Unleashing Congregational Energy through Spiritual Gifts
“If each member of my church could identify just one or two gifts—and then practice using them for six months—an amazing amount of energy would be generated!” said a participant at the Spiritual Gifts Workshop I gave as my internship project. The primary lens I look through in ministry is spiritual giftedness. I find it to be the most helpful and compelling way of understanding myself in ministry and those in the congregation. However, I’ve found that most people have little understanding of this powerful way that God works through us. So, I put together a workshop on spiritual gifts to offer at my internship site.
As I started to put together the workshop, I was surprised at how few resources were available. There are lots of articles and even some books on spiritual gifts, but they lacked a training component. So I built the entire workshop myself. I started with www.healthierchurch.org and their inventory. The author of that website, Ed Kruse, wrote “Unwrap Your Gifts and Use Them,” which treated the topic in some depth. Kruse is a retired pastor and former Director for Stewardship for ELCA, Churchwide. I contacted Kruse to discuss the workshop with him. He was excited at the idea and allowed me to use his inventory for a copyright usage fee. I also relied on the insights of the Institute of Catherine of Sienna’s “Called and Gifted Workshop,” among others.
Grasping spiritual giftedness is a challenging paradigm shift for most people, even religious people. Most people imagine that they offer their gifts God: i.e. human agency and the giving direction from the individual to God. Spiritual gifts, in contrast, are divine abilities that God has planted in us that God uses to bless the world. They are about God’s agency and the giving direction is from God, through the individual, to the world. This shift from human agency to divine agency is one that takes many, many examples and explanations before people fully grasp. Therefore, I built in repetitions into the workshop by introducing the idea of spiritual gifts and then individually discussing all 32 gifts, with an emphasis on God’s agency and action with each and every gift.
The workshop began with the Scriptural basis for spiritual gifts, detailed explanation of spiritual gifts, aka “charisms,” and how we experience spiritual gifts. Then participants took a questionnaire and scored it to obtain the top six to eight possible gifts. Several hours came next of exploring each of the 32 gifts: what they look like, how God uses them, how they are felt by the individual with the gift and how they look to others. Finally, a discernment process was presented for participants to follow up with a plan for ongoing discernment and use of their gifts.
The all-day workshop began at 9am and lasted until 3:30pm. A congregational volunteer took care of lunch, coffee and snacks. Bulletin articles, newsletters articles, emails, and announcements were done for 6-8 weeks prior. There were even mentions during homilies. About 25 people participated in the workshop from a congregation with an average weekly attendance of about 125 and generally low response to adult education.
The evaluations were overwhelmingly positive and I watched people’s eyes open wide in understanding, but I was exhausted by 3:30pm. It was a lot of talking. Multiple presenters would have been better, both for my own voice, and to add some variety for listeners. Further, the extended sitting became weary for participants. The next time I give the workshop, I will schedule table conversations after every eight gifts presented for processing time and just to change the pace of the day.
The workshop ended with the presentation of a plan for discernment. Spiritual gifts don’t come and go and therefore can withstand testing. Participants were encouraged to set up tests of using a particular gift, paying careful attention to how they felt, the effect, and the feedback they received. Follow up interviews were arranged to discuss their plan and discernment. About seven signed up for interviews, which were conducted over the following two weeks.
In those follow up interviews, I met individually with participants, asking them about what their inventory said, if they agreed or not, and why. I asked clarifying questions on the gifts they discerned and listened closely for their experience, the effect, and the feedback they received. I helped connect their experiences with the spiritual gifts, or pointed out how the experiences might better reflect other gifts. I evaluated their discernment plan to ensure only one gift was being tested at a time and that the observed effects would be useful.
Those follow up interview proved to be powerful moments of pastoral care. As people shared their spiritual gifts with me, I could sense deep vulnerability and spiritual strength. Affirming these deep truths in people became a powerful spiritual experience. I watched people’s energy unleashed as they explored these energies and abilities of God planted within them. One participant later said, “I learned some new things about my “giftedness”. And it reinforced why, at times, serving God in certain specific ways just feels so right…..kind of like a “rush” or a “high” that comes when my words are obviously not my own, and I know that God is working through me to help others. It is at the same time both humbling and exhilarating. If each member of my church could identify just one or two gifts—and then practice using them for six months—an amazing amount of energy would be generated!”
I’m happy to share my 230-slide powerpoint and supporting materials. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org