GIFTS & BOXES
I used to think I was a teacher.
As I wrestled with a calling to ministry, I naturally looked for positions where I could Teach and Pastor. Over the years I’ve taken lots of spiritual gifts inventories (and here and here and more info here). My “number one” gift was always Teacher followed by Pastor. I loved the energy and possibility of planted churches and thought maybe I should Pastor a church or plant one.
The existing tradition of established churches sometimes felt like a box to me. Questions nagged at me, “Why are we in this box? Why can’t we break out of this box? Why does no one else see that we are in a box?” I would fluctuate between frustration and pride – frustration that we were content to be held down – prideful that I saw things more clearly than everyone else.
Both of these attitudes were coming from something much deeper that I hadn’t yet been able to identify. Years passed by and I still didn’t know why I felt the way I did. Over the last year or two I discovered a passage of scripture that I knew about, but had never really understood.
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is a the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
(Ephesians 4:11-16 ESV)
Since Teacher and Pastor always showed up on my spiritual gifts inventories, I had no reason to entertain anything else. The neurosurgeon keeps focus on the brain while the cardiothoracic surgeon keeps focus on the heart. There may be some benefit in cross-pollinating, but if I need a surgeon, I would rather that they each keep their noses down focused on their specialty. That’s how I thought about my gifting. Why give attention to gifting that I didn’t have? They are important to the Body, but not to me.
What I couldn’t see was that I was a part of a system that leans heavily toward Shepherds and Teachers. Our churches, church planting networks, missions agencies, and seminaries are training people to lead in and from the legacy church setting. Even the most front-line engagement work being done in legacy church settings didn’t speak my language. It turns out, I’m not a Teacher or Pastor. I’m actually an APE.
WOLVES, DOGS, AND APES
A baby wolf is basically a puppy. For a while, you could even keep a wolf cub in your home like a pet. Sooner or later, this scene will turn from kid’s movie to horror movie and the only one not at fault is the wolf. It is in its nature to do what it does. When it is small, it could be confused for a dog, possibly. But as it grows, the similarities will shrink and its true identity will become more apparent.
In every church there are likely some people who might be categorized as a different species. In fact, we might call them APEs. They see the world and the church a little differently than others. For many pastors and church leaders, these APEs may be frustrated and frustrating. They can often be identified by their discontent about the right things.
There are plenty of people in the church who are discontented troublemakers, but what I’m talking about is frustration that we are not reaching more people, that we are not getting outside of the walls of our churches, that we have lost the missionary heart of our faith. These people often long for something bigger. In the worst-case scenario, these people are treated like nails that have worked themselves out of place on a staircase. Standing out is harmful and they need to be pounded back into place.
APEs are simply one segment of gifts God has given to the church. They are Apostles, Prophets, and Evangelists. We can cage them or we can release them.
In the church at large, we haven’t always done a great job recognizing important differences in the giftings of our people.
When people are misunderstood, they are also usually mistreated. This situation is good soil for dissension and division to emerge. But as we remember the passage above, all five gifts are just that – gifts from God to his Church. Their purpose is equipping the church for the work of ministry, building the Body, attaining unity, and maturing and growing up into Christ. The intended result is hefty and we ought to see in that the importance of understanding and making room for these gifts in the church.
The cornerstone of the church is Jesus Christ. The foundation of the church are the Apostles and Prophets. The Evangelists are the hinge between the Apostles/Prophets and the Shepherd/Teachers. The Shepherd/Teachers are what we know best – and we all know about Evangelists and feel guilty that we aren’t all Evangelists or better Evangelists than we already are. If that rings true for you at all, then you, like me, have lived with an incomplete and unhealthy view of the gifts God has given to his church.
What could happen if we committed to broadening our view of God’s gifts to the church, looking for those gifts, and then doing everything we could to empower them? This is the difference between caging APEs who are already in our churches and releasing them for the good of the church and the expansion of the kingdom.
First published on Change Your Neighborhood