In Part 1, I discussed both the beneficiaries of the gifts of the Spirit as recorded by Paul in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4; and the motivation for exercising these gifts as primarily highlighted in 1 Corinthians 13. I noted that the beneficiaries of the gifts are not those possessing or exercising the gifts, but the ones being ministered to through the gifts. In other words, the gifts are not for my benefit as one exercising any one of the gifts, but for me to be a channel of God’s grace to others in the body. The gifts are meant to work together to help build up the entire body of Christ, and not any one individual leader or member. In addition the primary motivation for using the gifts needs to be one of love. The gifts exercised without love are like the squeaky hinge of a rusty gate-very grating on the nerves (cf. 1 Cor 13:1-3 in the Message).
In Part 2, I want to address another foundational understanding of the gifts of the Spirit that I have found particularly encouraging, edifying, and valuable for my life and ministry. The spiritual gifts are only one way in which God has prepared us to be ministers and leaders. J. Robert Clinton talks of the Giftedness Set which includes natural abilities, acquired skills, as well as the spiritual gifts. In other words, we need to learn to minister and lead out of all that God has created us to be. This article will focus on the importance of the combination of all three and then address natural abilities and acquired skills, looking at how these can work together with spiritual gifts. In Part 3 and 4 of this series, we will look specifically at Spiritual Gifts.
The Importance of the Giftedness Set
I have noticed that we frequently make a dichotomy between our spiritual life-what happens at church on Sundays, mid-week prayer meetings, small group Bible studies, and other church gatherings-and what we do the rest of the week in our homes and jobs. There is an expectation that when we come to church, we are suppose to be “spiritual” (whatever that means!) and exercise spiritual gifts, and then when we return home and to work, we rely on our natural abilities and all of the skills and knowledge we have learned or been trained to use. While this may sound like a bit of an exaggeration, it is easy to fall into this pattern unconsciously because we haven’t connected the exercise of spiritual gifts with our daily lives.
But God did not just create spiritual gifts. He created each individual with a unique combination of characteristics and opportunities for development. Are we suppose to forget these when we walk in the door of the church? If someone is a gifted worship leader, chances are they have some natural musical abilities and have learned some skills of playing an instrument or reading music. These work together with a sensitivity to the Spirit, perhaps a prophetic gift, to lead a group of people in worship.
On the other hand, we, perhaps subconsciously, combine natural abilities and acquired skills with spiritual gifts in the church. Would we hire a secretary who did not know how to type? Or a bookkeeper that did not have skills in accounting? Do we want a pastor who does not have skills in preaching or studying Scripture? A leader without some natural abilities and learned skills would have a hard time. But we certainly want someone in leadership and responsible positions who is sensitive to the Spirit of God and who can express the love of God to those who are in the body or may come into a church gathering. Thus to separate spiritual gifts out from the rest of who God created us to be, we can get ourselves into trouble. God intended us to be all of who we are, and to minister and lead out of that person God created and gifted us to be! I have found this to be incredibly freeing. God wants me to be led by his Spirit whether I am in church or in the home or at work! He wants me to use his gifts where ever I am, and he also wants me to use my natural abilities and learned skills as well.
Given the value of God’s creation and unique formation of each one of us, it behooves us to work to discover and use the abilities within us. Often these are pretty obvious as we grow up. Some people are really artistic or musical, perhaps outgoing and relational. Others may be quieter and more pensive with a gift for analyzing or strategizing, while others are really gifted at crafts or working with their hands. Still others seem to be born leaders, while some have no desire to be in any kind of leadership position. The list could be endless. The important thing is to begin to take note of how you are created and what you are able to do “naturally.” Sometimes certain things are so natural to you that you don’t really understand why others can’t do them as easily. Growing up, I was always very analytical and loved math problems. To me figuring out math problems was fun and easy and I couldn’t understand why others struggled so much with different math concepts. It took me awhile to realize that not all people think the way I do! But when it comes to music, it is just the opposite. I have only a little natural ability in this area and have had to work hard to learn to read music and play an instrument.
Likewise, sometimes we discover these natural abilities as we reflect back on our younger years. You can ask yourself some very practical questions like these: What did I enjoy doing as a child? What did I dream of being as I grew up? What kinds of things just came easily for me to do? When I could choose what I wanted to do, what was that? What did other people see in me and encourage me to do?
Through asking these kinds of questions, I discovered some of my teaching abilities. My first paid job was teaching sailing at age seventeen. But at age fourteen, I was teaching informally in a camp context. At sixteen, I was asked by my science teacher to do demonstrations of lab experiments for other classes. When I became a Christian in college, I found that I was soon teaching the Bible studies in the dorm because I intuitively picked up the ideas of inductive Bible studies. I could easily add another dozen items to this list that all began to demonstrate to me something of my natural abilities in the area of teaching. But I never realized this until I did some intentional reflection on how God created me.
If you start taking some notes, you will find over the next week, or month, or even year, the Lord will bring to mind different events, life experiences, words from other people, inner revelations, that will begin to show you how you are created and the unique abilities you bring to the Body of Christ that the Lord might want you to develop and use. Keep a log of these insights and, over time, you will begin to see some fascinating patterns of God’s unique creation in you.
Acquired skills are closely related to natural abilities. We can get training in lots of ways. Sometimes it is formally in an educational setting, but probably more often we learn best in informal or non-formal settings where we get to learn through experience and demonstration. For example, I learned to sail through classes beginning at age seven. But I really learned to sail and race small boats because I would hang out with my Dad or my Grandpa. Both were excellent sailors and I would just do it with them, ask questions, be trained by them in certain skills and techniques. When I started racing small boats at about age ten, by Grandpa would ask me how it went, why did I do what I did, and then would give me clues on how to do better the next time. Gradually I went from finishing at the bottom of the fleet to being one of the regular competitors at the top.
You can begin to ask yourself, what have you been trained to do? What have you learned from others that has shaped you and given you opportunities to continue to develop as a leader? Think beyond what you have done at university in the classroom. Who has coached you? Who has mentored you in some way? Who discipled you as a young believer? Who has given you opportunities to develop your natural abilities and spiritual gifts while providing you guidance and direction? Add these insights to your journal about your natural abilities.
All of these are an important part of knowing who you are as a member and leader in the body of Christ. Hopefully you can begin to see how these natural abilities and learned skills are important in helping you exercise your spiritual gifts. Together all three make you the unique leader that you are, an expression of God’s goodness to the Body of Christ.
In the next articles, I will talk about the Spiritual Gifts and how you can work to develop these. As I think about becoming all that God wants me to be, I am encouraged by Philippians 2:11-12: “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” Or as the Message translation says, “Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure.” God wants us to work with Him to develop all that we are, even as he releases his power and purpose within us to make it happen. We minister in partnership with him! What an awesome privilege.