Friday, October 05, 2012

The Secret We Can't Talk About

What if I said to you that I’d like to give you control of a fortune five hundred company? First off, some of you would jump at the chance while others of you would balk. Some of us are built for that and some of us know that we’re not. Keep that in that back of your head. We’ll discuss it in a minute.

How much do you consider the topic of spiritual gifts? You should be thinking about it every day. Once we’ve decided to follow and serve Christ the very next thing we need to figure out is how, exactly, we’re supposed to serve him. That decision should be based, in part, on what spiritual gifts you’ve been given. No doubt, for some, figuring that out may take a while. But you ought to know. You should be figuring it out. Without this knowledge, not only is the church and the world missing out on your gift, but most likely you’re left unfulfilled, as you should be, because you’re not fulfilling the role you’ve been put on this earth to do.

We’ve all been given gifts. 1 Corinthians talks a lot about spiritual gifts. It’s very specific. Many believe that there are gifts beyond those described in 1 Corinthians. I don’t happen to be one of those believers. My own opinion is that Paul listed them all. From there many believe that various gifts were done away with once the apostles died off. I also don’t agree with that. I think all of the gifts listed in Corinthians are still available to us. But no matter what you believe concerning the specifics of spiritual gifts, I think we all believe, at least in theory, that we are endowed with certain gifts from our creator and that we are to be using those gifts to better the church and, ultimately, the world around us.

One of the things Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians chapter 12 is that we’ll not be given all of the spiritual gifts: that each of us will be given a portion of the gifts. With that in mind let’s talk a little again about that fortune 500 company. Imagine being given the keys to a fortune 500 company, without the support system a CEO would normally have to run such a company. In other words, not only is it your job to make the tough decisions, but you also have to answer the phones, think of clever marketing ideas, create those marketing ideas, make sales calls, handle HR issues for internal employees, get the payroll out every week, etc., etc., etc. Sound like a good plan?

I think we can all agree that that’s a company that won’t be a fortune 500 company for long. In fact, in just a matter of days, that company will likely find itself with angry employees, bad press, and a CEO that’s ready to get the heck out of Dodge!

I’ve never liked the fact that the role of pastor, in so many churches, is like that of a CEO. The pastor makes the decisions. But what’s worse is that, in most denominations and churches that I know of, that pastor is expected to excel in quite a few very specific gifts. Consider that most churches expect their pastor to be a teacher, preacher, pastor, evangelist, and administrator. Sometimes more. Those are FIVE very specific spiritual gifts and, to be honest, I’ve never met anybody who had them all. I know plenty of evangelists who are amazing preachers, but I don’t know many (or any?) who have the gift of evangelism AND the gift of pastoring. I mean, just personality wise, those two gifts don’t work very well together. Yet we expect it of our pastors. ???

I was ordained when I was twenty-three years old. I entered that ordination service with a handful of gifts, and I exited that service with exactly the same gifts. When I was in my late thirties, I earned a Masters Degree in theological education and, while I had grown in some areas between the age of twenty-three and thirty-eight, that degree didn’t add one single more gift to my allotment. And I promise you that this is the case for every pastor and minister that I’ve ever known or know of.

So what does that mean for you and the church? Do I really need to spell it out?

Your pastor has some very specific gifts, and it is HIGHLY unlikely (improbable, implausible, doubtful, far-fetched) that those gifts happen to be teaching, preaching, pastoring, evangelism, AND administration.
I’ve heard it said that many churches take on the “personality” of their pastor. Why is that? Maybe because their pastor focuses on the spiritual gifts that he has and leads the church in that very specific direction. Consider how many churches you’ve come across who are amazing at evangelism, but horrible at discipleship. I can’t tell you how many churches I’ve come across whose doors are only big enough for the number of people who are coming in and getting saved because people are leaving out the back doors in droves! You can only hear the gospel story so many times before you eventually start asking “what’s next?” Unfortunately most evangelists aren’t all that concerned with what’s next. That’s not their job, focus, expertise, or passion. Likewise, I know just as many churches who are great at discipleship (though I question how great it is if it doesn’t involve teaching and leading on evangelism, but I digress) but haven’t seen anybody saved in years. Again, that’s a church being led by a pastor whose gifts are in discipleship, not evangelism.

So is this okay? I mean, is it okay to have some churches who are focused on discipleship, while others are focused on evangelism (or whatever their pastor’s spiritual gifts happen to be)?
I say no way. And not because I think that every congregation needs to hit all the marks but because I can’t believe that there aren’t people in the congregation who DO have the other gifts needed to make it a well-rounded church/ministry. And that’s where we need to rethink the whole thing.

You show me where the Bible suggests that a person with the spiritual gift of “pastoring” is supposed to be in charge and I’ll show you that God didn’t really mean it when he told us to have no other gods before him. You won’t find it because it isn’t there. In fact, the only mention of “authority” is when the Bible talks about elders.

For the record, I’m not taking shots at pastors who’ve been given authority. That’s not my intent here at all. It could very well be that your pastor is considered one of the elders and, as such, has been given a measure of authority in your church. Fine. But what of all those other gifts that go unused? What I mean is this: Who says that a teacher, preacher, evangelist, pastor, or administrator must be a full time, paid staff member? What if you have an evangelist on board who happens to work a full time job as an electrician? Or for that matter, what if the best teacher or preacher in your congregation happens to be a full time pharmacist? Does that mean that he doesn’t have the spiritual authority to teach or preach? Is the stage reserved only for the guy who gets paid to occupy it? How is that scriptural?
Answer? It’s not.

So what I’m proposing is this: What if a church actually put people in positions according to their spiritual gifts? I’m not suggesting that we don’t have paid staff members, but what if the paid staff members weren’t the only ones who could exercise their spiritual gifts? What if we asked Jo, who clearly has the spiritual gift of preaching, to preach?

I remember being asked by a church to submit my resume. They had an opening for senior pastor and thought I might fit the bill. I knew this church well and knew this was an opportunity to challenge them whether I was meant to be pastor there or not. So I wrote them a rather lengthy letter. Among the things I suggested was using people according to their spiritual gifts. I knew this congregation, in part, and knew that they had several in their midst who were not only good teachers but absolute scholars when it came to the Bible. I did make the “mistake” of also suggesting that there were women in their congregation who were clearly gifted with leadership skills and that they should be allowed and even expected to lead. I knew that one wouldn’t be a winner but was surprised when I got no response at all. Mind you this is a church that I still maintain contact with to this day. But we’ve never talked about it. It was all just too much.

And I suspect the same would be true of most any church. We’re so ingrained with this idea of pastoral authority that we don’t know and can’t imagine anything different. In my own extended family, after I was ordained, it fell to me to lead times of family prayer. There was this sense that I was chosen in a way that nobody else in the family was, despite the fact that they had raised me and instilled in me this love for God and knowledge of the word. Somehow that ordination certificate (found nowhere in the Bible) gave me the trump card for spiritual authority, even over my own father. I thought it strange back then and still refuse to accept it to this day.

And truth be told, it would require egos to be set aside in a way that may be impossible. As it is, pastors, worship leaders, and youth ministers have already drawn lines around their respective zones with the expectation that people stay within their zones and walk very gently if those zones are crossed. I can remember serving at a church where I made a simple suggestion of how to get the young people more involved in the worship service. It was my belief that young people are endowed with spiritual gifts, just as I am, and that it was our job to get them involved in the entire life of the church. Shortly after suggesting this I had a meeting with the Senior pastor where I was warned to be careful not to tread on the youth pastor’s turf. And it goes without saying that “lower” staff members should never attempt to make suggestions on the senior Pastor’s sermon. Lord, God what might happen if that occurred?

It’s a strange, twisted, and very tragic thing that has happened to spiritual gifts. They can best be described, under most circumstances, as dormant and even hidden. Wonderful tools from a bygone era. Tools meant to change the world and edify the church, now buried under years of tradition and dogma. It’s almost like a race of people with super powers who don’t know that they have them. What amazing things they could do if they were only aware of the powers they had. But somebody came along years ago and talked them out of it. Generations later and they’re descendants not only don’t believe in them, but in many cases aren’t aware of their existence at all. Meanwhile the world continues to slip beyond the reach of the few who have the certificate of approval to do anything about it. And so we trudge along, singing our songs, listening to sermons that sometimes speak to us, and hoping for a revival that will likely never come.

If only somebody with the authority to do something about this would…