When reading the New Testament, it is quite clear that the Holy Spirit worked through the early church with spiritual gifts. Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, “Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant… There are different kinds of gifts [charismata], but the same Spirit” (I Cor. 12:4). The Greek word charismata is related to the word charis, which we translate “grace.” The Holy Spirit graced the people of God with the personal empowering presence of God to enable them to act as the extension of God in the world. In other words, they were empowered by the Holy Spirit to be the body of Christ.
Even more, these gifts were given to all in the church. In talking about how the Spirit worked through individuals in the church, Paul observes, “When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church” (1 Cor 14:26). At that church, “everyone” participated. Edification of the people of the church through worship and gifting was not limited to those with special privileges, or those with official titles. Each one had something to contribute. Of course, the problem at Corinth was that the times of worship were out of order, but Paul in no way chides them on the fact that all of them were participating.
Such a model of everyone participating seems very foreign in expressions of the church where only people in special positions have the freedom to practice their gifts. We see this when churches only practice gifts in public worship services. Some have taken Paul’s instruction to mean that everyone in a church service should be ready to offer a gift to the body if the Spirit leads them, even if the church is quite large. But Paul did not say “you are ready to offer your gifts to others when the Spirit moves.” He said, “When you come together, everyone…” (I Cor. 14:26). Paul assumed that in his churches, everyone was participating in some form or fashion. Therefore, we must imagine that the instructions he provides regarding spiritual gifts specifically apply to small groups.
However, the model of spiritual gifts practiced in the large group setting, where very few special leaders practice their gifts, can carry over into our small groups. While we say we want all to practice their gifts, the habits that we have developed make it clear that the designated leaders are the ones who carry the burden of being gifted. The official leaders are the only ones who can do it the “right” way.
We lead, most of the time, according to the model that we have observed. And to change this pattern takes effort. And patience. For me I’ve had to learn that leading in a way that makes room for the Spirit to move through others means that I often have to keep my mouth shut so that others will speak up. Then we experiment our way forward and learn what it means for “two or three” to speak in a tongue or “two or three” to prophesy and others test what is said. Then people learn that God speaks through them, not just the leaders.
The original article appeared here.