the weblog of Alan Knox

Meeting and Speaking and Serving…

Posted by on May 21, 2007 in gathering, service, spirit/holy spirit, spiritual gifts | 17 comments

A few days ago, in a post called “The church meets here…“, I discussed some interested places that the church could meet in order to serve people. But, after thinking through this even more, I realize that the problem is deeper than the church’s meeting location. I think we need to go back to our understanding of spiritual gifts and their use during the meeting of the church.

There are several lists of spiritual gifts in Scripture. Each list includes both speaking gifts and serving gifts. In fact, Peter seems to categorize all spiritual gifts as either speaking gifts or serving gifts:

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles [sayings] of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies-in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 4:10-11 ESV)

Interestingly, to Peter, the category of the gift is not as important as the source of the gift. Thus, it is possible both to speak and also to serve in ways that exercise the gifts of God. However, it is also possible both to speak and also to serve in ways that do not exercise the gifts of God. The source is important.

In each list of spiritual gifts, it might be possible to separate those gifts into the two categories of speaking and serving – although some gifts may span the two categories. If we agree with Peter and Paul that all spiritual gifts are important and necessary to the proper functioning and edification of the church, then we should desire to see people exercising both speaking and serving gifts.

So, when did the meeting of the church become a time for only exercising speaking gifts? (Yes, I know what you may be thinking: what about playing the piano, or handing out bulletins, or ushering people to their seats. But, do you really think this is what Peter had in mind when he said we should serve by the strength that God supplies?) What of those who are gifted to serve or help or other physical activities that benefit the church? All spiritual gifts are given by the Spirit for the benefit of others – this is certainly true of serving gifts. Plus, any spiritual gift that builds up the church can be exercised during the meeting of the church according to 1 Corinthians 14 – this also can be true of serving gifts. So, where do we see these gifts exercised?

When the church only allows believers to exercise speaking gifts during the meeting of the church, what are we telling (intentionally or unintentionally) those brothers and sisters who are gifted with serving gifts? I know the answer to this, because I have asked some of them. Many believe that they are second rate believers because they are not “gifted” speakers like others.

What would happen if the church met in ways and in places that allowed those with serving gifts to function as well as those with speaking gifts? What if the church met in places where people were hurting or needed help? What would happen if we found out that people appreciated our working hands and that led them to listen to our words?

Could it be that we have “silenced” many gifted people in the church, and that in doing so, we have kept some from doing their share (Eph. 4:16) and stunted the growth of the church? Could it be that our whole idea of church meetings is not conducive to all believers using their Spirit-endowed gifts?


17 Comments

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  1. 5-21-2007

    Alan,

    Thanks so much for this post. You are so right in saying that during the gathering of most churches, the serving gifts are basically silenced. Speaking (rhetoric may be a better word) has been elevated to what seems to be an artificially high position within the church.

    Ironically, for me personally, when I look back over my time within different churches, what I remember is the times that saints within the body served me, or times that we served others together. I rarely look back and remember specific things that I have been taught.

    I believe one reason why speaking has become so important is that this is what seminaries generally teach future pastors to do. Men leave seminary with an expectation of teaching. They then go to a church and get paid to do what they were taught — how to teach.

    Let’s all encourage one another to both speak and serve as the Spirit leads. Thanks for the reminder not to elevate some gifts over others.

  2. 5-22-2007

    Good thoughts, Alan. I think you have defined why I, and many others, feel disconnected from the community of believers. I attend a church that talks and talks and talks about community, tries to set up artificial community in life groups (the new term for small groups which was the new term for cell groups.
    Still in the life groups, it is talk, talk, talk.
    It took me awhile to figure out why real fellowship was never happening. We weren’t serving. We weren’t working together toward a greater purpose.
    I was encouraged slightly when I detected the same thought processes in one of our pastors … but his definition of working toward a common goals is our three point mission statement, which ironically includes the word serve. However, it is a shallow meaning of the word serve, focusing basically on making ourselves comfortable.
    What is the solution?
    Honestly, it is sad when we, as parents, are having to look for ways outside the church to involve our children in service and sacrificial giving. The church should be leading the way.

  3. 5-22-2007

    Alan,

    You wrote:

    “Could it be that our whole idea of church meetings is not conducive to all believers using their Spirit-endowed gifts?”

    I think you are right about the limitations of our current church structures. I have noticed, though, that in the right setting (small groups) those gifted with more serving type gifts also contribute a great deal through their speech. They will often bring an abstract theological discussion down to reality with a succinct and insightful observation.

    In his 1970 work A Theology of the Holy Spirit Frederick Bruner makes a comment about I Corinthians 14 that you might find interesting

    “It appears in this chapter that Paul sees the highest expression of spiritual gifts in the free, helpful discussion of Christians together and their contribution in thoughtful speech to each other.”

    I’ve also come across some older works on the gifts that seem to be ahead of their time. I’ve only found these through internet searches. I couldn’t afford any of them, even if they were for sale.

    Campaginator. The Heresy of a Professional One-Man Ministry, and a Claim for the Priesthood of Believers and the Free Exercise of Spiritual Gifts, 1866.

    Martin, Josiah of the Society of Friends, and Benjamin Coole. A Letter to the Author (B. Coole) of Some Brief Observations on the Paraphrase and Notes of the Judicious John Locke Relating to the Womens Exercising Their Spiritual Gifts in the Church. London, 1716.

    Lupton, Donald, and EEBO – York University. The Freedom of Preaching or Spiritual Gifts Defended: Proving That All Men Endowed with Gifts and Abilities May Teach and Preach the Word of God. By D. Lupton, Servant of Jesus Christ in the Work of the Gospel. London: printed by R.W. for R. Harford at the Bible and States Arms in Little-Brittain, 1652.

    Spencer, John, and EEBO – York University. A Short Treatise Concerning the Lawfullnese of Every Mans Exercising His Gift as God Shall Call Him Thereunto. London: Printed for John Spencer and are to be sold by T. Bates in the Oldbailey, 1641.

    But back to your main point, perhaps you are correct that the purpose of a given church meeting could be to serve. If the church met, for example, to do clean up and repairs on a house for a single mom who was ill, I suspect that, first of all, there could be interesting discussions as well, and second, that we would learn things from each other (edification) that we would not learn if conversation (speech) were the only activity.

  4. 5-22-2007

    Religion Roundtable,

    I’ve enjoyed your satire… especially the article about renaming the Christmas offering.

    I think you recognize something that I am finally learning. Some people do learning by listening to other people speak. However, some people do not learn in this manner at all. Many of these learn and participate by doing… serving.

    Cynthia,

    Talking is important, both in large groups and also in small group. However, I think that serving is important both in large groups and also in small groups. We have promoted large group talking and small group talking, but I think we only promote small group – or even individual – serving.

    Aurelian,

    I would not de-emphasize the importance of Spirit-led, grace-filled speech. This is very important. Instead, I would add an emphasis on serving. Your last paragraph was spot-on to me!

    -Alan

  5. 5-22-2007

    Could it be that we have “silenced” many gifted people in the church, and that in doing so, we have kept some from doing their share (Eph. 4:16) and stunted the growth of the church?

    In a word: Yes.

    Thanks for continuing to press these issues, Alan. It’s an encouragement and a blessing! :)

  6. 5-22-2007

    Just found your blog. Bless you!

    You’re addressing something regarding pastoral leadership that I am trying to address regarding worship leadership. The church in America has developed a highly individual-centered focus of ministry. “You’ve got to have a great preacher,” or “You’ve got to have an awesome worship band.”

    The body of Christ, the church, is to be fully focused on the glory of its head, Jesus Christ. That’s the only individual that is to be glorified. The pastor, the worship leader, the elders, the servants, the congregation should always be reminded of the one to whom the glory belongs.

    The early church met to share in the Word and in communion. There were leaders, but they were not the focus. Service flowed from the lives of the believers.

    I’m grateful to be in a church with broad participation on Sunday mornings and throughout the week. It only happens through much encouragement, prompting, prodding, and prayer.

  7. 5-22-2007

    Steve,

    Thank you for the encouragement.

    David,

    Welcome to my blog. I also think that broad participation is important. We can share our lives with one another if only one person is talking, while others are not allowed to speak and no one is allowed to serve.

    -Alan

  8. 5-22-2007

    We can share our lives with one another…

    Can? Or can’t? If you meant “can”, I’m not sure I understand.

  9. 5-22-2007

    Steve,

    Oops… “can’t”. Thank you for catching that. My last line should have been:

    We can’t share our lives with one another if only one person is talking, while others are not allowed to speak and no one is allowed to serve.

    -Alan

  10. 5-22-2007

    The one talking should be God. That’s why His Word and His sacrament are central to worship. Everything else, whether music, teaching, serving, etc. is preparation for those two things.

  11. 5-22-2007

    David,

    If you look at the way Paul describes our gatherings (i.e., 1 Cor 14), I would say that music, teaching, serving, etc. are not preparations for anything. They are how God speaks.

  12. 5-22-2007

    David,

    I think I agree with Steve on this one. Speaking and serving are worship – if they are done in obedience. If they are not carried out in obedience, then they are not worship, nor can they prepare for worship.

    But, then, I don’t equate the meeting of the church with worship.

    -Alan

  13. 5-22-2007

    I think I agree with Steve on this one

    You say that like we hardly ever agree on anything!! ;) hehe

  14. 5-23-2007

    Preparation wasn’t the right word. Sorry. I should use the term “vehicle” or “vessel”.

    When I use the term “worship” in this context, I am referring to corporate worship; i.e., the gathering or assembly.

  15. 5-23-2007

    David,

    I’ve tried to stop using the word “worship” as a name for the gathering or meeting of believers. I’ve done this primarily because Scripture does not call the meeting of the church worship. I’ve also done it because it confuses the true definition of worship. I understand why people use the term “corporate worship”, and I certainly wouldn’t say that others should not use the term.

    -Alan

  16. 5-26-2007

    Alan,

    For me, this post brings up again the question of different types of church meetings, as well as of planning and organization. Would it not make sense that certain church meetings be primarily dedicated to “speaking,” others to “serving,” and still others to a balance between the two? Also, that in the way we organize our overall day-to-day community life together as church, we should seek to strike a balance between “speaking” and “serving”?

  17. 5-26-2007

    David,

    As to different types of meetings: possibly. I don’t know. I don’t see the balance today, though.

    As to day-to-day community life: absoluately there should be a balance between speaking and serving.

    -Alan