By Carrie Madren
Sarah Ogilby remembers struggling to identify people to serve in various church positions. "It was kind of like taking a [round] peg and putting it in a square hole," recalled the GROW coordinator at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Wilmington, Del.
Now, as more members have taken a spiritual gifts assessment, it has become easier to ask those equipped with particular gifts to serve on the staff/parish relations committee, provide lay leadership, teach Bible studies and more.
Scripture says each Christian has a spiritual gift. While those listed in Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 and Ephesians 4:11 differ, the Apostle Paul says all come from the Holy Spirit and that all are needed in the Body of Christ for serving others and strengthening the faith community. Using those gifts—such as as teaching, shepherding, helping, giving, discernment, compassion and more—allows God to work through us in unique ways.
One way for individuals to begin to figure out their unique gifts is through a spiritual gifts assessment. Each scored "test" inventories a person's passions and tendencies. Conversations with pastors, other trained leaders and small groups can further help people discern their gifts and how to use them.
New members at Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa, Fla., take an online assessment to begin discerning their spiritual gifts. "We say it's just that—just an assessment—and you get the confirmation in community and when you're actually serving out of your giftedness," said the Rev. Justin LaRosa, minister of discipleship ministries at Hyde Park, where weekly worship draws over 1,000. After reflecting on the assessment, "connectors" meet with new members about their faith journey, spiritual gifts and how they can serve.
The church offers a seven-session class based on the book A Disciple's Path, which was written by the church's senior pastor, theRev. Jim Harnish, along with LaRosa. Over 3,000 other churches are using the study, LaRosa said.The new member class both helps people discover their gifts and then take next steps. More than 600 people have gone through the class since 2006.
"We help people assess where they are and how to take an appropriate next step, which could include service and serving out of their spiritual gifts, or they already may be in the community serving in not-for-profit work and we affirm that service as responding to God's call as well," LaRosa said.
New members at Aldersgate also complete a spiritual gifts assessment. "We talk about the importance of determining what those gifts are and what ministries they're suited for," explained Ogilby of the church with an average attendance of about 377.
When Aldersgate advertises service opportunities, it highlights the spiritual gifts that most closely match the project or need. "I'm looking for people who have teaching or leadership as gifts to lead Bible study programs in the fall," Ogilby said.
In 2012, she discovered someone with a passion for the environment who led a study about caring for God's creation that sparked a new ministry to help make Aldersgate more Earth-friendly. Another individual discovered a gift for administrative skills, and he's now a co-lay leader. At Hyde Park, a woman created a "pew bear" ministry inspired by her gift of mercy.
Individuals with gifts of mission and serving—but lacking the ability to travel—can plug in to local missions. Churches can also encourage members to use their spiritual gifts as volunteers with community organizations.
Using God-given gifts is a form of stewardship. Starting in 2007, Hyde Park reworked its vision of stewardship from financial giving to a more holistic approach—giving from one's whole life.
"Our call to stewardship is about how are you going to grow in prayer life and Scripture, giving, service, Bible study, worship, sharing your faith and all those spiritual practices," LaRosa said.
Carrie Madren is a freelance writer based in Great Falls, Va.
Understanding Spiritual Gifts, Mary Lou Redding, Upper Room (The Upper Room,www.upperroom.org/bookstore, 800-972-0433)
Serving from the Heart, Carol Cartmill and Yvonne Gentile (United Methodist Church of the Resurrection), Abingdon Press. (Also has a youth version)