Developing a Heart for Ministry

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July 18, 2004

by J. David Hoke

      I remember hearing John Wimber tell a story years ago of what happened to him after he gave his life to Jesus. He said that after he began to read the Bible he noticed that there was a lot in there that was not happening in his own church. So one Sunday he came up to one of the deacons and asked Him a question. He said, “When do we get to do the stuff?” The deacon had no idea what he was talking about and replied, “What stuff?” “You know,” Wimber said, “the stuff in the Bible – in the book of Acts.” The deacon responded, “Well, we don’t do that stuff anymore.”

      This does raise an interesting question for us. What is the stuff we are supposed to be doing as Christians? After we give our lives to Him, what is it that He wants us to do?

      Last week we talked about developing a heart for God. God is our first priority. But once we have settled that, what then. Of course, we always need to seek God, read His Word, and pray, but isn’t there more to do after that? There is. We are to become fully devoted followers of Christ. That means we must follow. We must do something. And the something we must do is to become engaged in ministry. What we do in ministry may differ, but that we do something is not an option, it is imperative!

      All of us want to make a contribution. There are many things that can be done, but what makes the service you give truly Christian? Is Christian service that which is done for Christ or that which is done by Christ? In other words, do we simply decide what we will do for the Lord, or are we allowing Christ, who lives in us, to empower and direct what we do? Functioning in the spiritual community of the church must be by the power of the living Christ manifested through our lives. And for that to happen, we must function in a spiritual realm by the use of spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts demonstrate the activity of God in our midst. So it is important for us to understand and discover our spiritual gifts if we want to be used in ministry. As we do, we will begin to live in a spiritual dimension where the presence and power of God will be realized.

Our Ministry Depends On Spiritual Gifts

      There is no doubt that in the early church believers were taught that they had not only been forgiven but that they had been gifted for service. New converts were taught that God had equipped them with a spiritual gift or gifts that they were responsible to discover and exercise. The apostle Peter writes in 1 Peter 4:10 (NIV): Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:7 (NIV): Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” So we see that all of us have been gifted by God. And it is extremely important that we discover what these gifts are and begin to use them because the value of our lives as Christians is determined by the use we make of what God has given us.

      Listen to what Paul writes in Romans 12:

And since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let each exercise them accordingly.

— Romans 12:6 (NAS)

God has given each of us the ability to do certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out when you have faith that God is speaking through you. If your gift is that of serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, do a good job of teaching. If your gift is to encourage others, do it! If you have money, share it generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.

—Romans 12:6-8 (NLT)

      Our ministry depends on spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts are the means by which we are to function. They are the essence of our ability to serve God and others.

      We might do well to define spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts are not natural talents and abilities. Often, people think they are one and the same. It is true that natural talents and abilities are given to us by God. But talents like musical ability, artistic skills, athletic excellence, and the like are not spiritual in nature and can be possessed by non-believers. And it doesn't necessarily mean that when a person possessing one of these natural talents becomes a believer that God will use that person spiritually in that area. Spiritual gifts function in the realm of the Spirit and bring the blessing of God to others.

      A person may have a natural talent for teaching, but not possess the spiritual gift of teaching. If asked to teach a Sunday School class, they may be able to impart the information and knowledge of the subject matter to the class, but the teaching would lack the power to bless and advance the students spiritually. A spiritual gift ministers on the level of the Spirit. A person may have tremendous musical ability to sing or play well, but if hearts are not touched there may be no spiritual gift in operation. Technical excellence does not equal spiritual power. We have all heard excellent voices that left us unmoved and at other times listened to those with lesser skills and had our hearts set ablaze. On those rare occasions when technical excellence and spiritual power combine, it is indeed wonderful. But the two are not synonymous. And we need to understand that.

      There are several lists of spiritual gifts found in Scripture. One is found in Romans 12 that we just looked at. Another gift list is found in 1 Corinthians 12. In Ephesians 4, we see gifted people. In these lists we see a variety of gifts: prophecy, service, teaching, exhortation, giving, leading, mercy, the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, discerning of spirits, tongues, the interpretation of tongues, helps, administration, apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.

      I do not believe that these gift lists are intended to be exhaustive. But they are certainly intended to be instructive. There are certain basic gifts, but a multitude of ways God chooses to use those gifts. Like faces, each is different though all have essentially the same elements. We all have a nose, two lips, two ears, two eyes, two cheeks, a chin and hair. But every face is different. No two are exactly alike. Even in identical twins, there are subtle differences. And so, two people having the same gift may employ it somewhat differently. The other gifts a person possesses may impact how the gifts are used. Additionally, a person's passion and temperament will impact the use of a gift. For instance, a person with the gift of teaching may have a passion for children. To put that person teaching adults would be the wrong move. There is great variety in spiritual gifts and how they are used.

      God is in charge of this variety and He determines the gift or gifts you have. He also determines the gift mix in each individual local church. In fact, because He gives us different gifts, He encourages our unity by creating interdependence in the church. We are a multi-membered body where each member needs the other. Aren’t you glad that there are those within the church who have the gift of teaching? How about the gift of exhortation? Do you ever need to be encouraged and challenged to be all you can be for the Lord? I certainly do. What about the gift of mercy? When you’ve been beat up all week and you come bruised, bleeding and hurting — aren’t you glad to see someone with the gift of mercy? When you’re confused and don’t know what course of action to take, what you need is someone with the gift of the word of wisdom. You don’t want just another stale opinion. You need to hear from God. When you’re confused, you need a word of wisdom — God’s wisdom. And so it goes. We need one another. And we need to discover our gift because others need us.

      This brings us to the question of how you discover your spiritual gifts? How do you begin to open the door to this new world of fulfillment and usefulness? It’s actually fairly simple. But we need to examine the context in which we are not only able to discover our gifts but also able to put them to use.

Our Ministry Develops In Small Groups

      The context in which we can discover and use the spiritual gifts we have for ministry is that of small groups. God has given us a pattern in His Word for the church that is so practical. It is the pattern of celebration and cell.

      The pattern of the early church was to meet both in the Temple and from house to house.

They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity.                           — Acts 2:46(NLT)

You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house.                                — Acts 20:20 (NIV)

      The large group meetings were for celebration, worship, and instruction in the Word. The small group meetings in homes were for fellowship, encouraging support, prayer, and nurturing care. This dual nature of church meetings proved to be the balance needed for the early church to grow, be cared for and be mobilized in ministry. This same form is desperately needed today.

      What better place than a small group to discover your gifts and begin to minister to others. It is small, so not very threatening. You develop relationships with friends who are supportive. There you can feel free to test the waters. And test the waters, you must. You see, that is essential to discovering and developing gift-oriented ministry.

      How do we find and develop our spiritual gifts for ministry? Our natural abilities can instruct us. How did you discover that you were artistically endowed, or musically talented, or athletically skilled? You probably began with a process of trial and error based on some sort of desire. You had a desire and then tried something. Or you tried something and developed a desire. You liked it. You might have watched someone do something and pictured yourself doing it. Somehow you developed a desire and followed that desire. Many times God works just that way. It is a misconception to think that following the Lord means that He will lead you to do something you don't want to do. More often than not, He creates a desire in your heart first. Find what you are drawn to.

      But then you need a safe place to experiment and develop those gifts. This is why being a part of a small group is so important. It is a safe place to grow. It is an encouraging place to test the waters. As you do, see what happens. Watch for improvement and development as you would in developing a natural ability. Evaluate whether God is blessing this attempt. You might find that you have made a mistake. That’s fine. But you may find that God begins to use you in that area. You may find as you use this gift that you become more comfortable and confident and experience a new vitality and power in your life.

      Others will also recognize the gift in you. As you begin to function in the area of spiritual gifts, others will begin to affirm what they see in you. In fact, others may see your gifts long before you do.

      This can happen best in the context of a small group. You see, not everyone is called to lead or minister on Sunday morning. In fact, if some of you were asked to come to the platform and teach or preach or even pray, you may feel very uncomfortable. It may be a threatening experience for you. But it is easier to do things in a smaller group.

      And there are more opportunities to use your gifts for ministry in a small group. In the larger celebration service of the church, there are only several gifts on display. You have people who lead worship, lead the services, and preach and teach the Word. But there are so many ways to use more gifts in a smaller context. And there is also more opportunity to involve everyone.

      If each of you wanted to share your heart for only five minutes in the larger service, we would not have enough time. We would be here all day. But everyone can share in a smaller group. Everyone can have time if they need it. And in the small groups other gifts can function best. In a small group you can pray for every need. Where can you better manifest the gifts of helps, or encouragement, or showing mercy?

      Our goal for small groups is to bring Christians into closer relationships with God and each other; and through these living relationships to bring the life-changing message of the gospel of Jesus Christ to others in our community. Small groups provide a vehicle for life-giving relationships to be developed. In a small group, people develop committed and trusting relationships with each other and with the Lord as they share their lives and minister to one another’s needs.

      Now these groups can take all kinds of shapes. There can be small groups that meet in homes for Bible study and discipleship. There can be small groups that are primarily prayer and discipleship groups. There can be small groups called ministry teams that have as their major task a specific ministry area. Our Sunday morning Bible study before the worship services can be a small group. Each group, however, will have some essential elements. Whether it is a group that meets in a home or at the church facilities or in a ministry task outside of the church, there will be a time in the Word, a time of sharing real needs, and a time of prayer and ministry to one another. In this way we are pointed toward God, encouraged and cared for.

      If you are not in a small group, let me encourage you (I would command you if I could) to become involved without delay. Your growth depends on it. Your ministry depends on it. Your spiritual health depends on it.

      Remember, we have been talking about developing a healthy Christian life. The two characteristics we have talked about today are two of the essential quality characteristics of a healthy Christian life — gift-oriented ministry and holistic small groups.

      As you minister based on your spiritual gifts you will be able to give without giving out. And as you find your place in a healthy small group you will be loved, encouraged, cared for and empowered to develop spiritually.

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