Monday, February 17, 2014
The five special gifts given by Jesus to His church
Illustration from Alan Hirsch: The Forgotten Ways. That and his latest book The Permanent Revolution are two of the best and most up to date treatments of this subject.
WE SHOULD by now be getting familiar with the three ‘layers’ of spiritual gifts – personal and foundational ‘self’ gifts, the gifts that can come through any of us in worship or a group situation which I call ‘situational’ gifts, and today’s subject which is about the five ‘structural’ gifts which the Bible calls Christ’s gifts to the church, and which form the backbone of its leadership.
These are in essence the gifts of mature believers, who know who they are in Christ and have a sense of their call and their place in the team. A typical elder or deacon person, you might think. People in these positions need to know their gifts and may need to identify with one or more of these fivefold gifts to lead effectively. However, these gifts are distributed much more widely than that. It’s good to watch out for them, even in embryonic form, because these gifts empower the future or present ‘movers and shapers’ of our congregations and ministry organisations. They probably won’t be new believers, but may be seen in relatively young believers, using ‘young’ in both senses of the word.
These apostolic people, prophetic people, evangelists, shepherds and teachers are out there and their passion and enthusiasm – as well as gifting – gives them ‘running mates’ who are in the process of picking up the same call and gifting.
The apostolic pioneer of a missionary enterprise or a church plant will be taking others with them into ventures that go into new ground – people who will catch the vision for themselves. Some of these go on to become people of widely acknowledged spiritual authority, but I don’t buy into the idea of the gift in itself creating an authority figure. I think that was discredited 30 or 40 years ago.
The prophetic people are found in the 24-7 prayer rooms, among the ministry teams and in inter-church groups, holding the bigger picture, hearing God and praying in line with what they hear. They are, however, less likely to be elected to positions of responsibility, partly because they value freedom and partly because they always seem like round pegs and square holes. I have a soft spot for these precious navigators and bringers of revelation who endure a lot of rejection on their particular path.
Similarly the evangelistic people are often not leading churches or on leadership teams but ‘out there’ doing what they do best and quietly getting on with it – the next Alpha, the next men’s breakfast or outreach. When it comes to reaching the lost, these are the people that not only have the heart for it, but the creative ability to make the message relevant and put it in a non-threatening context.
At this time of year it is good to remind ourselves that church leadership teams should be made up of these people as well as the shepherds and teachers. Too often they are missing. Perhaps it is because these are the ones that will disturb the status quo, and direct the focus outside the fellowship. Or maybe it is because they tend to be people of the bigger picture and not so good at the homely and detailed. We should beware of electing only the ‘safe’ and pastoral, because careful and caring – which is the voice that says why we can’t rather than the voice that says why we can – does not leave room for the challenge that is needed from these entrepreneurs, watchmen and people-reachers.
The shepherd and the pastor, or church leader, have wrongly become synonymous. This breaks the backs of church leaders by making every care call their responsibility and denies the role and gift of the excellent shepherding people found leading home groups and picking up the plight of the needy. Another fallacy is to roll pastor and teacher together, some even arguing that the Greek construction does that. Many shepherds are capable teachers and explainers of the Word, and many teachers have a great pastoral heart, but the two things do not necessarily go together. They need each other though. The teacher-type home group leader will too easily dominate and stifle and do too much themselves while the shepherd is more likely to be good at involving others in leading the four Ws of welcome, worship, word and witness, while seeing praying for and being there for the members of the group as their main call. However the shepherd who finds it difficult to challenge lovingly with the truth risks having a comfort-orientated group which lacks purpose and desire for development.
Jesus gave five gifts to His church, not one or two. That probably tells us that all five are needed – and we should seek to recognise them, and not focus on the two we are most comfortable with. At the same time, any one of these gifts has blind spots which are designed to be covered by the others. Jesus knew the wisdom of teams two millennia before anyone thought about writing a book with that title!