Saturday, December 23, 2006

Opening Your Spiritual Gifts (Day 21)

Ready. Fire. Aim.

After the first of the year, I’ll be providing members of Friendship Church, the congregation I serve as pastor, and readers of this blog with a Spiritual Gifts Inventory I first created more than seventeen years ago. It’s based on the list of seven gifts Paul enumerates in Romans 12. As I’ve said before in this series, there’s probably no counting all the spiritual gifts God grants to His people. But this inventory may help you to learn some things about yourself and the ministry God wants you to do as part of the Church’s overall mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ.

In the meantime, I urge you not to spend too much time thinking about what your gifts for ministry are. Navel gazing doesn’t result in a lot of ministry in Jesus’ Name.

Instead, just get involved with ministry. If your heart is right and your motivation is to glorify God, you won’t go wrong.

The problem with many Christians is that they’re closet perfectionists, forgetful that they follow a gracious God Who accepts us “just as I am, without one plea.” That’s why Steve Sjogren, author of The Conspiracy of Kindness and other books, tells Christians: “Ready. Fire. Aim.”

Get involved with ministry first, trusting that God will make the best of it and that each experience will take you closer to the ministry that’s right for you. As another pastor, Rick Warren, puts it, “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.” Even the person who does ministry poorly is at least doing something.

I also advise being creative. Do you think that your gift is hospitality? Then, spearhead an effort to throw a party for the people of our community at the church building or a cookout in some cul-de-sac. Do you have an interest in auto mechanics? Then, offer to teach a class on auto maintenance basics that we could share with the community. Or, set a regular time each month when you and others who share your interest offer free oil changes to our neighbors. Have you been dabbling in filmmaking? Offer to lead a group who prepare film clips for use in worship or create a fun documentary we could post on the Internet, promoting Friendship. Are you adept at making friends? Make it a conscious goal to use this gift to invite others to worship with us.

People wonder, “How does a church grow?” Many churches grow to megachurch size these days. But few megachurches really grow. Most of their memberships are composed of people from smaller churches. Reflecting the “what’s-in-it-for-me?” mentality that so pervades our culture, these people migrate to larger congregations with big staffs and big bankrolls, where everything gets done for them.

But how do churches grow God’s way? That’s very simple: They imitate God. The most famous passage in the New Testament is John 3:16, where Jesus says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.” God gave.

And God calls us to give. Not just our time, talents, and treasures, but our whole selves. We’re to give our whole selves to the God Who gave His whole self to us.

When I was in seminary, Pastor Bruce Schein’s teaching style was what I would call the US Marine Corps version of the Socratic method. We had about 200 pages of readings to do before our two weekly class sessions of an hour and fifty minutes. Pastor Schein would do some brief set-up lectures and then, he would begin to ask us questions. His entire method was designed to pull things out of us and to cause us to put things together so that we learned and so that we owned what we learned. It was exhilarating! But only if we spent the time needed to prepare for class. Schein would tell us, “You need to give me your minds and your efforts. If you don’t do that, you won’t grow.”

Immediately following the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the Church, in spite of the constant threat of persecution and martyrdom, enjoyed explosive growth. The reason for this strange phenomenon might be found in several verses in the New Testament: “There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses, sold them and brought them to the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.” (Acts 4:34-35) In another place, we’re told, “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:46-47)

I’m not asking anyone to turn the deed of their house over to the church. I know I’m not planning on doing that. I am saying that the early Church members gave themselves to God’s purposes without stint and with joy.

Churches that really grow don’t do it by picking up members from other congregations and putting out a Hollywood-style product for consumers of religious life. New and everlasting life is God’s gift to all who believe in Jesus Christ. But we only grow as Christians when we give ourselves--including our spiritual gifts--to Christ and the Church. And when Christians grow, the Church grows. Really grows.

Give yourself to God and to the mission of the Church. Ask yourself each day, “How can I use opportunities, talents, and relationships to help the Church grow?” When you truly give yourself in the everyday places of your life and when you help with all the things needed to make the church go, you’ll find your spiritual gifts and your church will be packed out all the time.

You’ll find your spiritual gift and all churches will grow when all Christians adopt the motto of, “Ready. Fire. Aim.”

Bible Passage to Ponder: “On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:11)

[THANKS TO: Alex Jordan of Jordan's View for linking to this series. Check out the other blog articles to which Alex links in his Blips on the Blogosphere 9-Christmas Edition.]

[THANKS ALSO TO: Bruce Armstrong of Ordinary Everyday Christian for linking to this and the posts in this series. Pray for the health of Bruce's mother, too, please. And congratulations to Bruce for reaching a milestone, his two-hundredth post!]


Anonymous said...

Merry Christmas, Mark

Mark Daniels said...

Thank you and merry Christmas to you as well.


Anonymous said...

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to the whole Pastor Mark clan. (And thanks for both your good wishes and your prayers!)