Removing the Logs from
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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:
outreach (including who is being served)
available and needed, and
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
“Ministry” could also
be translated “service.” An exhorter is one who encourages others to do
the right thing.
1 Corinthians 12
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
”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
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.
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
Plains; Assistant Professor of Theology and
Anabaptist Studies at