment. The people who wrote up the quiz figured that anybody who had those gifts wouldn’t need a quiz to tell them so. The problem is that, with congregations of hundreds and even thousands who are not open to these gifts, it is possible that you may have one of them and simply not know it. And I must confess that, as one who has neither of these gifts, I have no good advice on how to figure out if the gifts lay dormant in you.

Still, at the very least, I pray that study and assessments like these will begin to open our minds to the gifts that God has provided for the church. Gifts meant to make us incredibly effective in our mission and gifts that, if left unused, will leave us incredibly ineffective!

Btw, the picture above is of the best church marquee I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s in the Stepney area of London and this is the front door of a church located in a community that has a very high population of Muslims.

Comments on "where are all the spiritual gifts in your church?"


Blogger Sean said ... (3:47 AM) : 

The use of 'miraculous sign gifts' is a very tricky subject. I did a pretty in depth study of the church's history in association with specifically the gifts of prophecy, tongues and healing. The interesting thing that I found was the extremes in church doctrine. Many churches believe and teach that the 'sign gifts' ceased with the apostles. With this as their center, they, for the most part, leave the 'miraculous' or spiritual part out and base the idea of gifts on basically little talents that someone might have that could help out in the children's ministry. Many churches on the other end teach that every true believer should exemplify the manifestation of tongues. And if they don't they are missing out on true growth in Christ.

Interestingly enough, they both have pretty strong scriptural evidence of their position. Emphasis on the 'pretty', as I feel like both sides pull some texts out of context a bit. The reality is that Paul and Peter, most notably, speak about the gifts and their importance to the church. The overarching theme is that these gifts empower, encourage and build up the church for ministry. It also demonstrates God's power, displayed in His bride. I really think that when churches right the gifts off, they put a damper on the growth of the body. While on when churches go crazy with them, they do similar damage.

Now, from personal experience, I have never spoken in tongues, nor have I really ever seen tongues spoken in such a way that I am encouraged in the Holy Spirit. Is that wrong? Does that mean that it can't happen? Well, no. I have however had someone speak prophecy over me. And I have seen the Spirit work supernaturally through people. So, all that to say, I agree. I think churches miss the boat when they neglect this powerful aspect of the body of Christ.


Blogger Eleanor Burne-Jones said ... (6:32 AM) : 

Good post. I don't want to put a damper on doing the quiz but it is of entirely academic interest if your church leader does not want to find out and use the gifts you have. By all means do it, and find you have gifts, but I've sat through at least two churches dishing out these questionnaires, encouraging believers to identify their gifts, and then do absolutely nothing about allowing them to be tested, explored or developed. One brought out a DHQ officer to lead the congregation through it and told us all to come in specially to the corps to do it together? I think the only outcome from that was that the officers got a free lunch. I'd suggest soldiers to be alert to the bigger picture while they do their research!


Blogger tarisayl said ... (6:41 PM) : 

Tim, I think comfort has a lot to do with the gifts you specifically mentioned. At the church in which we grew up, how many people do you think would be comfortable there and willing to stay if someone stood up and spoke in tongues every week. You know the people as well as I do. They wouldn't like it. I have to admit that it wouldn't make me very comfortable either. Because that's how we (the congregation in general) were raised. Speaking in tongues is something to be made fun of and snickered about but not actually done. I'm probably way off base but that's my take on it.


Blogger tarisayl said ... (6:43 PM) : 

My second to last sentence was written with sarcasm. I just realized that it looks as if I meant it. Sorry about that.


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