What are we to do about strengthening the church? We need to be concerned with what’s happening in our culture as alarming numbers of people check the box marked “other” or “none” when it comes to religious affiliation. There are many ways to respond to this crisis but we must first start with ourselves, peering within our souls and asking God for help. One foundational issue is the health of the church, specifically the spiritual status of those of us currently in the church. We who are members and regular attenders comprise the body of Christ, otherwise known as the local Christian church.
One of the ways we can begin to revitalize our church is to focus on spiritual gifts. Today’s and next week’s lectionary selection from 1 Corinthians 12 are combined because these passages are the core of the relevant New Testament narratives. There’s much to discuss about spiritual gifts, which include discernment, teaching, preaching, prophecy, healing, speaking in tongues, and many related specialties. Some of these gifts involve miracles, such as curing the sick and predicting the future. Other gifts such as those of administration and helps are lower-profile yet still vital in church vitality.
Many floundering churches are reluctant and embarrassed to focus on spiritual gifts. Unfamiliarity, awkwardness, and the issue of personal empowerment and style of worship interfere with a healthy treatment of spiritual gifts. Despite the risks, we must persist. The continued existence of many of our churches depend upon finding a new way for a new day. Spiritual gifts offer a way to rise from the malaise and return to basic principles and practices effective for both seasoned and newer generations.
More than just writing about gifts, Paul’s writing elevates gifts’ importance in the context of the local church. He uses the power of analogy to discuss spiritual gifts in relation to parts of a human body, and how each arm, leg, eye, etc. must work together toward optimum health for the whole of the person and ultimately for the health of the church. Paul considers the church to be a whole entity, functioning interdependently as does an individual human within a larger society. While we each stand before God individually, together a group of Christians forms a church, which is then part of a larger collective such as a denomination.
Paul’s discussion of individual gifts highlights the unified power of the church, even amid divergent forces. This struggle to maintain cohesiveness amid individual differences exists whenever people come together. St. John is blessed with a healthy plurality of opinion, from conservative to progressive, and we have people of disparate age and abilities. St. John is a body of individual believers, each invited to contribute to the health of the whole congregation. In some churches, the strength of diversity becomes a fatal weakness if division keeps the church from realizing its potential. We are blessed to not have division in our church. Because of this, God unleashes mighty favor and blessings that we can then share with others.
Spiritual gifts and the leadership required to manage them are inherently controversial. Comparing spiritual gifts among people is tempting, and even more problematic is the issue of why some people seem gifted whereas others appear or feel gift-less. Perhaps it would be better if we substituted the words talent, skill or ability for gift. Still, some folks still feel short-changed. Disturbing questions arise. Are people without gifts being cursed, judged for their sins, or are simply not as righteous or as spiritually sensitive as others? Some people report feeling so pressured to possess a spiritual gift that they excruciatingly yearn for one, exhausting themselves in the search, resulting in either self-delusion or failed faith. A better approach is to look deep within ourselves and notice what we might have overlooked. There may be gifts waiting to be unlocked and affirmed. The key may be to develop a personal relationship with God that unlocks hidden potential.
Nagging questions aside, we can choose to steer clear of the negatives and help one another. We are invited to recognize and develop gifts in renewing our churches. Hence, our task is to celebrate diversity while simultaneously leveraging our individual strengths orchestrated toward a unified revitalization vision. We are each invited to draw closer to God, to unleash God’s power, and to celebrate our contribution in advancing God’s love and truth. Joy must prevail!
The larger cultural forces undermining the influence of the church are daunting. We must remain faithful, be as strong as we can be, and then we’ll be ready to welcome new generations into the body of our church. As a member and leader of this body of the local church I believe and declare God’s blessings upon you. Together in 2016 we can do great things in the name of the Lord.
–Reverend Larry Hoxey