Two Areas of Deafness in Church Leaders


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. Are church leaders listening to the Spirit?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.

Lessons Learned…Or Not


We talked about the lack of discernment in some parts of the Church earlier this week. Right now, I’d like to discuss the other side of that discernment issue.

One of the tendencies some people in the Church have is an overwhelming need to condense all of life into lessons. As if each day has some life-altering factoid ready to uncover if we just live the right way. Now that right way varies depending on whom you talk to, but it usually involves plenty of prayer and lots of musing on the issue.

Whenever someone says, “Sounds like God’s trying to teach you something,” you’re having one of those “better figure out what you’re bein’ taught there, son” conversations. A lot of times that conversation gets tied into Romans 8:28 (and we, of course, all know what THAT verse says), so the person who’s supposed to be learning a lesson gets the double whammy of not only having to scry the necessary lesson to be learned, but also that the lesson will have clearly positive outcomes that even an amoeba could see.

Now I recently turned 45, which, while not ancient, finds me on the back side of the  mountain. I’ve got enough life experience to be able to comment on this thing or that, and when it comes to this issue of lessons learned amid life’s experiences, I gotta say this:

I dunno.

I’ve seen people drive themselves nuts trying to figure out what the lesson is amid some trial. And many times that’s because they’ve got these spiritual advisors telling them they need to fast and pray and put on sackcloth and sit in ashes and take on the attitude of the oracle at Delphi in order to find out just what it is that’s supposed to be learned. And the tea leaves say...?Because spiritual advisors are sayin’ something’s supposed to be learned here, aren’t they? Funny that they never know what that lesson’s supposed to be (because each lesson seems only for the person supposed to be learning it, you know, and the advisors aren’t THAT wise to know someone else’s lesson).

Several years ago, my brand new bride and I departed the homeland and sojourned in California. Looked like God setup the whole thing, too. All the prayers for us came down on the side of “Go!” The timing was perfect, the job was perfect, and we were deliriously happy at the thought of it.

And yet six months later, it all fell apart. Never got better, either. In fact, in a lot of ways it got worse to the point that we still struggle with the situations that sojourn created for us.

Yes, at least one person we know came to Christ out of that time. I comfort myself with that thought, though I’m just as likely to wonder if that couldn’t have happened some other way. But you don’t know.

As for the lesson? You’ve got me.

Truthfully, “You’ve got me” is what comes out of most of the trials I’ve faced in life. If you had to rank my ability to discern lessons and their spiritual import, I’d have to say that Balaam’s ass ranks about a hundred times higher on that chart than yours truly.

It just may be that I’m a thicker brick than some folks, but I gotta say that whatever lessons I’m supposed to be learning, especially amid trials, they don’t vary much off the same old lesson I learned a long, long time ago: Repent and have faith in God.

So why do we make such a production out of that one, simple truth? Why do spiritual advisors hang huge millstones around people’s necks (especially when those people are suffering amid trials), warning them that they better discover the lesson or else?

Some people came to Jesus trying to scry lessons out of some difficult circumstances. They were probably self-righteous people, you know, “spiritual advisors” and such. They came to Jesus trying to get Him to tell them the lesson, but He he turned the tables on them:

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
—Luke 13:1-5

You and I may never know the reasoning behind a “lesson.” Sometimes life happens and there may not be any lesson to be learned than to repent and have faith in God.

So if you’re one of those people in a tough spot, especially if you’re plagued by a need to discover the lesson you should be learning, let me spare you the agony of scrying out an answer. Put down the tea leaves and goat entrails.

Because the lesson’s always the same, no matter the situation.

Repent and have faith in God.