I think the worst tool ever foisted onto the Church is the spiritual gifts inventory.
What could be worse than a host of people checking off boxes of gifts in a list that align with their own jaundiced view of themselves? What genuine surprises come from filling out a form according to one’s view of merit? The woman who wants to be considered a prophet somehow turns out to be one. The man who has always admired teachers somehow discovers that he has that gift also.
Yet the American Church continues to attempt to function according to the “gifts” of self-anointed prophets, self-identified healers, and self-sanctified pastors. How can that end in anything other than tears?
In the same way, most Christians think they are wise enough to scry out the meaning of everything the Holy Spirit speaks to them. All such leading can be interpreted without help. No one else is needed to listen to that leading and help make sense of it. We’re Americans, so why should we need anyone else’s help to understand how to live our lives according to the leading of he Spirit?
We toss all sorts of responsibilities onto the backs of church leaders. No doubt, we rely too much on them to do our spiritual work.
However, amidst all that role baggage, no role can be more important for the church leader than leveraging godly wisdom and experience to better the functioning of each member of the body of Christ. Yet when was the last time a church leader sat down with you or me to help us discern our spiritual gifts and God’s direction for our ministry?
Truth is, that’s almost unheard of in modern American Christianity. How essential it is, though!
Sad reasons for that lack exist.
Many church leaders can’t assume the role of guiding people toward a genuine discovery of their true spiritual gifts because that leader hasn’t had his or her own gifts accurately identified by a previous generation. The problem is self-perpetuating. Too many church leaders shouldn’t be leading, yet they are because no one managed to sit down with them and help them identify their real gifts and how they should be used.
In the same way, too few church leaders know how to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit in their own lives, much less in the lives of others. So they live in a constant fuzzy state, not knowing whether God is speaking to someone or not. Thus, they fear speaking revealed truth into other people’s lives because they’re not sure what the revelation is or means.
The clock also plays a detrimental role here, as this kind of discernment of spiritual gifting and leading requires time. It forces a leader to watch people in the church and note what the Spirit is doing in a person’s life. A time commitment is essential.
Does anyone spot the other problem?
One of the reasons I think the megachurch model is inherently defective is it automatically precludes the leadership of the church from having any relationship with the majority of individuals within the church’s body. How can a pastor or elder spot the gifts in a person’s life if that person is just one in a sea of anonymous people?
Helping people find their gifts and understand the Spirit’s voice requires relationship. It means an investment in the people in the seats that goes far beyond great preaching. And too few church leaders are capable of making that investment.
The truly crazy factor in all this is that our failure to correctly identify gifts and leading only makes more work for church leaders because the congregation doesn’t know what it exists to do. That confusion makes for a vicious cycle that only causes the congregation to toss all the work they are meant to do onto the backs of church leaders. Then the leaders feel too crushed to bear the load of identifying gifts and the Spirit’s call on other people. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
The answer to this problem is not an easy one. The easiest part is simply acknowledging that the problem exists, and the mere acknowledgment means taking the blame for this lack. Yet what church leader wants to take more blame?
If we can’t start there, though, we won’t be able to train people to better listen to the Spirit, to discern spiritual gifts in people’s lives, and to use the gifts God gave leaders for actually raising up the future generation of leaders. We’ll never get anywhere if we don’t acknowledge that we’ve botched this for decades. We won’t fix the problem unless we correct church models that don’t allow for it either. Yet what church leader wants to fall on THAT sword? (“Sorry, but the way we’ve been doing discipleship in this church for the last 30 years doesn’t actually equip the saints for ministry.” Yeah, that will go over well.)
Being a church leader is hard! But if we’re in that role, we need to accept its difficulty and take a mature look at what is asked of us. If we’re not operating in the Spirit in such a way that we help our charges develop their real spiritual gifts, if we can’t help them understand the Spirit’s leading in their lives, then we’re utterly tanking in one of the primary duties of our role.