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How To Discover Your Spiritual Gifts

ShapedEvery believer in Jesus has been granted abilities that are empowered by the Holy Spirit. We are all born with various talents, but spiritual gifts are given to us when we become a Christian. The seeds of those gifts are often evident from birth, but the Holy Spirit empowers believers for ministry in supernatural ways.

In one sense, spiritual gifts are overrated. What I mean is that we often fail to examine the other aspects of how God has shaped us for His purposes. He has also given us passions, talents, a unique personality, and both positive and negative experiences from which to draw. In another sense, spiritual gifts are underrated in the sense that we allow our feelings of personal inadequacy to convince us that we couldn’t possibly be “gifted” even though the Scriptures explicitly state that we are.

Spiritual gifts are by no means a simple subject. There are plenty of beliefs and opinions about the subject. Cessationists believe that certain “sign gifts” (such as speaking in tongues) were for a season of the early church only, and now have ceased. Continuationists believe that all of the gifts named in the Bible continue today. Then there are different evaluations of the various “lists” of gifts named in Scripture.

Romans 12:6-8 1 Corinthians 12:29-30 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 Ephesians 4 1 Corinthians 12:28
prophecy  apostles  word of wisdom  apostles  apostles 
ministry  prophecy  word of knowledge  prophets  prophets 
teaching  teaching  faith  evangelists  teachers 
exhortation  miracles  healing  pastor-teacher  miracles 
giving  healing  miracles  healings 
ruling  tongues  prophecy  helping 
showing mercy  interpreting tongues  discerning of spirits  governing 
kinds of tongues  diverse tongues 
interpreting tongues 

Let me point out an important word of clarification about the above lists. I’ve included all of them for the sake of being thorough, but some of the “gifts,” such as apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher are actually gifted people given to the church, not gifts given to people.

Furthermore, one reason why cessationists and continuationists can’t get along is because we feel we have to number the lists and define an exact set of gifts by those named in Scripture. But in the passages mentioned, it doesn’t seem to me that the Apostle Paul was trying to nail down an exhaustive list but rather was offering up examples of gifts. In other words, there could certainly be other gifts not included in the New Testament verbiage.

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Why I Don’t Care for Spiritual Gifts Tests

Call them tests, surveys, or assessments. I’m not font of most of the existing diagnostic tools available to help people determine their gifts. I have several reasons why…

  • Spiritual gifts tests will always be written according to the particular viewpoint of the test creator, using the lists of gifts defined in the author’s mind as definitive.
  • Explanations and definitions of gifts vary from one test to the next.
  • Questions written for gift tests are written against the backdrop of the modern church context and current ministry trends, which change from age to age.
  • We tend to take tests according to what we’re thinking and feeling at the moment. I’ve taken a dozen of these tests over the years and the results change each time, depending on what I’m passionate about.
  • We tend to want perfect knowledge about perfect gifts described in God’s perfect word by submitting to rather imperfect, man-made assessments.
  • And the biggest reason of all… spiritual gifts alone present an incomplete picture of the particular ministry ability God has given to a beleiver.

Is there a better way? How can you discover your spiritual gifts and put them into action? How in the world did any believer ever serve God before the first spiritual gifts test was produced a few decades ago?

Study the Scripture

Dig into the passages mentioned above and read the contexts of the gifts named so that you’ll understand the purpose and scope of spiritual gifts. Also study how gifted people served. You’ll probably notice that most of the apostolic-era believers jumped in and started ministering without much mention of any process of discovering their gifts beforehand.

Look at the Bigger Picture – Your God-given SHAPE

The SHAPE acronym has been around for a while now, and I think it’s a highly valuable piece of evangelicalism. SHAPE is an acronym that summarizes five aspects of how God has wired us to serve. It stands for:

  • S – Spiritual Gifts.
  • H – Heart, which refers to our God-given passions and interests.
  • A – Abilities, which can often include non-spiritual, natural gifts.
  • P – Personality – the unique ways we think and relate to the world around us.
  • E – Experiences, both positive and negative, that provide us a context from which to empathize with and minister to others.

If you look at spiritual gifts alone, you’ll probably conclude that only those with the gift of teaching should be teaching the Bible to anyone. But when you look at the bigger picture, you’ll realize that someone with the gift of mercy can certainly teach others, from their personal experience, how to be more merciful.

In other words, gifts alone don’t determine what we can do for God in a fulfilling way.

Talk to Wise Believers

Often the best way to determine how we are shaped to serve is to ask other believers who have had an opportunity to observe our lives and who can usually affirm things about us that we may not realize ourselves. I also think we serve best alongside others in a mutually-sharpening, discipling relationship.

Before I joined the staff of Saddleback Church, I went through a “theological interview” with Erik Rees, author of S.H.A.P.E.: Finding and Fulfilling Your Unique Purpose for Life. In fifteen minutes, Erik was able to spot tendencies in my own heart and make accurate predictions about how I would feel in my ministry role six months later. He was right, and it was a positive learning experience.

Answer the Big “What If” Question

If you could do anything for God knowing that resources wouldn’t be a problem and with a guaranteed of success, what would it be? Usually how we answer that question can propel us in the right direction. Don’t stress about what your gift is, jump into something that appeals to you.

Jump In and Get Your Feet Wet

In other words, begin serving. Many churches make it difficult to get out of a particular ministry role once we’re in it, which unfortunately usually leads to burnout, frustration, and confusion. We should be able to serve in a variety of areas on a short term basis until we discover that place that really fits with who we are. And we’ll grow through this process of “trial and error” as we understand ourselves better.

Perhaps this is the crux of the issue. God has shaped you for significance and service. So launch out today, get started, and be flexible along the way allowing God to tweak your plans until you find that sweet, satisfying, kingdom-expanding and Christ-exalting niche for which you are divinely wired.

Graphic by Marian Trinidad via CreationSwap

Planting a Church? Plant a Teaching Hospital

Teaching HospitalThat phrase – “teaching hospital” – jumped out at me during a recent conversation with Geoff Surratt, Pastor of Church Planting at Saddleback Church. As we discussed the vision of Grace Hills Church over lunch, Geoff helped me put words to the burden I kept feeling to plant more than a church – to plant a multiplying movement of reproducing churches.

I believe in church planting. I believe that the local church is supposed to multiply itself, birthing daughter churches, and that this is not only biblically mandated, but a highly practical way to expand the kingdom of God in our culture. America has seen well over 1,000 new megachurches spring up the last decade, and our actual transforming impact upon America is often difficult to spot. We need more churches. Why?

  • People are going to hell without Jesus, and the percentage of our population without a relationship with Christ is on the increase.
  • Many existing churches are dying, and birthing new babies is usually easier than raising the dead.
  • God has ordained the local church as His primary vehicle of spiritual and social change in the world.
  • New churches reach more people, faster. It takes 89 members of an established church (10 years or older) to baptize one new believer in a year. It takes only three members of a new church (5 years or younger) to do the same.
  • The glory of God has yet to be extended to every people group, and almost no community in America can accurately be described as reached.
  • God is calling church planters, and blessing church planting. We need to go where God is working.

God didn’t save me so that I could be saved and go straight to heaven. He wants me to reproduce by telling others about Jesus and making disciples. Churches need to do the same. God has promised that “the gates of hell will not prevail against the church” but this great promise wasn’t intended to apply to every single local church or else the seven churches of Asia would still be thriving today. But because churches have life cycles (like people, organizations, and everything else on planet earth), we need more than a single church plant and more than a temporary church planting movement. We need a continuous flow of new churches coming into the world if we will ever catch up with the population and culture around us.

So instead of planting a church, we’re planting a teaching hospital called Grace Hills Church. It will be a laboratory where leaders will learn what works and what doesn’t in leadership. And it will be a launching pad for other teaching hospitals throughout our region. How will that look? To some degree, time will tell. But here are some things we’re pretty intent on seeing…

A Teaching Hospital Is An Atmosphere for Learning

Learning requires listening, experimenting, researching, collaboration, trial and error. Learning requires that we don’t know it all. Whenever a church “masters” its methodology and begins to teach others, it runs the risk of failing to continue to grow and adapt. We want to remain fluid and flexible so that we can be learning continually.

A Teaching Hospital Is Patient With Beginners

We aren’t going to wait until people look “churchy” to re-invest people into the mission of God in the world. Instead we will be patient, realizing that everyone is at a different place of growth, but all are called to serve. Teaching hospitals have to have some experts, but if they only recruit experts, they’re already in danger of extinction.

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A Teaching Hospital Allows Hands-on, In-the-trenches Practice

I’ve been in hospital rooms enough to hear patients answer this question: Would you be open to students being involved in your surgical procedure? Most people answer “yes” but if you allow it, the question can really bother you. A student? Giving me an IV? Taking a knife to me? But the Scriptures are clear that you don’t become an expert by hearing but by doing.

As we recruit interns, staff members, and volunteer leaders, we will seek to empower and free those individuals to make decisions and serve hands-on.

A Teaching Hospital Never Loses Sight of the Primary Goal – Healing People

Though we are adamant that we will be a reproducing church, we will keep the emphasis on life transformation. If we aren’t seeing lives changed, we don’t really want to reproduce ourselves. In other words, in a teaching hospital, patient care can’t be compromised under the guise of an educational opportunity. While we teach, while we mentor, and while we reproduce ourselves, the bigger goal remains to see lives transformed and disciples produced. If we’re healthy, reproduction shouldn’t be a problem.

I’m not an expert on church planting, but I plan on becoming one. Not doing so isn’t an option. The vision of filling northwest Arkansas with the glory of God and extending the gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth is far too compelling to allow us to settle.

Every church should be involved in a movement of church multiplication. Every church needs to be a teaching hospital for the sake of the healing of the nations. Get involved. Not sure where to start? Why not right here, right now?

7 Promises We Should Make (and Keep) to Volunteers

SHAPE by Erik ReesWe pastors often struggle to ask people to give their time and talent to Jesus. Perhaps we’ve been rejected before and don’t like to hear someone say “no.” Perhaps we don’t like volunteering ourselves and we transfer our own rebellious attitudes to others. Or perhaps we know, when we make “the big ask,” that we’re going to exhaust another servant. If the latter is true, we need to change our volunteer culture.

Creating an environment in which people will gladly and readily give their time and talent to the kingdom involves making the right promises, and of course even more important, keeping our promises.

If you come from a denominational tradition similar to mine, you’ve experienced the church-by-committee syndrome where we somehow wind up with more committees than the church has members, yet they’re all full because every member serves on multiple committees. Baptists have found a good way around the issue of finding volunteers. We nominate people during public meetings when they will either be too embarrassed to say “no” or not present at all, in which case they’re helplessly drafted into a role for which God never gifted them.

Thankfully, we’re learning and the culture of volunteerism is improving in many churches. If we’re going to keep improving that culture, we need to set the tone and decide what our volunteers will definitely be able to count on. For example…

Your Time Will Mean Something

If you volunteer here, your time will be invested, not wasted. At the end of the day, you’ll know you met a significant need and that if it weren’t for your sacrifice, that need would have gone unmet. We won’t tie you up recording minutes for a pointless meeting. Instead, we’ll actually have you serving someone.

Your Family Will Come First

We won’t have you at the church more nights of the week than you’re at home, and your spouse won’t think you’ve left them for the church. This is especially needful in the case of a volunteer with a spouse who isn’t a believer. Having volunteers with strong families is better for the church’s growth than having volunteers whose homes are stressed because of us.

You’ll Be Free to Lead

You will be able to make decisions. We’re here to help guide you in the right direction, but you won’t have to complete any forms in triplicate and have the entire church body vote to buy a chalkboard for your classroom. And, you’ll be free to lead people around you, always mentoring the next generation of volunteers.

You’ll Be Encouraged to Rest

If you need a break, we won’t treat you as though you’ve gone AWOL. We’ll understand that everyone needs rest to be effective long term. We will ask you to serve for a set length of time and then offer you a chance to take a break.

We’ll Help You Serve According to Your Shape

God has granted all of us spiritual gifts, a heart, abilities, passions, and experiences, and we’re here to help you discover your shape and find the best spot in the kingdom to serve. We’ll even let you move around and try different things until you find the spot for which God has uniquely equipped you.

We Will Celebrate Your Accomplishments

Heaven throws a party when someone gets saved, so we will join that party and recognize every contribution you make to expanding heaven’s population. That doesn’t mean we’ll hand out buttons and pins. It just means that we will always acknowledge and appreciate your time, realizing how valuable it is.

We Will Always See You As the Hero

There is no such thing as someone being “just a volunteer.” Instead, volunteers are the heroes. We who are on staff are on staff because of our passion for ministry, but we’re also compensated for the time we spend leading. What we really celebrate the most is the contribution of someone who expects no compensation (here on earth anyway).

Can you make these promises to volunteers within your church? Or are there structural changes you need to make in order to value volunteers appropriately? And the more important question is, can you keep these promises?

This post originally appeared on and is re-printed here with permission.

When God Makes a Man

Fathers and MothersToday is Father’s Day, and it’s a day when I get to relish in the wonderful gifts God has given to me in the form of my daughter Ella and my son Sam. Ella is one of the smartest people on the planet and she’s only eight. Sam can dance like nobody’s business and has a great belly laugh to boot. I’m proud of them!

I’m also celebrating an awesome heavenly Father. My wife makes it pretty easy to be a Dad and together we’re hoping to prepare our kids to live godly and successful adult lives. But nobody can prepare a person for maturity the way God can.

Men are all different colors and personalities. It’s what’s on the inside that really matters, and God makes all the difference on the inside of a man. Ephesians 2:10 tells us that believers are God’s masterpiece of re-creation. The world produces men of pride and arrogance or cowardice and fear, but God produces something else.

God makes men from the inside out to be different from what they used to be without Him, but He ultimately allows us to decide to become all that He intends. As Paul says to Timothy, “God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7 NLT)


God Makes Men Fearless!

If you’re afraid of the dark, crowds, heights, roller coasters, or thunderstorms, that’s okay. We’re talking about spiritual intimidation. The world produces spiritual cowards, but God makes tough, fearless men who aren’t afraid to get right with Him!

God Makes Men Powerful

The world promotes the “power over people” pathway to success, but God promotes a “power under proper authority” model of success. We have a dynamic power at our disposal when we allow God to be Lord over us.

God Makes Men Loving

Just as we are not fearless or powerful on our own, so we are not naturally loving either. Yet Paul commanded husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church. And he uses that amazing word “agape!” God has the power to help you to show your love and to have a genuine compassion and concern for the people around you.

God Makes Men Wise

Godly men don’t make decisions based on emotions alone, nor on circumstances, and certainly not on fanciful and fleeting dreams or visions. Rather, godly men collect wisdom from God, think level-headedly, and make decisions in the will of God because of an adherence to the truth of God!

Are you a godly man? Have you ever submitted yourself to the Potter’s hands to be molded into the kind of man God intended you to be? He wants to begin with whatever raw material you’ll offer Him and take you to maturity. I dare you to let Him!

Graphic by Mark Alvis at CreationSwap

Small Groups With Purpose: How to Create Healthy Communities

Small Groups With Purpose: How To Create Healthy CommunitiesThere are, in every industry, certain books that serve as cornerstones – manuals of the trade, if you will. If you want to fix a car, you buy a Chilton’s Guide. If you’re working in any psychology-related field, you need a DSM-IV manual. And if you’re in small group ministry, ministry leadership, or you simply want your own small group to thrive, you need to have the new industry standard manual, Small Groups with Purpose: How to Create Healthy Communities.

Steve Gladen, Pastor of Small Groups and Spiritual Maturity at Saddleback Church since 1998, has just released the very book I’ve been hoping for. He addresses the biblical foundations of community, group life, discipleship, and how small groups relate to the larger church context. According to Gladen, “A healthy small group is a community of people who challenge each other to become all that God destined them to become.” That is certainly the goal, but as Steve points out, “unless you know what the target is, you can’t hit it.”

But this book doesn’t stop with the foundation, Steve continues onward to help any church leader build an entire small group ministry. He presents the spiritual growth assessment tools and paradigm graphics that have shaped Saddleback’s small group ministry to number well over 4,500 groups and 30,000 people. He covers the five purposes and demonstrates how each can be woven into the fabric of small group life.

Good books answer good questions, anticipating the needs of the reader in advance. Steve devotes the latter part of his book to doing just that. Should you use Sunday School or small groups? How can you recruit more group hosts? What do you do with kids? How do you practice the purpose of worship in the setting of a small group? These are the kinds of questions I’ve asked repeatedly and answers are sometimes tough to find. Steve Gladen provides them and answers many more pertinent questions as well.

Small Groups with Purpose is written by the industry’s thought leader on the subject, but it’s written for leaders at every level. I would put in at the top of my list of “must have” resources for beginning group leaders, Pastors, and everyone in between who is or hopes to be involved in small group ministry. Now that it’s on the market, it’s indispensable. Get it. Read it. Mark it up, and apply it so that you can begin creating healthy communities today!

Grab a Copy