I own a 2005 Land Rover LR3. At the dealership they tell me that all the problems that I have with it are just because it is old. Last month we found that the drainage for the sunroof was running into the interior of the car. We also had to have it towed in from a neighboring town because the system pumping the coolant failed. This month the Land
Rover refuses to open its back door. If we are to pack it for a trip this coming weekend, it will have to be through the rear passenger doors and not through the back. The car still functions but I have lost confidence in it. Not all the parts are operating optimally. I do not have peace when I sit in it and expect to arrive places.
The church is like my car in some ways. It has many parts – in fact it has many roles that its members play. Few of the roles are essential for it to continue to function, but with each missing role the church is diminished. When those who could contribute withdraw their services, leave church, or are prevented by church structure from living out their calling we are like a car running on half its cylinders. We move, but the experience is slow at best or even disturbing.
After Paul writes about sacrificing ourselves to God in Romans 12:1 and 2, he moves on to the grace needed by the whole church to function as a body. By design, the gifts that we bring to church make church function.
For by the grace given to me I say to every one among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
How does the church function as it should? Each member acts in humility; Each member identifies his or her function; Each member applies his or her gift.
Firstly let’s think why humility is key to a healthy church community. When Romans tells us to not think of ourselves more highly than we ought, it is addressing a problem. Some people think that they are essential to the process of doing church. The obvious culprit in our day would be the senior pastor or elder who takes every task upon himself. However, in Paul’s day one-man-rule was less common. People who rose to the top were people who had a particular gifting. We know from 1 Corinthians that Corinth had a particular esteem for those who spoke in tongues. They also elevated people based on their ability to teach. If someone like Apollos was great at delivering speeches he would be much sought after. People would begin to boast about following Apollos and so there are a couple of
obvious traps that the church can fall into when someone has an obvious gift. One is that we build into people’s pride and we accelerate their development in the church too rapidly. In other words we give too much responsibility to those who have skills but who have not developed the maturity to use it. A second danger is that the gifting of one individual becomes predominant and cancels out the chance to develop others with other gifts. Even if others in the church have similar gifts to the dominant person’s, the reluctance to share or to delegate becomes a hindrance to growth. In both cases, a gifted teacher, preacher, counselor, servant, or administrator who gains dominance in a church body becomes a stumbling block. This is the kind of situation Paul is warning against in the first century and it is also something we should view with suspicion.
Humility is rooted in faith and faith believes that only God is essential. The roles that we fill in church could be filled by any servant of God whom God equips. None of us should think of ourselves as too high or too low to fill a role. Humility is essential for a person to step into the role that God has for them, no matter how big or small that role may be. The focus becomes less on fear, but more on God. This is where sober judgement is essential. With our godly friends, family and fellow church goers we need to evaluate both the nature of our gifts and the nature of the faith we have to use them. Many prominent people in the church are motivated by fear. What will happen if someone else shares the pulpit? What will happen if I don’t manage the Sunday School? What will happen if I am not the one to visit those who are in hospital? Paul is saying that everyone has a role to play and anyone who monopolizes a particular role needs to stop thinking of themselves too highly.
There once was an elder in a church that I knew who bemoaned how everything in the church fell on him. He had to open the doors, make the plans, and at one time became the sole elder. However, the truth was that other people in the church found it very difficult to work with him. He was unteachable in many ways and unaware that his attitude and his family’s aggression was discouraging others from exercising their gifts alongside him.
The church in general still has a separate professional class of ministers, and this is problematic. When we pay our 10% to the church and think that pays others to exercise their gifting, we have missed the essential point of what Paul is talking about. We should financially support the church, but the church should then pool the resources to help all of its members do their ministry. A senior pastor can be problematic if the senior pastor is the only one ministering. If the church is small and the senior pastor is the only one with an evident gift of preaching, it is not beyond reason to think that he may be the only one to preach. However is such a church on the look-out for good speakers in its youth groups or twentysomethings? What is the plan to develop them? If the preaching pastor sees such people as competition, or is even just ignorant of their needs, he is seeing himself too highly.
The same thing can be said of someone who is really good at counseling. Does all the counseling have to go through one person? Is there a high level of control which is rooted in the fear that other people may counsel unbiblically or in ways that are not sanctioned by higher-ups? If this is the case the church will be unable to grow its members in numbers or in stature. When the gate to growth is closed, we shouldn’t be surprised if no-one passes through it.
If the first lesson for a functioning church body is humility, the second is that each member identifies their function. The sober judgment that identifies whether I am taking on too little or too much of a role must be coupled with identifying what my role should be. In the passage above, Paul identifies prophecy, service, teaching, exhortation, contribution, and leadership.
Prophecy is misunderstood by some to be purely a speaking about the future. However, a prophet spoke God’s truth. This could be home truths about the past. It could be truths about the future. It could be truths about the future. the purpose of the prophet is to bring a dose of reality. When people wander their own way, the prophet states plainly the nature of our foolishness and outlines a path back to God. Many preachers are prophets by this definition. Prophecy depends on seeking God and having trust in God. We trust the truth of his Word. We rely on the strength of his promises. We believe what he has said will come to pass. Then with a boldness that flies in the face of culture, the prophet declares ‘thus says the Lord!’
Many people in the world are in need. In Paul’s day it was no different. Without the social services that the governments provide today, the church had to provide much more than it does today. People from churches have sacrificed everything by serving those with contagious diseases. People from churches have moved into neighbourhoods where poverty has stripped generations of opportunity. Paul knows that some people naturally see how people hurt and then they bring healing with their hands.
Teaching and preaching are often thrown together in the way people talk, but they can be the quite different. Preaching carries a sense of proclamation, but teaching can be much broader. For example, teachers like Jesus taught by their actions, their questions and by their life choices rather than just by the sermons they delivered. Someone can be good at leading another person through a series of experiences that change their life, but they may freeze in a pulpit. Such a person is still a teacher.
The church needs people who move others along. Sometimes that can mean that someone writes a thoughtful card recounting gifts but it can also be someone who raises their voice and unleashes a loving passion which shakes us out of our passivity. Exhortation longs for movement and change and it can’t keep quiet when it sees people who just settle. Those with a gift of exhortation are often unaware of their own gifts because they are so focused on what others are (or aren’t) doing with theirs. Rather than shut down exhorters when the exhortation is uncomfortable we need to ask whether God is behind these words for action. The answer is to move.
Donald Trump is strong on the economy and weak in many other areas. However, at the point of writing, he is about to win the Republican nomination. Bill Clinton won over George H.W. Bush, why? The economy, stupid. Since shells were traded as cash, people have had a love for money and make key decisions with a mind to gaining more of it. It takes a special strength to look past an economy of gain toward an economy of letting go. Some people can give more to the church because they are moved by God to do so. This may be more in total dollars given, or it may just be more of a percentage of total income. Givers understand that God’s projects need financing and the church administrates that. The godly giver gives generously and without thought of what they will get in return.
The final gift that Paul mentions is leadership. There are some people in a church who mastermind operations. There are people who get the job done. They might bring all the right people to the table. They might have a vision which is well articulated and unites a group. They might start conversations that become a movement. Such people can organise the people around them according to their gifting. Through these people God gets results.
I have rarely seen a church where each member knew their gifting. Gift inventories are helpful (http://www.lifeway.com/lwc/files/lwcF_MYCS_030526_Spiritual_Gifts_Survey.pdf ) but they often become a novelty which leads to little change. The real outworking of this is seen in the Bible when a spiritual mentor of some kind takes others and leads them through a time of discovery. This is much more labour intensive than a paper and pencil test. However, because we are designed for community I can see no shortcut to a solution that connects the fellowship.
Dan Lovaglia (https://www.facebook.com/dmlovaglia) has just written a book which challenges how we do church,especially children’s ministry. He calls us back to a way of ministering that is truly relational. Essentially his model is one of intentional mentorship that develops the gifts of others over time. The quick fix models of ministry hat manufactured mannequins to fill church windows is over over. In this post-industrial era we need pre-industrial thought. Organisms relate organically. The highest organism in creation is man and so we need to depart from ministry manufacturing plants and return to the garden.
Do you know your gifting? The list in Romans is not the complete list. 1 Corinthians adds others. The idea is that God gifts his people differently. What do you do well? Has God started pulling on your heart to serve in a particular way? Talk with someone you trust to see if that is God calling you to action. It needn’t be something that consumes a lot of time or effort to begin with. Maybe you could be the driver of the bus to and from the youth night. Maybe you could arrange the flowers once a month. The truth is that you can do something to use your gifts and talents for Jesus. Using the gifts and talents you have with God’s people will build his church.
Apart from being humble and recognizing your gifts a final lesson from this passage is actually stepping out in faith. The final step after recognizing the gift that we have is to exercise it. This is easier in small churches where the needs are obvious and the pathway to growth is clearer, in larger churches this can be hard. Which churches have classes for prophets, which develop its own preachers? Are there venues where trainee preachers can preach to smaller groups of people? Which churches have teachers teaching teachers how to teach? How is service developed in churches in ways that are more than general? How do we identify those who love to give and teach them how to give generously and responsibly over time?
A church might address this shortcoming by first of all identifying people who are doing well in possible areas of gifting. Set apart some people who preach well. Set apart others who spurr others on to action well. Use the Bible as a guide to the categories of people that you are looking for. Beyond that, think of needs the church has like tech crews, or children’s ministry. Then help all people identify their spiritual gifts. Match the mentors with those who need to be plugged in. Then have those who are learning shadow those who are further along. This is modeled on what Jesus did when his disciples ‘walked in his dust.’ The church then becomes a team of teams. A team of teams needs a completely different leadership structure than the usual autocracy, so the role of the senior pastor will change considerably. That is another story, but I would recommend reading Team of Teams or Collective Genius to learn more.
In summary, to grow a church both numerically and in spiritual health, leaders need to see themselves as less essential. In the space that traditional leadership vacates, the congregation needs to identify and grow their gifts.