Junk the Spiritual Gifts Inventories – Focus on Ephesians 4 Instead

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Over the last 20 years, spiritual gifts inventories abound. I cannot help but wonder what drives the desire to want to know our gifts. Hopefully it is a desire to serve out of our strengths. On the slightly darker side is an obsession with the self and our desire to feel uniquely gifted. Oddly enough, gifts inventories do the opposite – the tell you which group you probably fit into best rather than what makes you unique!

I had always struggled to know what to do with Paul’s gifts lists in Ephesians, 1 Corinthians, and in Romans because I was a cessationist – the belief that the Holy Spirit had stopped working. I also believed that there were no more apostles because that was a first century thing that didn’t continue. Reading Ephesians 4 was rough because I really didn’t see how what Paul had to say had any bearing on people of faith in our day. But I believe I was wrong.

Instead, I believe we need to revisit Ephesians 4 with an open mind and see how God has organized his people for maximum effectiveness for kingdom growth and the expansion of the kingdom.

Here is our text,

“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. 14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” – Eph 4:11-16

Apostles – These are literally the “sent ones” and again, every church needs apostles. They are out front, leading the way into God’s calling of His people.

Prophets – people who discern God’s leading and share it with others. These aren’t future tellers. These are spiritually discerning people. They know how to listen for God and follow God’s lead. Every church needs people with this gift. God did not leave us alone…yes he left us with the Bible and that is a huge part of listening to God. God also left us with the Holy Spirit and the Spirit does communicate if we are willing to listen.

Evangelists – these are the missionaries of the church both foreign and domestic. They keep the church from getting too comfortable. They are natural connectors, people-people…they make disciples who make disciples.

Pastors/Shepherds – They are inward focused – taking care of the flock. They tend to the hurting and build up the body. They encourage, equip, and are present to bring stability so that not all the roles are outward looking.

Teachers – Those who are gifted at teaching the word of God to the flock. They help the flock to go deeper not only in knowledge but also into obedience to the Word of God.

We have obsessed over teachers to the neglect of the other gifts. That has resulted in church that is off balance – the church Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12 that we don’t need to be – not everyone is an eye or an ear. Not every one is a teacher…some are prophets and others are all the rest.

We need each other…we need every role to do what God designed the roles to do,

“to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” – Ephesians 4:12-13

If our churches are lacking maturity, this is probably why. If our churches are tossed by false teaching – this is probably why. If our churches have lost their foundation – well you know what I am going to say.

So let us consider these gifts and consider which ones rings truest for ourselves in the body of Christ and engage in ministry that fits the gifts God has given us! Sometimes you will be called to something outside your giftedness…if it is God calling you can’t make the excuse that that isn’t your gift!

9 Responses

  1. There also needs to be a congregational meeting to discuss these roles. I never saw a general meeting in all the years I was in the cofC. These roles also need to be periodically be reassessed. Pastoring today is different than it was 10 years ago. The problem is that the roles got switched at some point and some people passed the buck.

  2. Too true…part of knowing your gift isn’t a website spitting out results but people who affirm the gifts in you who know you and have seen God working in your life. So yes we need to meet and discuss and pray on this. Agreed!

  3. As much as I agree with you on the (perceived) value of the “giftedness lists,” If for no other reason than the absolute, total subjectivity of these lists, I am not sure I see the “logical” jump you suggest.

    Matt, do you really want to go there? Apostles? And how do we pick those? What would their role be? Authoritative like Paul and Peter etc.?

    I mean, we have enough of an issue with elders/shepherds/overseers (the “musts” are “would be nices)” without coming up with the idea of the need of apostles. Unless you mean as missionaries (the “sent” ones).

    The apostles were, as a group, not really involved in missions. The most obvious statement is in Acts 8 – the APOSTLES stayed in Jerusalem, and those which were spread out became the “preachers,” the “proclaimers,” the “missionaries.”
    The moment we make elders “eld,” and teach, and be who they are called to be (rather than the idea that preachers should be referred to as pastors (I’m hearing that more and more!!) we come back to who and what we NEED to be as a Body of Christ…

    Are you moving away from the idea that the apostles, prophets are the FOUNDATION rather than a continued existence?

    1. The preachers became the pastors because the elders became the trustees. Years ago on the late Jay Guin’s blog, we discussed, at my request, the expected role of the preacher from the view of various groups vs what the preacher expects to be doing vs what elders expect the preacher to be doing vs what the preacher actually does.

      Unrealistic expectations leading to a recipe for disaster.

    2. The apostles weren’t involved in missions because of Acts 8? So you have one instance where they stayed and a bunch of other instances where they lived out the verb to apostle (to be sent out) and you want to say they didn’t because one time they stayed?

      I assume you know the missionary history of Peter, Paul, Barnabas, James, John, etc

      Andrew took the gospel as a missionary to Asia/Russia.

      Thomas took the gospel as a missionary to Syria.

      Philip to North Africa and Asia Minor.

      Matthew to Persia.

      Bartholomew to India and Arabia.

      You get the idea…I don’t see how on earth you can make the leap to saying “the apostles were, as a group, not really involved in missions.” because you have Acts 8. Very strange statement, imo. Unless you mean they didn’t all go out together all the time…but that is immaterial to my point.

    3. Of course I get the idea – Peter and John went to Samaria – and back to Jerusalem.
      Peter went to Joppa – and back to Jerusalem. We do not know where he was when he wrote his letters.
      Paul never really spent much time in Jerusalem. Barnabas mostly went where Paul went.

      And Matt, those are the only ones we KNOW of! The rest is traditional conjecture. Barclay’s book, “The Masters’ Men” gives a nice collection of traditional destinations.

      So, my Acts 8 stands pretty solid.

      Unless we have been understanding the roles of apostles wrong for the past 19 centuries, the description in Acts 1 would still stand?

      Not only that, but the statement about prophets and apostles being the foundation, with Christ as cornerstone is still problematic with the idea of continued apostleship.

      Are you looking at renewing the role of apostles with the same kind of authority as Peter etc.? Or are you just looking at a ‘title renewal?’

      Who will these people be? What will be their job? Are they accountable to anyone, or is everyone accountable to them?

      I have no problem with rethinking things. Been doing that as long as I have been in the U.S., for that matter.

      BTW, I thought Thomas went to India? 😉

    4. There is no issue with continuation of the roles past the first century with Christ being the cornerstone. Help me understand that.

      To be clear I am not saying there are BIG A apostles – as in the 12…I am saying there are Barnabas and Junia type “little a” apostles.

      Those people existed after Jesus ascended to the Father and yet somehow no one concluded that this interfered with Jesus being the cornerstone. So I don’t think what you are saying holds up.

      To answer your question – I am not looking for titles – I am looking at roles that we have completely and unnecessarily rejected that have hindered us for rejecting what God established.

      And to say that the apostles (sent ones) didn’t actually go anywhere on mission is highly problematic, again, especially to base that on the one verse that says they stayed behind.

      We will probably have to agree to disagree on this.

  4. Nice piece. Good thoughts. I hope this comment doesn’t ramble too much.

    I think one of the reasons we saw the prevalence of gift inventories was that it became a magic bullet for solving the church’s problems. If we could just make sure people know what their gift is, they’ll magically start serving more in the right ministry area and the church will just grow. But we didn’t know how to nurture gifts once we inventoried them, and too often, we didn’t have a formal ministry for a particular gift, so we didn’t know what to do with someone who turned out to have the gift of hospitality, for example.

    Then in the midst of all that, at least in my experience, we tied ourselves in knots trying to distinguish between a true gift of the spirit vs. a talent you may have had before you became a Christian or a skill you developed through study and practice. If you were already a public speaker before you became a Christian, then that is a skill or talent, not a gift.

    At the end of the day, we worried more about having the right list of gifts and making sure people knew where they fit into that list than we did about nurturing those gifts within the Spirit’s movement.

    Here’s an interesting thing to me about Ephesians 4. Why doesn’t Paul list deacons in that group of people that Christ has given to the church? Surely Paul knows about deacons. He gave Timothy a whole list of qualifications for deacons. If they are important enough to have a list of qualifications, why are they not included here? And where are the lists of qualifications for those other people? Don’t we have to make sure the right people are filling those functions? Maybe we are too rigid in our thought about what roles we need to have to be a scriptural congregation and who can fill those roles.

    We focus too much on an office or a title, and who can hold that officer or title, to the exclusion of the purpose. The whole congregation is to be equipped for works of service. The mature ones need to be teaching and guiding the younger ones into service. that’s how faith gets passed down from generation to generation, and that’s how congregations are sustained through the work of the Spirit. If we are not nurturing the work of the Spirit, then we are ignoring the Spirit, at best, or we are stifling the Spirit, at worst. That is not a place I want to be.

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