From the Enneagram to what-character-are-you quizzes on social media, many people desire to understand themselves and the roles they play in their communities. Yet, as fascinated as people are with knowing their inner workings, many pastors are concerned church members feel indifferent about using their spiritual gifts to serve others.
A recent study from Lifeway Research revealed people’s apathy and lack of commitment to the church is one of the greatest needs pastors say they need to address. Can we chalk this apathy up to a simple “meh” attitude about serving? Or is it an issue of Christians misunderstanding spiritual gifts and how to employ them in the church and community?
Daniel Darling, author of a new Bible study, “Spiritual Gifts: What They Are and How to Use Them,” sees a right understanding of spiritual gifts as a key to helping Christians unlock a passion to serve the church and live on mission.
See Q&A with Darling below on why spiritual gifts garner such fascination and misunderstanding within the church.
Q: Why is it important to understand a theology of spiritual gifts as we seek to discover and lean into our specific giftedness?
Darling: Understanding spiritual gifts, at the most basic level, is about discovering where and how God wants us to take up our crosses and follow Him in obedience. God calls every believer to participate in His kingdom activity as expressed through a local body of believers. The more we understand how God made us, the more we can serve Him and our fellow believers.
When we understand how spiritual gifts work, we can also recognize and appreciate the gifts of others. The Bible describes Christians like a body or a building in that God has gifted believers for diverse callings. Sometimes, our quarrels and fights in church life stem from our inability to understand how God has called people to serve the Kingdom in ways different than our own calling.
While we often exercise our spiritual gifts on Sundays, that’s not the extent of our service. To live in step with the Spirit is to live each day in obedience to Christ.
Q: Many Christians desire to know and understand their spiritual gifts. But that’s just one piece of the puzzle, isn’t it? What’s the value of looking outside ourselves to recognize the giftedness of others?
Darling: This is one of the most overlooked aspects of spiritual gifts. We often exclusively see them as a way of understanding our own callings — and it’s important we do that. But we should remember Scripture teaches spiritual gifts are given to a body and to a people.
One of the best ways for us to see our own gifts is to get plugged into a church community. And, in the process of serving, others can recognize our gifts and encourage us to exercise them. In the same way, we should be eager to point out others’ spiritual gifts so they can use them.
God often leads and directs us through the patient and loving encouragement of our fellow believers. Think of Paul telling young Timothy to not “neglect the gift that is in you” (1 Timothy 4:14, CSB). Or think of the writer of Hebrews reminding us to “consider one another in order to provoke love and good works” (Hebrews 10:25, CSB).
Understanding the theology of spiritual gifts also helps us escape the temptation to see Christianity as a merely individualistic faith — about me and my needs and happiness. It allows us to see ourselves as members of both a local body and a worldwide communion of saints.
It allows us to resist two false ideas:
1) I am not needed in the kingdom of God, and 2) the entire work of God rests solely on my shoulders. Neither statement is true, and every church needs people with a multitude of gifts. When a body of believers faithfully submits to Christ’s calling, there’s a beautiful harmony of people using their gifts side by side for the sake of the gospel.
Q: What are some common misconceptions about spiritual gifts?
Darling: There are quite a few. First, we sometimes value certain gifts over others. In the study, I distinguish between what I call speaking gifts and serving gifts.
Speaking gifts are more public, and serving gifts are more behind the scenes. We too often value speaking and stage gifts at the expense of undervaluing serving gifts. But both kinds of gifts are valuable and needed in the body of Christ. Another misconception is that a Christian can’t have more than one spiritual gift. Most people are a mix of gifts.
There’s the misconception that if we aren’t spiritually gifted in one area, we don’t have to be obedient in that. For instance, all believers are called to evangelize, but some are supernaturally gifted in evangelism. That doesn’t absolve all of us from evangelism. Or take the gift of encouragement. Some Christians are gifted encouragers, like Barnabas. That doesn’t let the rest of us off the hook when it comes to lifting up our brothers and sisters.
Lastly, some feel the Spirit’s assigning of spiritual gifts is fixed, but I don’t see that the Bible teaches that. God may gift us in one way in one season of our lives and another way in another season. I think of a young pastor who can teach and lead in his younger years. But in his older years, this same pastor may be gifted with the ability to encourage and exhort younger generations.
EDITOR’S NOTE — This story was originally written by Aaron Wilson and published by Lifeway Research. Dan Darling is an author and the director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.