When Peter, Susan, and Lucy are running for their lives in Narnia – the White Witch fast behind them as her spell on the land weakens – they are surprised by a visit from Father Christmas. Narnia has experienced a long winter with no Christmas and they are delighted by his arrival and by the bag of gifts he bears. As Father Christmas disperses the gifts, he informs the children, “These are your presents, and they are tools not toys.”
As leaders, we would be well reminded that spiritual gifts are an unusual kind of gift – tools for use in extending the kingdom of God, not toys we implement for our own merriment, our own success, or our own satisfaction.
Along with personality, talents, education and experience, spiritual gifts are a significant aspect of the core of strengths that can be developed and which support meaningful actions and behaviors in the leader’s life – actions that produce fruit.
For some, listing spiritual gifts alongside such mundane matters as personality, education and the like might seem out of place. But I consider it just like God to equip leaders with an assortment of natural and supernatural strengths.
To make the most of the gift(s) given to you, consider five reminders.
- These are not “your” gifts
When my wife gave me an equatorial refracting telescope for my birthday last year, she put no conditions on the gift. I can use it for observing the rings of Saturn, or I can leave it collecting dust in our living room, or I can sell it on e-bay. It was gifted to me and I now own it outright. This is NOT the case with spiritual gifts. When God endows each believer with a portion of his power, He does so because He wants to do something in the world through us, not because He wants us to “have” something nice. As leaders, we have to respect the gift(s) given by the Giver as more like tools or weapons lent to those of us who partner with Him.
- God can go off-list when gifting
I have a friend back east who is planning a summer wedding. She and her fiancé have registered for gifts at some nice places. That’s smart – now I don’t have to dream up something I think the happy couple would like or need. Instead, I can just pick something from the list and have it shipped. In fact, it would be kind of rude of me to send them a lawn troll dressed like Elvis if that weren’t on their list. When it comes to weddings and kids at Christmas, it’s best not to go off-list when gifting.
But God is not bound to a list – not even lists in His Word. There are several scriptural passages that list and describe spiritual gifts (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4 to name a few), but most biblical scholars and church leaders don’t consider these lists to be exhaustive or restrictive (though they are likely normative). As Christian leaders, we need to remember that God gifts according to His will, for the needs that exist, and in whatever ways He wishes.
- The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away
I know, this passage has nothing to do with gifts, but it can still serve as a good reminder that God’s gifts to us do not necessarily reside with us forever, or even for a very long time. If God wants to heal someone, He might endow you with the gift to provide healing for only that one episode. If God wants a crowd to come to faith, he might give you a supernatural ability to preach the gospel on that occasion only. Or, God can choose to endow you with a Holy Spirit gift for a much longer season. It’s up to God.
This reality keeps us freshly connected to God, eager to sense what needs are in front of us and tuned in to how God is equipping us to meet those needs. For no group is this reminder more important than for leaders. After all, leaders are those who usher others into a new context, helping followers cross the threshold from one reality to a new one. Since leadership is inherently fluid and adapting, doesn’t it make sense that God would give us what is needed for this day?
- Assessments are silly when it comes to spiritual gifts
I happen to be a big fan of assessments. I even teach a class on how to use assessments, inventories, and tools in coaching. These kinds of instruments are great for adding to your awareness when it comes to personality, satisfaction, intelligence, and even values. But I see practically zero value in assessments for spiritual gifts.
If you want to know how God has gifted you in the past, look around and see what kinds of kingdom-oriented results are being produced by your life and what you’ve done to help produce those results. If God has gifted you to teach, it stands to reason that your teaching ministry will have born much fruit. But be careful not to get too attached to gift(s) that have produced results – after all, God may choose to gift you differently according to his plans.
- You can develop yourself to better use a gift
Gifts are tools, not toys. And like tools, gifts can be honed, well maintained and skillfully used. When a leader is gifted to preach, that leader would do well to complement the gift with some training in order to make the most of the gift. If a pastor were gifted with mercy (or helps), it would be smart for the pastor to strive to understand the needs of a community and how the sick and poor are best served. Such development does not mean that we can produce, deserve, or improve upon the gift. It does mean we can make the most of the gift. When a spiritual gift is entrusted to a follower of Christ who has a willing heart, a committed character, and a kingdom-minded attitude, the tool gets well used for great results.
Take a moment to think about the ways God has gifted you. Consider these questions:
- What fruit has been born as a result of the gifts God has entrusted to you?
- What need do you see now and what gift would meet the need?
- Who (you or someone else) has the gift to meet the need that you face?
- How can you make the most of the gift(s) God has entrusted you with right now?