Nurturing Spiritual Gifts: in Ourselves and Others

By Audrey Stanton-Smith

We celebrate that we are each called and claimed by God. We have a better idea of why spiritual gifts are important. And using the assessment tools available, we know how to discover which gifts God has bestowed upon us. The next step as we grow as a disciple is to nurture our gifts to the glory of God and for the benefit of others.

And that’s something that requires help from a church family — not only to carry out God’s work within a church but to carry out his work throughout the world.

Kim Matthews

“Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12 that ‘the body does not consist of one member, but of many,’ ” said Kim Matthews, CLM, vice president of the United Methodist Foundation of West Virginia and chair of Lay Servant Ministries for the WVUMC. “So it is with spiritual gifts and the church. Spiritual gifts are important because, together, they equip us to BE the church in the world, and to do God’s work among God’s people.”

When one is baptized, a congregation promises to use  “prayers,” “presence,” “gifts,”  “service,” and “witness” to increase that person’s faith, confirm her or his hope, and perfect that new part of the body in love. The church enters into a covenant to help that person live into his or her spiritual gifts — or “grace gifts,” as writer Christine Harman calls them in “For the Common Good: Discovering and Using Your Spiritual Gifts.” 

“The granting of these grace gifts has a twofold purpose — one being personal and the other being corporate,” Harman writes. “On the personal side, the grace gifts we are given enable us to serve God through the uniqueness God granted at our creation. They enable us to live the Great Commandment (see Matthew 22:36-40) and fulfill the Great Commission (see Matthew 28:19-20). On the corporate side, the grace gifts enable us to work for the common good, to band together with others for the betterment of our congregations and the communities in which they are located — our mission field.”

In other words, the gifts of individuals work together to transform our broken and hurting world as well as our churches. “Studying spiritual gifts, learning to work with them, and letting them work for the church can open up and expand fruitful ministry,” Harman writes. 

It is the mature members of the body who help newer Christians recognize that being a believer and accepting that God has called them are linked, as stated in “The Call to Ministry of All the Baptized” in The Book of Discipline. Then, they may help one another grow into their various gifts. That’s how Shea James, director of Young Disciples and Outdoor Ministries for the WVUMC, began to grow into her gifts.

Shea James

“I’ve been a part of different Christian communities over the years, and my teachers, church members, professors, coworkers, and camp supervisors identified my gifts before I did,” Shea said. “Once they told me, ‘you’re a gifted leader,’ I could see it. When they said, ‘you mentor others and help them grow as a disciple of Jesus Christ,’ I believed them. Christian community is central to understanding our spiritual gifts, we’re gifted for the benefit of the community, and others often see these gifts before we’re aware of them.”

It’s also important to recognize that those gifts may shift over time, Director of Leadership Formation Rev. Bonnie MacDonald pointed out. Her own gifts of administration and teaching, with a variety of additional closely aligned gifts, take turns coming to the forefront depending on her focus. 

Bonnie MacDonald

“God flexibly uses our spiritual gifts to equip us for the ministry to which we are being called at the present time, whether that be as a faithful engineer or a pastoral leader,” Bonnie said. “The specific use and framing of our gifts and calling may change throughout our lives and ask for new skill levels and learning. But our vocation as disciples of Christ will remain the same.”

She thinks of spiritual gifts as “natural abilities, given freely by God, that help us live out God’s purpose for us, for the benefit of others.”

“In one of my favorite descriptions of spiritual gifts, ‘Eighth Day of Creation,’ Elizabeth O’Connor describes the value of spiritual gifts for the individual and community,” Bonnie said.

“The Church is ‘a gift-evoking, gift-bearing community,’ Bonnie said, paraphrasing O’Connor. “Through our giftedness, God is calling each of us into the fullness of our own potential. ‘No one enters into a fullness of being except in community,’ and ‘no community develops the potential of its corporate life unless the gifts of each of its members are evoked and exercised on behalf of the whole community.’ ” 

“By joining with God in discovering and developing our gifts and the gifts of others, we are joining in God’s ongoing work of creation, as growing disciples who participate in the transformation of the world,” Bonnie said.