Friday, February 21, 2014
Growing gifts in your small group
An accurate word of knowledge delivered with sensitivity and wisdom can be like a ten-pin strike in demolishing a stronghold. However the group, like the bowling alley, is a safe place to contain a ball that runs a little wide.
THIS WEEK and last we have had a focus on the three kinds of spiritual gifts and how they build community.
You have the ‘self’ gifts which is about how you are and your ‘SHAPE’ — you might be a ‘mercy’ person or a ‘telling’ person or a bit of both (or more!). You are also, in reality or becoming, part of Christ’s gift to the church which is more than how you are wired – it is about your call as a shepherd, or an evangelist or a prophetic person, etc.
A little different are the situational gifts – word of knowledge or faith or tongues, etc – which manifest helpfully through any or all of us when we meet together, especially in a situation of seeking the Lord – worship and personal ministry being the obvious contexts.
We saw that gifts, and especially the vital five structural gifts, became marginalised over time and we still have something of a mindset about calling a pastor/teacher person who alone is ‘the minister’. But of course we also must have a visionary leader and someone who will connect amazingly with the lost, not to mention leading breakthrough in prayer and planting new ministries. It’s an expectation that would set St Paul up for failure.
So we are repenting of that and working on rediscovering the gifts that are in and around the fellowship, and how to grow them and use them. This, of course, underlines those ABCDE values we hold — All participating as part of a Body, using our gifts to make Connections beyond, growing as Disciples of Jesus who are seeking to grow others, and hungry for Encounters with God.
This is not a cerebral exercise. This is not something we can study or achieve by understanding – or at least, that will only take us so far. The Sermon on the Mount was foundational, but now the Holy Spirit has been given. Now the growth and the gifts and the holy teamwork comes through living the Life of the Spirit wherever we are, ministers in the workplace or in our village or at church, all learning to rely on God and letting Him use us beyond where we are capable or comfortable or cognisant.
“Eeeeek!” as the bubble caption used to say in those old-fashioned comics. How do we do it?
Easy. The church was always supposed to be a church of small groups. It’s not a new idea. For the first 300 years or more there were no church buildings and large gatherings were viewed with suspicion by the authorities. Paul taught publicly, in the way of a Greek philosopher, but also from house to house, and it works well when we do the same. So we bring teaching publicly – in a church gathering where anyone is welcome, where all have perspectives and find questions – and then help each other to work out and apply the teaching in small groups. These home-size gatherings are safe places for exploration and discussion, where there is also fellowship and worship and prayer and connections with the group’s not-yet-Christian friends and contacts. Gifts are definitely in view for the main Sunday gathering, but there will always be constraints on how widespread the participation can be.
However, small groups are designed for participation! So, we can say that small groups are greenhouses to grow gifts, especially as others in the group will see gifts in you that you might not recognise. This is the place to have a go with them and discover others, to have times when it goes well for you and others when, as musicians say, wrong notes are expected in practice. The leader will ensure that no harm is done by the word that doesn’t hug the centre of the lane for a full strike, or a (bowling) action that is a bit clumsy – this is family life as well as the Life of the Spirit.
There is another very good side to this which relates to the “Eeeeek!” reaction. The congregational Sunday gatherings tend to give prominence to the more confident, up-front people, at the expense of the quieter but no less significant servants and mercy givers. The holistic small group that holds a balance of the four Ws of welcome, worship, word and works will, by its nature, draw out the gifts of those quieter members and – importantly – affirm their contributions to group and church life.
Each one of us needs to be relating and growing in the gift-rich community of a small group!