Spiritual Gifts

Removing the Logs from the Road

By: Lois Barrett

We are at the time in our church year when we discern spiritual gifts for ourselves and others for use in the life and witness of Mennonite Church of the Servant.  This process, along with giving spiritual pilgrimages during the season of Lent, has had a long tradition in this congregation.  It grows out of our conviction that the God who calls us to be part of God’s people has also given each one of us the spiritual gifts and abilities to build up that people.  Everyone has been given some gift to use to benefit the life of the congregation, or to further its witness in the world.

We don’t hand out a list of jobs and ask for volunteers.  We don’t twist people’s arms to do tasks just because we need a warm body in a particular position.  We believe that God calls each Christian to serve Christ and the church—and God gives us the skills, abilities, and talents to do that.  Some positions on our list may go unfilled; new positions may be created because of new gifts discerned.  But God has given this church what it needs in order to be the people of God in the world.

Gift discernment is not easy.  It requires much personal searching, prayer, and priority setting. It requires opening some of our personal decision making to others in the church.  It requires opening ourselves to the Spirit of Christ working in and through us, helping us to do things we had not thought were possible.

Gift discernment is also rewarding.  It can give us permission to use gifts we have not dared to exercise before.  It can confirm gifts we only wondered if we had.  It can discover gifts we never dreamed we had.  It can give us new energy as individuals and as a church.

Removing the obstacles

Once we know what our gifts are, how do we get the courage to use them?

Sometimes we are like the person driving a car down a country road who found a large tree branch fallen across the road.  It didn’t help just to give the car more gas.  The driver had to get out of the car and move the tree limb out of the way.  Then the driver could press on the accelerator and move on down the road. 

So, with spiritual gifts, sometimes it doesn’t help to just tell ourselves we should use our spiritual gifts more or better.  Instead, we need to see what the obstacles are to using our spiritual gifts, remove the obstacles, and then proceed on our way. 

Elizabeth O’Connor from Church of the Savior in Washington, D.C., in the book Eighth Day of Creation, tells of three barriers that keep us from using our gifts:  fear of failure, jealousy, and lack of accountability.

Fear of failure

The first barrier that we need to remove is our fear of failure. Some of us have the idea that it is not okay to fail—ever.  We think that if we fail, we will not be loved—by family, by friends, even by God.  We think we need to be perfect so that we will never have to face the pain of criticism.  We avoid trying the new and the difficult because we do not want to walk into the pain that will lead us to creativity on the other side.  The result is that our gifts lie unused on this side of the barrier of the fear of failure.

What we need is the assurance that, if we fail, there will be people who still love us and remind us that God loves us anyway, whether we succeed or fail, and to remind us that we can still love ourselves.  We need people who give us room to fail, who can demonstrate to us that whether we are flying or flopping, they will still be with us and care about us.  We need people who let us be persons in process, still on the journey.  They help us change direction and try moving on again.  They are the people who love us into risking.  That is what the church is supposed to be:  the place where the shepherd leaves the 99 and seeks the lost, the place where the woman searches for the lost coin until she finds it, the place where the prodigal, wayward son gets the homecoming celebration.  We need that kind of acceptance in spite of failure for ourselves, and as we experience that acceptance, we can give it to others who fail.  As we are loved into risking, we can love others into risking.


The second large tree branch to move out of the way is jealousy.  Jealousy happens when we want the gifts someone else has been given, rather than the gifts God has given us.  As Jesus tells the parable of the Prodigal Son, the climax is not really the prodigal’s homecoming and the love of the waiting father, but the anger of the obedient older brother, who having lived with the jealousy of the younger brother most of his life, is now jealous because the big celebration is for his squanderer of a brother and not for him.  In the parable, the father has an answer for the older brother, “My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”  The younger brother has the gift of the homecoming party.  The older brother has the gift of a close relationship with the father and sharing in all that the father has.  There is no need for jealousy because each brother has a different gift from the father.

That is also the message in 1 Corinthians 12, where the church is seen as the body of Christ, with many and different members.  The foot is jealous of the hand.  The ear is jealous of the eye.  But the Apostle Paul says that jealousy is unnecessary because each has an important gift and each needs the other in order to function as a body.  Difference does not need to produce jealousy. It should result in appreciation for each person’s contribution to the whole.  The way to remove the barrier of jealousy is to thank God for the gifts that God has given me, rather than worrying about the gifts that I don’t have.  This is one of the reasons, in our gift discernment process, that we focus on the gifts each person has, not the gifts he or she lacks.

Lack of accountability

The third barrier in the middle of the road is lack of accountability. No matter how many spiritual gifts have been discerned for us, we will not use those gifts unless we are clear what we will do, when, where, how, and with whom—and unless someone holds us accountable for that.  In the church, we often resist accountability—we get enough of that at work or at school, thank you very much.  But good accountability to each other in the congregation helps get the work done.  Deadlines can be useful.  It helps to know with whom we will be working.  I want to know when I am supposed to show up.  I don’t know whether to start the task until I know for sure that I’m authorized to do it. Accountability also helps us to show appreciation to each other and thank each other for a job well done.  When I work with Church Innovations Institute, no assignment is complete until we fill out a SMART plan with:

  • Specific objectives
  • Missional outreach (including who is being served)
  • Accountability and Authorization
  • Resources available and needed, and
  • Timeline. 

Accountability—with a plan--helps us use our spiritual gifts faithfully and effectively.

A meditation on using our spiritual gifts

As preparation for discerning and using your spiritual gifts, you may choose to meditate on John 6:1-15. 

First, read the passage in the Bible.

Then reflect:

The disciples looked at the crowd by the Sea of Galilee—5,000 men, they counted, and that didn’t include the women and children, who weren’t part of crowd counts in those days.  All these people had followed Jesus to the other side of the lake and then up into the hills because he was healing people and they wanted to see more “signs.”  All these people had followed Jesus into this remote area with no market where they could buy lunch.  And they were hungry.

The disciples looked at the hungry people—so many, so great a need.  They did not think that what they had was enough.  Philip’s response was, We don’t have enough money to buy food for all these people.  We don’t have anything to help these people.

Andrew was a little more resourceful.  He found a boy with five barley loaves and two fish.  We do have something, but “what are they among so many?”  It’s not enough.

Jesus had more confidence that what the boy had was enough to feed the crowds.  He simply said, “Make the people sit down.”  And when they had finished eating, the disciples gathered up 12 baskets full of leftovers.  Through the power of Jesus, what seemed like not enough became more than enough.

God takes the little that we have and works with it, transforming it into enough, even more than enough to meet human need. 

What are your loaves and fishes that you can offer to God to serve the church and witness to the world?

Does it seem like not enough?

Imagine yourself offering it to Jesus to meet the needs of many people.

How does it feel for Jesus to accept what you offer?

Then, imagine Jesus taking what you have given him and using it for God’s purposes, in even more ways than you had thought possible.

The good news through Jesus is that our loaves and fishes—our spiritual gifts, our service—do make a difference.  Through the power of God’s Spirit, what we have will be enough.

Scripture Passages about Spiritual Gifts

Note:  These passages have different lists of gifts, and each passage includes just a sample of the kinds of spiritual gifts that the Holy Spirit gives to Christians.  No one passage is a complete list.

Romans 12:3-8

3For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourselves more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God as assigned. 4For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

“Ministry” could also be translated “service.”  An exhorter is one who encourages others to do the right thing.

1 Corinthians 12

1Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. 3Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says, “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.

4Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

12For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. … 27Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. 29Are all apostles?  Are all prophets?  Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30Do all possess gifts of healing?  Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31But strive for the greater gifts.  And I will show you a still more excellent way.

Chapter 13 continues, saying that love must accompany every spiritual gift. “If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” Chapter 14 has rules about prophecy and speaking in tongues.

Ephesians 4:1-16

1I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

7But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift….  11The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

”Grace” (verse 7) can also mean “gift.” The Greek word usually translated “grace” is charis. The word usually translated “gift” is charisma.

1 Peter 4:10-11

10Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. 11Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ.  To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.

Romans 1:11-12

11For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you― 12or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.

Lois Barrett is a Shepherd of MCS; Director of AMBS-Great Plains; Assistant Professor of Theology and Anabaptist Studies at AMBS.