Friday, October 31, 2014

How Do I discover My APEST Gift?, Part 2

Each of the gifts is motivated by an aspect of Christ’s character. This “image of Christ” is at the center of what drives the gifted person to do what he or she does. It is far better to focus on Christ and serving others than to delve into our own psyche in search of our own unique and special place.

The apostolic gift is rooted in the missio dei, the mission of God. The prophetic gift is rooted in the will of God. The evangelistic gift is rooted in the compassion of God. The pastoral gift is rooted in the oneness of the Triune God. The teaching gift is rooted in the knowledge of God. All of these aspects of God must be fully present and functioning for the church to be whole and healthy. The gifts are given so that we can all mature..."to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ." In our experience, it is far better to focus on the qualities of Christ, rather than on the people and their gifts—because, ultimately, it is Christ that we want at the center of the church.

So, how do we discover what sort of vessel we are for the flow of God’s work? One of the struggles we have had over the years of serving Christ in the church is that the idea of spiritual gifts easily becomes egocentric. Of course, that is never the intent, but what happens is that we so easily turn our attention to ourselves. The problem is that the gifts were never given to us for introspection and a sense of personal importance. In fact, the gifts aren’t given to us but through us!

As we have pointed out, every passage in the New Testament that mentions spiritual gifts either starts or ends with love or puts love right in the middle of the discussion. This is not an accident. The gifts are not given to make us feel more special, but to make others more special in our sight. Paul says that we should not view our gifts as if they are something we deserve (1 Corinthians 4:6-8). He says, “For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” The very fact that we are given gifts exposes our complete inadequacy. Because we can’t find these good qualities inherent within us, we need a supernatural infusion of power and ability just to make us useful at all.

Most of the methods available for determining spiritual gifts can easily turn into a self-focused search for personal identity and a special place in the church. Often they begin with the premise that we can simply decide what we want to do and identify gifts based on our personal preferences. Do you see the contradiction in that? Determining how we want to serve based on our own personal preferences? Do slaves typically choose their areas of service? As slaves to Christ, why would expect to choose our own gifts? The gifts are given to each one as the Spirit desires (1 Corinthians 12:11)

Approaching the APEST gifts based on our personal preferences starts us off on the wrong trajectory. And once the rocket has left the launch pad, it is nearly impossible to adjust our course to reach the right target. We must start with a right understanding of the gifts if we hope to see them develop as God intended.

The gifts are not determined by surveys or interviews or personal preferences. They are discovered through hard work, failure, practice, and God’s calling and verification through others. This may not be as simple as taking a test, but in the long run it is far better because it not only reveals our gifting, but develops our gifting as well, which is something a test can never do.
This article is adapted form my book Primal Fire

How Do I Discover My APEST Gift?, Part 1

Some things in life are discovered more easily in hindsight than in foresight. That doesn’t mean that foresight is out of the question, or unhelpful. Nothing, however, is as certain as looking back over much of your life to see clearly what kind of conduit you are for God’s gift to work through.

Paul was able to become a mature expression of three of the roles of Ephesians 4:11: apostle, evangelist (herald) and teacher (1 Timothy 2:7; 2 Timothy 1:11). Yet even in Paul’s case, while he functioned as a teacher at times (Acts 13:1) and an evangelist at other times (Acts 9:19-22, 26-29), as he grew into his destiny it became clear that he was indeed an apostle above all other roles.

There are many factors that can confirm a calling associated with a gift in someone, and in Paul’s case we see five that are helpful:

  1. His calling was confirmed by God’s voice (Acts 26:12-18). Sometimes God grants to us a glimpse at our destiny even before we are far along. This is not universally true, but most people can discover some hints if they look closely at their life experience. Look for the fingerprints of God on the way you were formed from the beginning of your new life and you may find a pattern that speaks to a destiny. For some, however, God does speak up and reveal a chosen path before it even makes sense, and such was the case with Paul.
  2. His call was confirmed by his internal spiritual drive, which he could not ignore (1 Corinthians 9:16-18; Romans 15:14-29). There are some things about ourselves that we can deny, but others, which we cannot. For Paul, his desire to preach the gospel to places where it has not been heard was a driving passion he could not ignore. He felt like his unique calling was something that he had to steward. Most spiritual gift tests rely completely on preferences, and as we see here, that is part of the puzzle, but only a small part. In Paul’s case, calling it a preference is not enough; it was an internal compulsion that drove his whole life. In fact, you could say that he even had to surrender his own preferences to this stronger internal impulse.
  3. The church’s testimony confirmed his gift (Galatians 2:6-10). The leadership of the church confirmed publicly that Paul was indeed an apostle. This is based upon a proven track record that was obvious for all to witness. There is no substitute for the confirmation of the body that you should be doing the things that you are doing. Without this confirmation, you should be plagued with doubts about your calling. Not that you are driven by the opinions or prejudices of others, but that over the time you serve Jesus if the body is not better off in obvious ways, than you likely are not functioning in your sweet spot.
  4. The price that he paid for the sake of the role verifies his gift (Galatians 6:17; 2 Corinthians 11:1-33). When pressed to prove he was indeed an apostle, Paul pointed most to the price that he had paid to live out his apostolic calling. This is a confirmation that we should look for more often, because it not only verifies your calling, but the commitment level you have to that calling. Like many of these confirmations, it takes time and experience to verify them.
  5. The fruitfulness of his ministry confirms his gift (1 Corinthians 9:1-3; 2 Corinthians 3:1-3; 12:11-13). Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits.” There is nothing that substantiates a gift more completely than pointing out the fruit left behind as a result of your gifts and calling. If your energy and efforts are not producing any results then it is likely that you do not have that gift. If you can demonstrate that lives have been changed and ministries ignited by others because of your investment of time and abilities, then you likely have a gift in that area. This is one confirmation that no one can really argue with, but again, it takes time and experience to verify.
I would recommend you look for all five of the above to confirm what sort of conduit for God’s blessing to the body you are meant to fulfill. If you are younger, however, perhaps 3 out of 5 of the factors can at least send you in a reasonable direction. To be content with only two of the above factors may not be enough to claim any of the roles for yourself. The more confirmations you have the greater confidence you have in your gift and calling, and the greater confidence others can have as well.

There is nothing like serving others in the Body to discover our own unique calling. Even failure is a great instructor, but it tends to cost a bit more than the typical survey.
This is adapted from my book Primal Fire.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Shortcomings of Spiritual Gift Inventories

The discovery of spiritual gifts is a prolific subejct these days. While I believe we should pursue our gifts (and wrote a book about it), I do not believe spiritual gift tests are a good idea. I believe they tend to produce negative results that outweigh the positive. Here are six reasons why I do not like using gift inventories:

1. They peg people for life. We don’t need the “I don’t have that gift” excuse anymore.

2. They carry undue authority. A survey doesn’t tell us our gifts. The Holy Spirit working through the body of Christ does. The Spiritual enablements are given by the Holy Spirit, and the APEST gifts are given by Jesus, a gift inventory should have no say in the matter whatsoever.

3. They have an inherent bias that slants the questions and produces tainted results. Whoever develops the tests has a bias in some way and therefore the questions and the results reflect that bias.

4. They take the focus away from the collective body of Christ and place it on the individual. We are already prone to self-absorption; these tests encourage us to look in on ourselves and make spiritual gift discovery about fulfilling our own needs . . . the opposite of what the gifts are about.

5. They make gift discovery a matter of personal preference rather than true effectiveness. Most of these surveys identify what we prefer, rather than what we actually do. The spiritual life is not driven by personal preference; in fact it begins with dying to yourself and all your own preferences (Galatians 2:20).

6. They suggest that gift usage is a matter of job placement rather than Holy Spirit-led effectiveness. Churches that are already organized along hierarchical lines tend to define roles for the gifts that fit the system and limit creative expression. The APEST gifts are useful in many more ways than a typical church allows.

7. They reduce service to what takes place between the hours of 10 AM and Noon on Sunday mornings, and some gifts should not even be there.

This post is adapted from Primal Fire. In the next week or so I will be posting some excerpts from my book Primal Fire addressing gift discovery and usage.