What do you do when everything you have come to believe about the way God works out His purposes in your life no longer seems to apply? What happens when all the things you’ve taught your Bible college students about the way a church should function with regard to the distribution of spiritual gifts now seem contradicted by your present circumstances? That’s precisely my predicament.
For decades, I believed and taught that God’s purposes for our lives generally involve the exercise of the gifts He has given us. Thus, if we’re looking at two possible directions, opportunities, or courses of action, and one seems far more suited to the use of our natural and God-given strengths and abilities, that is probably the course we should follow. Moreover, if we find our circumstances requiring us, routinely, to extend ourselves in areas for which we are simply not equipped by gifting, temperament, aptitude, or interest, then we probably need to stop, rethink our situation, and very likely make a mid-course correction.
Further, with regard to the life and ministry of the church, I had heretofore believed and taught that God expects us to serve in areas compatible with our gifts, and if He intends the church to pursue a new avenue of ministry, He will provide gifted people to be involved in it. Thus, the most efficient, effective, and harmonious way for a church to operate is for members, including leadership personnel, to function in the area of their strengths, gifts, and interests. When a leader demands, or feels obliged, to take on responsibilities outside his or her areas of giftedness, the results are generally mixed at best and disastrous at worst.
In Ephesians 4, Paul addresses this principle in relation to the kinds of leadership gifts which God has ordained in the church for the purpose of preparing and equipping His people for their various roles of service.
11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. (New Living Translation)
Most conservative scholars agree that this passage notes four distinct categories of leadership gifts in the church (in bold print in the above quotation), the term “pastors and teachers” most likely referring to dual dimensions of gifting in the same individual. The role of shepherd (“pastor”) in a church will generally involve a ministry of teaching, which requires appropriate gifting for enablement. That is the role I believe I am called to fill in the church, and I have the necessary gifts to enable my effective and efficient functioning in that role. I am a pastor-teacher.
I have exercised my gifts and fulfilled my calling in a variety of contexts and settings over the years. I have sometimes served as a pastor in a local congregation, but I have also used my gifts in a para-church ministry and as an instructor in a church college. In each situation, it has been clear, both to me and to those who called me to serve in a particular role, that my gifts were commensurate with the scope of the responsibility I was assuming.
In my current situation, however, things are different. The gifts required for church planting are different from those required for pastoral ministry, particularly when the effort to plant a church has to be undertaken completely “from scratch,” with no institutional sponsorship of any kind. And frankly, when it comes to caring for the myriad details associated with a church plant, including trying to convince people that the project is worthwhile and viable in the first place, I am just “in over my head.”
A consistent application of the principles I have believed and taught about God’s guidance and effective ministry would seem to require me to stop, rethink my circumstances, and make a mid-course correction. Except that there seems to be no other course available.
Truth be told, I really don’t believe God is going to require me to abandon the principles I have previously believed and taught. My greatest contribution to the work of establishing St. Patrick’s Anglican Church will be seen farther down the road. I’m not going to try to be something or someone I am not. So, for this work to get done, for this church plant to materialize, God will need to send us people with gifts to match our immediate needs. I don’t have them. Do you?
If you do, and if you want to share them with us, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.