The Spiritual Gifts of a Leader

English service - June 16, 2024


Messenger: Pastor Jim Allison


Ephesians 4:7-16


“The Spiritual Gifts of a Leader”


    Good morning again, everyone with us online and those here in person at Open Door Chapel.  I’d like to begin today a message series on the subject, “Leadership in Christ’s Church.”  Partly what I have in mind is the process of searching for our next lead pastor, which we have just begun.  I’m thinking of learning with you in the areas of (1) “The Spiritual Gifts of a Leader” (today’s talk), (2) “The Personal Character of a Leader,” (3) “The Personal Relationships of a Leader,” and (4) “The Church’s Support for a Leader.”


    In this time of seeking God’s guidance for the next stage of our church’s journey, we really have a valuable opportunity to learn some things that will help us not just complete the task of finding “the right person.”  Beyond that, my hope for this set of probably four sermons is that they will give us a deeper, fuller understanding of what our Heavenly Father has in His hopes, dreams, and plans for His Church as a whole and Open Door in particular.  This time of exploring His word together can lead us to know Him better.  It can also keep us focused not only on the day-to-day activities we hold together here but our longer-term and more overarching purposes and goals.  They are the things God always wants His children to be pursuing in our life as His Church, the body of Christ.


    Let’s begin with v. 11. “He [Christ] is the One who gave some the gift to be apostles. He gave some the gift to be prophets. He gave some the gift of preaching the good news. And he gave some the gift to be pastors and teachers.”  You may notice that the writer, Paul, puts “some” before each of these categories, noting them one by one, except when he comes to the end of the list.  There he says, “And he gave some the gift to be pastors and teachers.”  He does not say, “And he gave some the gift to be pastors and some the gift to be teachers,” as he has in similar cases just before this.  He seems to be grouping “pastors and teachers” together.  He apparently realizes that pastoring and teaching are often done by the same person in local churches.  Of course, especially if you include teams of leaders who could separate or combine these roles, there could be a wide variety of ways for churches to arrange their leadership structure.  But he is making clear the general, basic roles to play.  


    The word for “pastor” here is, literally, “shepherd,” as we learned when we encountered Christ’s teaching, “I am the Good Shepherd.”  What a shepherd does normally shows us what a pastor is supposed to do according to the Bible’s teaching.  A Greek lexicon notes:


The tasks of a Near Eastern shepherd were:

- to watch for enemies trying to attack the sheep

- to defend the sheep from attackers

- to heal the wounded and sick sheep

- to find and save lost or trapped sheep

- to love them, sharing their lives and so earning their trust.


    We need our next leader to be a person who will do these same types of things in the life of our faith community.  So as we learn, even now, we pray that God is preparing the person who can best play these particular roles among us.


    There is no detailed list of spiritual gifts in today’s Bible reading, but more complete ones are in other parts of the New Testament.  Other lists of spiritual gifts include the following.


Romans 12:6-8

    We all have gifts. They differ in keeping with the grace that God has given each of us. Do you have the gift of prophecy? Then use it in keeping with the faith you have. Is it your gift to serve? Then serve. Is it teaching? Then teach. Is it telling others how they should live? Then tell them. Is it giving to those who are in need? Then give freely. Is it being a leader? Then work hard at it. Is it showing mercy? Then do it cheerfully.


              The serving, teaching, or leading mentioned here may be gifts a pastor has.  But it really depends on the person.


I Corinthians 12:7-11,28

    The Holy Spirit is given to each of us in a special way. That is for the good of all. To some people the Spirit gives the message of wisdom. To others the same Spirit gives the message of knowledge. To others the same Spirit gives faith. To others that one Spirit gives gifts of healing. To others he gives the power to do miracles. To others he gives the ability to prophesy. To others he gives the ability to tell the spirits apart. To others he gives the ability to speak in different kinds of languages they had not known before. And to still others he gives the ability to explain what was said in those languages. All of the gifts are produced by one and the same Spirit. He gives them to each person, just as he decides.


    First, God has appointed apostles in the church. Second, he has appointed prophets. Third, he has appointed teachers. Then he has appointed people who do miracles and those who have gifts of healing. He also appointed those able to help others, those able to direct things, and those who can speak in different kinds of languages they had not known before.


    The wisdom, knowledge, and faith noted here can be gifts a particular pastor has been given.  But it varies case by case, and there is no clear-cut list of “pastor’s gifts.”  Likewise, in I Peter 4:11 we read:


    If you speak, you should do it like one speaking God’s very words. If you serve, you should do it with the strength God provides. Then in all things God will be praised through Jesus Christ. Give him the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen


A pastor may be given gifts in speaking or serving, as Paul notes.  But, again, nothing here mentions a pastor’s gifts directly.  Other members may be just as gifted, or more, in a particular area.  And a church needs members with all these gifts working together.  Yet it is a fact that no pastor, other leader, or anyone has all these spiritual gifts.  Probably only Christ did.  Last week as Sasaki-san led us through both the time of singing as well as the spoken message, I thought again how blessed we are to have a leader who can handle leading worship through both music and the spoken word.  The church may want a “Superman” pastor who can leap tall buildings in a single bound and do at a high level whatever is needed.  But that does not appear to be God’s design for His church. 


    I know a Baptist pastor in Hokkaido who has gifts and calling not only in pastoring but also as an evangelist.  It has taken the forms of writing a book, holding Christian concerts, and speaking to students on campus.  Not every Christian leader has gifts for these particular types of work, but he does.  And his church supports him in doing them. 


    One of the realities that we at Open Door need to be ready to face with our next pastor is the need to match and combine that person’s gifts with those of the other members.  That has been necessary with all our pastors up to now in order for the church to be its best, and it will continue to be so as we move forward.  We will need to help our pastors fully discover and develop and use their unique combinations of gifts in order to build up God’s church.  We also each need to know and be in the habit of using our own particular spiritual gifts. 


    To do that, we can look carefully through spiritual gift lists in the Bible, pray, talk, and study about them.  In some books you may find detailed surveys and checklists to use to lead you to “the correct answer” as to your particular gifts.  But if that were the main goal, why would God provide us through the Bible with lists that vary quite a bit case by case?  Why not just give us one complete one to work with? 


    My best understanding is that these passages on spiritual gifts give us not so much a formal list like the positions on a baseball team.  More than that, they seem to be like colors on a palate that a skilled artist will use, putting them in a unique combination for each particular work.  The Bible writers are simply introducing the main colors, but God the master artist paints them onto the soul, mind, heart, and character of each person, in His own unique and beautiful way.  That means that if you do not use your gift, or the pastor fails to lead you to do that, someone else cannot simply step in your place and do the same thing.  An important work just go undone.


    I wonder where missionaries fit into these categories of Christian workers in the Church.  My understanding is that they could fit into any of them, but no single one.  There is debate about whether apostles are limited to Bible times or not.  (If so, maybe writing it as Apostle [upper case A] may be better.)  If you take a broader view of this term, wherever people are sent today by God to tell the message of Christ, missionaries could be included there.  In one important sense, every Christian is a missionary—sent by our Lord to spread His love and teachings in our particular contexts.  It may be that, more often, God sends people as missionaries whose role is to spread the gospel widely rather than focus on one certain group of believers in one place over a long period of time.  That narrower emphasis would be more along the lines of the job of a pastor.


    One missionary I know commented that a common problem missionaries have is that many of them are really pastors, by nature, calling, and often training.  But they are given the job of spreading the message of Christ broadly, more as evangelists.  Some have gifts and callings that fit in both categories, but certainly not all do.  Some can easily be mismatched if they are really pastors but given the job of being an evangelist.  Likewise, a person who is gifted to be an evangelist will not be most effective trying to serve as a pastor.  To repeat, our job together is for us to find which particular gifts God has given each of us and help each other get into a position so that we can actively serve as He has equipped us.   


    In my case, like many seminary students, most of the training I received was focused on pastoral work.  And, thankfully, serving at Open Door, I’ve had many good opportunities in this area.  But since beginning work here in Japan, most of what I’ve done day to day has been with non-Christian students, faculty, and staff.  For whatever reason, it seems God has placed me in a position to lead them in many Bible classes, chapel services, small-group Bible studies, and other activities.  I’ve even slowly come to think that the countless committee meetings I’ve been in with them are part of the Lord’s plan for me in serving Him!  I say all that mainly to say, Let’s keep an open mind and a flexible attitude in seeking how our Heavenly Father may choose to use our church’s leaders in a variety of ways moving forward.  It may continue to change, and He often surprises us.


    Now, with these categories of gifts in mind, let’s look at God’s purposes and intentions for them.  Verse 12 tells us He gives gifts to pastors and pastors to churches “. . . so that they might prepare God's people to serve.”  He does not provide spiritual gifts to a pastor or any of us so that we will feel confident about ourselves and not suffer from low self-esteem.  His goal is not that we’ll have reasons to think we are better than others.  Our gifts are not there to give us a competitive advantage over someone.  They are not even primarily to help the pastor serve effectively.  God wants pastors to help the whole church serve well.


    This matches with Paul’s teaching in I Corinthians 12:7.  He writes, “The Holy Spirit is given to each of us in a special way. That is for the good of all.”  Just before I Peter 4:11, which we read earlier, the writer says, “God's gifts of grace come in many forms. Each of you has received a gift in order to serve others. You should use it faithfully” (I Peter 4:10).  That includes pastors.


    So God expects us to call pastors who will prepare all our members to serve.  What does that look like?  For example, if pastors and other church leaders do their jobs effectively, the people in the church will be gentle, not proud, and patient with each other (v. 2 of this chapter).  Brothers and sisters in Christ will forgive each other (v. 32).  Obviously, this means that the pastor cannot work effectively unless the members of the church cooperate in the process of learning faith and living it out in their daily lives. 


    This is crucial, especially in a small church like Open Door.  After 34 years of life, we still have become strong enough only to provide a part-time salary for our pastor.  If this continues, other church members will need to take a large portion of the responsibility for the routine and other work of the church.  If the pastor equips everyone for service and we all willingly and actively grow and keep growing, we have many reasons for bright hope.  We will develop individually and as a group.  We will serve, and we will serve together.  But the pastors preparing the members for this service is an important condition that we would be foolish to overlook. 


    What is the result if the pastor and other leaders prepare God’s people for service?  “If they do, the body of Christ will be built up” (v. 12b).  Built up how?  The writer explains further in v. 13a. “That will continue until we all become one in the faith and in the knowledge of God's Son. Then we will be grown up in the faith.”  Looking at chapter 4 as a whole, we can say that Paul points to four areas in which we will grow: in strength, knowledge, unity, and love. 


    (1)   We will be built up in strength.  In I Corinthians 14:26 (NIV), Paul writes:


    Brothers and sisters, what should we say then? When you come together, every one of you brings something. You bring a hymn or a teaching or a word from God. You bring a message in another language or explain what was said. All of those things must be done to make the church strong.


    This whole chapter is about how spiritual gifts should be used in the church.  The writer again and again makes the point that each person’s gifts must be used to build up the whole group.  We do not worship membership numbers, amounts of offering, or size of buildings.  We worship God.  But each person is important to our God; the ways we use money (or withhold it) show what is in our hearts; and the respect with which we treat God’s house, the church, shows the respect we have for Him.  In these senses, numbers and size do matter greatly.  God wants strong, healthy churches.  Lord, help us all, including the next pastor you lead here, to be growing in strength, day by day.


    (2) We will be built up in knowledge.  God can use and bless any knowledge, but He is talking here especially about personal knowledge of Jesus Christ as the Son of God.  There is an old hymn I remember singing as a child: “Let Others See Jesus in You.”  We need leaders at all levels of church life—and followers—who reflect the presence of Christ in our lives as we use our various spiritual gifts.  When others look at the next pastor of Open Door Chapel, and each of us, may they be able to see the truth, beauty, and goodness of the living Lord at work in us.


    Can we be built up in knowledge fully enough through a once-a-week worship service?  Our answer for quite a few years was, no, we need a Bible education program, as well.  Even when we felt we could not provide one for every age level, we did so for children and encouraged the adults to teach each other through a weekly Bible Discussion format.  Now there are hardly any children, but rather than switching to a program for the ages we do have represented, we have almost come to a stop.  We are now at a pace of about two classes a month total.  We are still telling our neighbors through the program listed on our front window that we are holding regular Bible classes.  Maybe it is time for us to restart actually doing that?  That is another issue we need to pray and talk about among ourselves now and with the next person we call as pastor.  


    (3) We will be built up in unity. As we grow closer to God, over time we grow closer to each other.  As the things that keep us at a distance from our Heavenly Father are removed and overcome, the divisions between us and our brothers and sisters in Christ fade away, also.  Likewise, when we are willing to forgive others from our hearts as God has forgiven us, our relationships with the Lord are also healed.  God, help us to know how to break down the walls that divide us from each other and from you.  Lord, teach us to live in peace.


    (4)We will be built up in love.  God never promises that we will always have the same opinions as our Christian brothers and sisters if we follow His teachings—or that we should.  We can disagree.  But He does teach us to “. . . Speak the truth in love” (v. 15b).  When we do, “We will grow up into Christ in every way. He is the Head. He makes the whole body grow and build itself up in love” (vv. 15b-16a).  I like a quote said to be from the 16th century German theologian Meldenius:  “In essentials, unity.  In non-essentials, liberty.  In all things, charity.”  Lord, build us up in your love. 


    Finally, what will happen when grow up in strength, knowledge, unity, and love?  Paul tells us the result will be that (v. 13b) “We will receive everything that Christ has for us.”  Actually, translators may have chosen these words especially to make the original easier to understand.  But this translation can also be misleading.  Most English and Japanese versions don’t use a word like “receive.”  The point is not that we will get a lot of things if we follow God’s teachings well.  The image is more about moving from childhood to adulthood, from immaturity to maturity, or from not having reached a destination to having reached it.  Church leaders are here to help us do that. 


    Imagine that you are a new parent.  God has blessed you with a baby boy, and you love him deeply.  Do you blame your newborn because he can’t feed, clean, clothe himself?  Of course not.  You love him.  But as the child grows, you teach him to take care of himself.  You enjoy seeing your boy learn to be independent and not only receive but enjoy giving, as well.  If your son reaches middle age, for example, and you are still doing the feeding, dressing, and diaper changes, it’s a sign of real problems, isn’t it. 


    Well, here we are with Open Door Chapel 34 years old now.  Thanks to the Lord’s work, much of it through pastors including Sasaki-san, we have made it this far and seen growth and our Father’s blessings in many ways.  We cannot forget to be thankful for that.  But we are still far from the fully-formed, mature body of Christ which He has in His best dreams for us to be.  Together with thanks for the time up to now, let’s look ahead to the days lying before us.  May we receive the protection and guidance of God our Heavenly Father and the next person He sends to lead this church, hopefully in the coming months.  Then may He continue His work through Open Door Chapel’s leaders and members far into the future, until Christ is fully formed in the lives of His people here.  


Let’s pray.


     God, thank you for giving us your word again today.  We wanted to know, How will we know if we have a “good” pastor?  Now you have told us.  We’ll know when each of us and our church as a whole are becoming stronger, wiser, more unified, and more loving.  So now as we begin looking for a new leader, and each step in our journey ahead, help us all to use the gifts you have given us.  Build us up in you.  This is our prayer, in the name of your Son, Jesus.  Amen. 




Bible Study Tools. (2024). Salem Web Network. Salem Media Group.      

McClintock, John and James Strong. (1870.) Bible Encyclopedias: Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Meldenius, Rupertus. Harper & Brothers. New York. /eng/mse/m/meldenius-rupertus.html