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Spiritual Gifts: They Do The Body Good

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.– 1 Corinthians 12:4-6

It may seem counter-intuitive, but I have found stepping into visible leadership roles to be a deeply humbling experience. In a culture that often expects our leaders to know everything and often blames them for anything that goes wrong, being put in the position to actually practice public leadership can be terrifying! As a leader, the contrast between who I am and who I would like to be is brought into sharp relief. I come face to face with my own inadequacy, all the ways that I am weak, ignorant and unfit to lead. It may be that I seem confident to others, but on the inside I wrestle with the fact that I do not have all the gifts that my community needs.

Then again, who does? It has been my experience that God offers each community the gifts we need to be whole, healthy and a blessing to the world. Our giftedness – whether in compassionate care for others, inspired preaching, practical helps, administration, evangelism or work for social justice – are distributed throughout our community gathered in Jesus. Does any one of us have all the gifts necessary for a vibrant, fruitful community? If we did, would we even need community?

The role of authentic, affirming leadership is to encourage, strengthen and empower the gifts of each individual, so that together we can become one living organism, growing to full maturity in the Holy Spirit. Rather than looking to an individual or group of leaders to provide everything we need, we must instead look within and discover what gifts God has given each one of us. How we are called to use these gifts to build up the body of Christ, the communities where we find Jesus alive and at work?

As we look to the health of this body, there are two very real obstacles that we confront: One is our potential for individual pride. We can become so enamored with our own gifts that we fail to realize how partial and contingent we are, how much we rely on our sisters and brothers to shore up our weakness and make us whole. If we elevate one person’s spiritual gifts – or one type of spiritual gifts – above others, we mutilate the body. After all, if the body were only an eye, where would the hearing be? If we had only an ear, where would the sense of smell be?

Another obstacle is our false sense of humility: We may downplay our own gifts and expect other, more extraordinary, people to carry the weight of the community. While this kind of false modesty can seem very “spiritual” at first glance, it is actually part and parcel of the same mutilating dynamic that elevates some gifts over others. None of us benefit if part of our community is withholding its gifts. As long as we defer to the limited perspective of only certain individuals and gifts, we cannot become fully whole.

If we are to embrace the full array of spiritual gifts that God has granted us as a community, we probably need to develop a better awareness of what our gifts actually are. How can we as communities in Jesus become more intentional about discovering the giftedness of each person? How can we raise awareness of how each of us fits together into one living organism – one body with many parts?