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.

10 thoughts on “Two Areas of Deafness in Church Leaders

  1. trevor

    Maybe I’m an oddity in that I have guided people through the gift discovery process. Romans 12 is so clear that we need to both know and exercise our gifts, this is an essential element of the discipleship process.

    As it happens, I do use a gift inventory. Specifically, I use “The Three Colors of Ministry”, from NCD. An important feature that distinguishes this book from many others like it is, as well as its very solid theological grounding, is that from the start it emphasises that gift discovery is a communal, not individual process. The discovery process that it suggests requires input from colleagues, leaders and family as well as prayer, study and self reflection.

    The bigger challenge for me is integrating the discovery process into the larger church body. It’s not enough to help an individual discover their gifts; we also have to help the church create space for those gifts to be exercised, and even change directions based on the makeup of her congregants.

    Anyways, check out the book if you ever get a chance; I’d be interested in hearing your opinion of it.

  2. Diane R

    It’s always interesting to see almost every church in the land, including most Pentecostal and Charismatic ones, segregating the gifts in Romans 12:6-8 and I Cor. 12:8-10 into groups: those for single men and women; those for married women; and, those for married men. As I read those two passages, I don’t see this segregation instituted by the writer, Paul.

  3. I think a spiritual gifts inventory can be useful, if one is willing to examine one’s spiritual life honestly. When I took one, I had a high score in prophetic gifts, but I had a zero in the “gift of prayer.” Ah, I joked with myself and others, no wonder I never “know” (as in, prophetically know) what is going on.

  4. Dan: The answer to this problem is not an easy one.

    Actually, Dan, some ministers have found for themselves a super-duper easy answer. I know because in fact it’s what is being enforced as a matter of official policy at the church where I am currently going.

    Here’s the scoop on their secret: Don’t allow the “gifts” at all. Nada. Zilch. Period.

    Oh, yes, they will admit that the “gifts” are there in the Scriptures, no denying that, but they’re just nice and theoretical. In any case, their rule is very clear: never allow them anywhere—not in church, not in “small groups”, not here, not there, no where, no how, no matter what.

    In their view, this simple rule handily takes care of all problems, and neatly dispenses with any hassles regarding properly “discerning” things. And as an added benefit, it avoids all “controversy.”

    You must admit that the solution is elegant for its simplicity.

  5. P Overall

    “Yet the American Church continues to attempt to function according to the ‘gifts’ of self-anointed prophets,” etc.

    Including you, Dan. A lot of what you wrote is projection. I’ve read you for years and you’re getting more opinionated and less helpful every time I begin to wonder if I didn’t give you the benefit of the doubt the last time I started to read a post and gave up halfway through it. Yet each time I come back I find the same tone, the same disgust, the same sense of futility, as if nothing will ever really change.

    “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.”

    Agreed. You need to sit down with someone who knows you well and consider what you do well, and then consider if reducing the scope of the topics you tackle might be a place to start, or at least spend more time on those areas where you can offer more solutions than complaints. As it is you’re feeding the cynicism and pessimism of other opinionated people. “How can that end in anything other than tears?”

    • P Overall,

      I’m willing to accept criticism, but in my defense, I’m not sure how anyone can insist that I only bring up problems and don’t provide solutions. That is clearly not the case, and anyone who read this blog for any length of time knows that. At times I do just throw the problem out there, especially when I am not an authority, as I’m hoping that readers will provide cogent ideas of their own. A successful blogger draws out the thoughts of others. If I’m always giving answers, then not only am I not doing that, I’m also running the risk of being labeled a know-it-all, which is a title already pinned on me years ago.

      As to a lack of solutions, I can’t see how anyone can say that’s the case. I provide what I believe are credible solutions in the majority of my posts. Even today, I started tackling what can be done to better Christian education. I did a whole series on problems and solutions for youth ministry. I talked about giving women a break from the burden of being a Proverbs 31 woman. Most of the time, I offer some answer. And when I can’t, I let people know that.

      As to the problem of diagnosing another person’s direction, it can’t be left to Internet relationships. The truth is that Cerulean Sanctum is what it is due some severe limitations on my ability to be useful in other ministry roles at this point in time. Some select readers know and understand that burden. And it is a great burden I would not wish on anyone.

      As to feeding other people’s cynicism and pessimism, I guess it’s what one brings to the table. People who come here awash in cynicism will find cynicism because that’s where they are. But just as many will find words for other, more positive emotions. I get many private emails from people who are thankful for this blog and point to it as a source of hope for the future. Many pastors have written in with words of thanks. If this blog were just a source of tears, that would never happen. Just the other day I was talking with someone who had read the post on youth ministry and had been discussing it with his teens. He said the conversation had been a great one. All I can say is praise God.

      Lastly, you are exactly right that this blog is a projection. I have said many times in the past that what is written here is written as much to me as it is to readers. I need to hear a lot of the things I write. When there is a fault addressed, it is often as much mine as anyone else’s. God knows that I want to be a better follower of Christ, and if what I write here makes that happen, then I’m glad I can share that. And the truth is, this blog HAS made me a better Christian. It has forced me to consider issues that otherwise would have gone unexamined. I think a lot of other readers feel the same way.

      I will close with this: I do hear you. Do you hear me? What is your role in changing the Church for the better? In what ways is God speaking to you about things no one else is talking about when it comes to your own discipleship and the direction of the Body of Christ? What do you think needs to be improved? You can always share that here. I hope you know that. Your voice matters.

    • P Overall,

      Let me make one more comment.

      I am not a prophet. If anything, I am the guy who sees the disembodied hand writing words on a wall and says, “Hey, I don’t know what that says, but I think we need to pay attention to the reality that there’s a hand writing words on a wall.” The prophet can tell you what the hand wrote.

      That we need someone to point out that a mysterious hand is writing on the wall kind of shows where we are in the world in 2010. God knows we need the prophets. That we may also need someone to point out the hand may be a symptom of how distracted we truly are.

  6. Good post, Dan, and I have always enjoyed your writing.

    As usual I agree with your observations. I agree that there is an overload of responsibility on church leadership. My answer to that is that we need to begin encouraging each believer to discover their own priesthood, so to speak. It is time for the “laity” (a word that occurs nowhere in scripture) to quit shirking their responsibility onto the “clergy”, and begin seeking God for themselves. I also don’t like a model where we discover our spiritual gifts by a book, even if that is in conjunction with a church elder. Like Trevor said, with that you still have to figure out how to ‘make room’ for that gift. When the Spirit builds the body, and leads us to identify our gifting, He will also knit us with others with that gift who will disciple us in the use of that gift. Only the Spirit can “organize” the Body of Christ into a structure that will contain the fullness of Christ.

    Having said the above, I also think that the ratio of elders to “non-elders” (for lack of a better term) is much too low. Even in a church of 100, can one man effectively disciple 100 people, or “oversee” 100 people? Like you have observed, too many people in a congregation prevents the relational building of the Body, and the Body is intended to be relational.


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