Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Gifts Differing

I've always struggled with the question of exactly where I fit into the larger picture of church life. In retrospect I'm sure a lot of the problem revolved around the fact that I was investing so much of my energy into repressing a large part of who and what I am (and unpacking all of those knotted areas is turning out to be a lifelong process), but whatever the reasons I've never been certain of my spiritual gifts.

I'd take spiritual gift inventories whenever the opportunity presented itself, and invariably I'd score low across the board and end up picking among whichever scores weren't quite as low as the others - usually gifts like service and giving that you can score points in without feeling any particular inclination for or against.

As a result of that a lot of my involvement in church has centered around tasks such as helping with set up and tear down before and after services. I don't want to denigrate such jobs by any means; I didn't mind doing them and in some cases even enjoyed the work, and there's certainly no dishonor in working quietly behind the scenes, but it's always felt like there was something else I was meant to do - something I couldn't quite put my finger on.

It makes me wonder if part of the problem isn't our rules-based approach to our faith, in which all of the Bible's narratives and conversations and poems exist solely to be broken apart into lists and formulas with which we can regiment every aspect of our earthly existence. The spiritual gifts that Paul mentions in his letters always seemed more like examples than like a complete list - especially since we have to piece that list together from multiple places, and since it's less than clear what some of those gifts actually are.

Not that our legalistic approach to the question is necessarily intentional; it's only natural that we would gravitate toward what we can positively identify in the process of trying to figure out what tasks each of us is gifted to perform.

But what if Paul's examples only tell part of the story? What if, by assuming that every Christian's calling can be defined by one or two of the roles on our short list, we're limiting and even hampering the work that God wants to do through the church? Just as the physical body seemed a much simpler thing back when science only knew to define it in terms of those organs and functions observable by the naked eye, so, perhaps, a spiritual body composed of millions of unique individuals might be more complex than the early church, with a total membership in the thousands, could have imagined.

That possibility raises questions for which there are no simple answers, but then again, that just makes it consistent with the rest of life. As with so many things we see that the Bible works best when we regard it as our foundation instead of as the entire building.

Instead of focusing on which box a person fits in, what if we were to help them identify what they're passionate about and what they can do about it? Instead of worrying about what job title to give them up front, why not help them custom design the job according to their abilities and the needs they're in a position to meet, and then consider afterward whether or not the result fits into our predefined categories? And while we're at it, let's not assume that any labels we can apply to them now will continue to fit indefinitely.

That's all theoretical, of course, and it's also possible that I'm having delusions of grandeur where my own gifts are concerned. It's probably stretching a bit too far to hope that blogging counts as a spiritual gift. I certainly enjoy blogging and feel like I need the creative outlet, and someday I hope to look back and see how God used all of this in some positive way, but it could never serve as a substitute for being involved in a local community.

And so the journey goes on, as it always does.

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