Unused Gifts

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1 Corinthians 12:4-11

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues,[a] and to still another the interpretation of tongues.[b] 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

It was about 11 years ago, when a man went with his church to a Promise Keepers conference.  The truth was that this man had grown up in the church, he had gone through discipleship training, and at one time had a spirit that was thirsty for the Lord.  He had read his bible cover to cover, many times.  He had wisdom and knowledge of the scriptures.  Life, however, would distract him.  His fervor for service would diminish.  He toiled and labored to provide for his family, so much so that it was hard to give up that one day during the week that he didn’t have to get up for work.  Most days, he would… the family would head over to church and he and his wife would discuss the message on the way home.

He was too tired at the end of a long shift to sit through family devotions, or read the scriptures with his wife.  He trusted her with the spiritual leadership of his children, the managing of the home, etc.  This trip to Promise Keepers was just what he needed to open his eyes.  The message directed at the men convicted his heart, he recognized that he had become a lukewarm Christian.  An ember began to burn that called him to service in his church.  He was renewed in spirit.

On the bus ride home, the Pastor asked some questions of the men from the church.  The man stood up and announced “I was a lukewarm Christian, I was wrong, I don’t want to do it anymore… where can I serve????”

A few men shouted, “AMEN!”… there were some high fives as he moved toward the Pastor.  The Pastor put his hand on the man’s shoulder, smiling… and said “No brother, how can we serve you?”

The Pastor’s intentions were good, but because he didn’t take the time to get to know the man and what he had to offer, he dismissed the man’s offer.  The man was crushed, he wanted to serve, use his talents, but he was denied.  He returned to his seat, but the high fives on the return trip suddenly felt empty. 

When he returned home, it would take him several days before he could even bring himself to share what happened with his wife.  She could see how hurt he was.  He had a lot to offer, but he wasn’t going to be given the chance.  He wanted to serve, but he was turned down.  In the days following the trip, and the weeks even further out, not a Pastor or Elder would reach out to him.    They were not even going to follow up on their offer to serve him!  Time passed, and the ember went out. 

It’s been 11 years, and to this date … the man has never offered his gifts again.  The church missed out on an amazing opportunity, and frankly so did the man. 

I understand how he feels.  There have been plenty of times in my life where I felt like I was being over looked for the gifts and talents I had to offer.   In some cases, I was overlooked completely for a task that I was more than qualified for.  In other cases, I was given something totally outside my of my gifts because it was just naturally assumed I would be good at is… simply because I am a woman.  When a person is overlooked or rejected enough times, they will stop offering.  If you only offer them the tasks that you assume they are good at (without ever talking to them about it), resentment and frustration can build.

This happens in the church quite a bit, the man’s story is not unique.  God has given us all gifts to be used for His glory, but that’s the key… we need to use them.  We want to use them in the church, but if the church isn’t willing to recognize them or utilize them, one of two things will happen:

  1.  We stop offering our gifts.
  2. We take our gifts elsewhere.

I took an informal poll of some ministry leaders, the question was:  Do you have your volunteers (or church) take a spiritual gifts test, regularly?

I was surprised by the few who answered, YES.

If we look back to the story I shared (which is true, by the way)…. it could have gone a lot different.

The Pastor put his hand on the man’s shoulder, smiling… and said “Brother, that’s great! Call me this week and we’ll talk about where you could serve.”

or

The Pastor put his hand on the man’s shoulder, smiling… and said “Brother, we’d be happy to have you serving with us.  Stop by my office this week, I’ll have spiritual gifts test waiting for you.  Fill it out, and let’s set a date to have lunch.”

or

The Pastor put his hand on the man’s shoulder, smiling… and said “Brother, that is so exciting.  Do you know where you’d like to serve?”

In all three examples, it would have given the man the opportunity to meet with the Pastor, to share his background and experience, and provided the groundwork for identifying his spiritual gifts in order to determine the best place for him to serve within the church.  It acknowledged him, without rejecting him.  It created a plan of action that was immediate.

This is something that we must be careful of, with the members of our church.  We can’t make assumptions about what they are good at, or their knowledge, the time they have available, or what we think their gifts are.  We also can’t ignore the fact that every person in the church has a gift.  We need to make the effort to get to know the people, find out what their gifts are, and plug them into the places they can use them.

Our gifts are more than the choir, parking team, nursery, greeter, and info desk volunteers.

Women by nature are not all gifted for VBS and Sunday School, because they are women.

Men are not by nature all gifted for landscaping and construction, because they are men.

I wonder, when we talk about women leaving the church, as well as the younger generations, how much of it comes from a lack of not feeling utilized by the church?  If you don’t feel wanted or needed, why stay?

What if…….

  • all new members classes included a spiritual gifts test?
  • fall small groups started off with group leaders handing out spiritual gifts tests?
  • instead of saying to the whole church we need these few volunteer spots filled… we looked at their tests and placed everyone … somewhere.

I think we know that realistically, not everyone will turn in their test.  Nor, can we expect that everyone is going to be available to volunteer.  People do have jobs, kids, and even other volunteer commitments.  However, by starting the process of identifying their gift we can engage their minds.  They will begin thinking about if, when, and how they could be used in the church.  We can guide them toward ministries that are seeking volunteers, or even come up with something for people to do in their gift range while they wait for something to become available.

If we engage people’s gifts into the service of the church, on a regular basis, they become invested & connected members of the body.  They will feel wanted, valued, connected, important, and feel they have a purpose for being in this body of believers.

An unopened gift can never be fully appreciated.

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