Tuesday, May 4, 2010

I have gifts and I want to use them...

Somewhere along the way something changed.  Serving the Lord because a right demanded and gifts became an obligation for the Church to find a place for such service.  I am not trying to pick on anyone but to raise a question about the shift in the way we approach things as a Church.

In a conversation at the Model Conference on Theology that dealt with matters of worship, a Pastor told me that he had people in his congregation who were gifted musicians and that they developed contemporary worship because they had people gifted in this area and they did not have anyone gifted as an organist.  He was quite adamant that these gifts drove the direction of his worship leadership.  They had gifted people and it was his belief that the congregation owed them a place to use their gifts in leading worship.

In a conversation about parish leaders, the same point was made.  We have women gifted in the area of leadership and deeply spiritual and therefore it is our duty to utilize those gifts.  His point was made with reference to women serving as Eucharistic ministers (during the distribution of Holy Communion), congregational Presidents, lectors, and elders.

When did the gifts drive the discussion?  If a person is a good reader, does that mean the Church is obligated to find a place for that person to read (usually in worship)?  If a person is a good tenor saxophonist, does that mean does that mean the Church is obligated to find a place for that person to play (usually in worship)?  Has the Church become one huge spiritual gifts director whose job it is to give people a chance to use their gifts front and center (usually in worship)?  Have gifts become the spiritual dollars burning a hole in our pockets so that we must find a way to spend them (usually in worship)?

I am not trying to be sarcastic here but am asking an honest question of the Church and those who lead her?  Is ministry or leadership a gift that must be utilized or a privilege within the Church?  Is the fact that  someone CAN do something a requirement that they MUST do it within the Church?  Is ministry or leadership a function or ability that we must recognize and utilize or is it a privilege bestowed?

There are many who have gifts but who do not have calls or places to exercise those gifts.  Is this a failure of the Church to find a place for these gifts to be utilized?  There are some who do not possess these gifts but who have been called, ordained, and installed.  Is this a failure of the Church in choosing whom the Church will give the authority to act in Christ's name?

I am not trying to paint anyone into a corner but to ask when this shift was made and whether it was a faithful and good shift.  If we keep to this course, we might well develop and office of gifts director to function in this way in the congregation or change the role and function of the seminaries and bishops from equipping and setting apart to the role of discerning, identifying, and making a place for those so gifted to utilize their gifts.

Though this does not seem to have been changed from the vantage point of doctrine, it is true that the way we talk about this -- both in the larger church and in the congregation -- have definitely changed.  I just though it might be worth talking about...


Rev. Thomas C. Messer, SSP said...

It changed when we started flirting with the "church growth movement" and became convinced that it was necessary to find things for people to do in order to keep them around.

Oh, and by the way, there already are "offices" created by some congregations for the purpose of finding ways for people to use their spiritual gifts. An LCMS congregation I belonged to some years back had a "Spiritual Gifts Director," whose sole task was to "plug people in to the ministry of the congregation," 'cause, after all, "everyone's a minister."

Thanks for bringing this up. I agree that it is a topic worthy of discussion, for sure!

Anonymous said...

Do you suppose the obsession with gifts is related in any way to our loss of the concept of vocation?

Rev. Thomas C. Messer, SSP said...

Bingo, Anonymous! That, and, as I said, our flirtation with those who have a completely different understanding of "ministry."

Dr.D said...

Wow! What a horrendous misunderstanding!

Near the end of 1st Corinthians 12, St. Paul speaks of the variety of gifts given to those in the Church. It is pretty clear that not all of those gifts are to be exercised in worship, but rather they are to be utilized in the life of the Christian community. This is true today as it was then.

We might imagine someone who is a great cook. It is pretty absurd to think that we must find a place for this person to function during the liturgy. It is, however, no stretch at all to imagine this person taking a leading role in planning the annual parish dinner. That dinner is the time when the saxophone player performs, the jazz drummer performs, etc. These people are all contributing to the parish life, but they are not called to lead the liturgy.

The liturgy, traditionally, is the well defined "work of the people," which does not leave room for innovation or improvisation.

Tapani Simojoki said...

I have made the comment elsewhere in a slightly different context that the trouble is that we have adopted the Vatican II / generic Protestant man-centred view of worship. Worship is something we do, whether it's the sacrifice of the whole people (Vatican II) or reaching up with our worship, or something else.

Rather than seeing the Divine Service as one great banquet, where everyone except the ministers (i.e. servants) get to sit down, relax and eat. No one in their right minds would go to a this-worldly banquet and then throw a strop because they don't get to walk around with trays, or do some cooking in the kitchen, or even pour the wine. But in church that's become the norm.

Nagel's Introduction in Lutheran Worship puts it beautifully, as does John Kleinig in What's the Use of Praising God. It's God who serves, and our bit in the worship is to say please and thank you, and receive, receive, receive.

Except for the poor pastor and organist, and assistant ministers and choir, who also have to work on Sunday.

Ellie said...

You raise several good points, and I agree with Pr. Messer that there is a lot we can blame the "church growth movement" for on this issue. I wonder if it is also related to a pietistic impulse, in that the "real" Christians are those who are clearly and very visibly very involved in the church. Too often the church responds to this impulse by creating new avenues for many people to be involved (read: programs). Evangelicalism places a lot of emphasis on discovering one's spiritual gifts, creating a means to utilize these supposed gifts, and putting you on a guilt trip if you are not using your gifts adequately. I wonder if this is yet another thing that has been tracked into the LCMS.

Also, I think this is related to the egalitarian undercurrent in the LCMS that we can't seem to quite shake.

Michael Paul 白霈德牧師 said...

Yes, the Divine Service is all about our receiving gifts, not using or displaying them.

Anonymous said...

I understand where you are coming from, what with the Entertainment crowd out there. However-in keeping with your post the day before about troublesome congregations-there was a non-church-growth, no contempo, congregation "once upon a time" that let the politics of music prevent a very good Lutheran organist from playing in a rotation, probably out of fear that it might expose the ineptitude and refusal to practice of the one 65+ "under contract" who played every Sunday and ever midweek and ever special service and had for the past 30 years. The pastor told this very qualified organist who simply wanted the opportunity to use his gifts and help help the worship service be a bit more Lutheran and liturgical (eg. Bach, Manz, etc. now and then, instead of nondescript methodist funeral home "chords")that he should repent of his sin of wanting to do something he wasn't allowed to do. (The pastor had his own ecclesiopolitical reasons for wanting to hinder this organist from playing.) Eventually, after years burdened by guilt from this false application of law by the pastor, the organist went to a sister congregation and was able to play there. Meanwhile, the original congregation continued to shrink, because many simple Christian would-be volunteers were told they should stop sinning by wanting to use their gifts. (All this overdriven, falsely applied law was never accompanied by much gospel from this preacher).
Thus, while you make a valid point, it is also sinful to suppress people's gifts in the name of fighting "church growth" or whatever the cause may be. God expects each of us to use his gifts to the glory of God.
BTW, I know of a very liturgical, confessional congregation, with a good saxophonist, who makes use of him to play the cantus firmus for Bach preludes played on the organ, and other such stuff.
Please, (commenters, too!) don't pain with such broad strokes! (I say that as one who finds MUCH of value in your blog almost every day!)

Pastor Peters said...

I had a situation in which an aged and inform organist was on the bench and we had a very gifted organist available. I went privately to the aged one and asked her to prayerfully consider if this might not be a gift from the Lord since she herself had complained about health issues. I did not say a word to anyone else. A few weeks later, the older lady came to me and said she thought it was time to retire. We honored her service to the Lord with a special reception and a financial gift and the new organist quietly assumed the bench with little fuss...

I played saxophone for years and that is why I said it... however, my playing would never have approached the level of accompanying worship... the reference was to my and my playing -- not that one might never be used. Again, the point here is that playing any instrument is not a right to be demanded but a privilege given by the Church... no matter how good (or not) the individual is...

Pastor Peters said...

Oooooops... make that infIRM... oh well

Steve said...

This is a very interesting topic to the least.

I have to say "the church growth movement" to me - really should read (as I feel that's how it's been used) "How can I fit God into my life on my terms."

Isn't that when we should stop a minute and refocus here? Correct me if I'm wrong, but shouldn't it be the other way around? I have to believe that sometime these "gifts" people want to use and share (that ARE valid gifts from God) are sometimes more caught up in self gratification.

Now that the stones have stopped being thrown at me here - I'll go on. :0)

What I mean, is are we REALLY examining our hearts? Are we really thinking of God first? I don't believe we need to CHANGE God, or the traditions of the church to please PEOPLE. Who are we worshiping here? God, our ourselves? Take a moment and talk to God about that yourself.

That being said - There are certainly more ways to use those God given gits and abilities in the church. BUT...I'm I going to say the three letter word again - BUT....They don't have to be done in the church service itself.

Why aren't we using those gifts in a "GOD FEARING" manner? Examples of this would be: the saxaphone player, let's even throw in the virtuoso on the electric guitar - Why not put together a church function OUTSIDE OF REGULAR worship. Have a gathering in a Christian manner at a Friday evening fellowship and play that music that it appealing to Christians. That's no different than getting a group together from church to go see the Mel Gibson "Passion of the Christ." We gather as Christians to do these things - but we don't use them to fit them into our schedule on GOD'S time. We didn't cancel or should I say, replace a church service one Sunday and say we're going to watch "Passion of the Christ" here today instead folks. Put your Bibles and Hymnals away. NO - we did it OUTSIDE of worship. Outside of worship - DIDN't CHANGE worship for our enterainment and needs.

I know many accountants, nurses, computer sofware writers, etc. We don't have them PERFORM those actions directly into a service, but rather in Chrsitian fellowship OUTSIDE of worship. Tax preperation done on site by a fellow member, blood pressure checks in the fellowship hall between services by the nurse for those who would like/need to so. Create new software to assist organizing/arranging our sacred music and hymns.

We don't have the nurse run around and check peoples BP durning the sermon, or stop off in the back row and have our taxes done on the way back from communion or throw the hymnals out and pass out laptops so you can pull up your hymns there.

My point is - EVERY GIFT AND TALENT needs to be examined and determined if we are using this in a GOD FEARING manner again. DOES IT HAVE A PLACE IN GOD'S HOUSE/SERVICE. Am I or are WE having to change GOD to do so?

We don't CHANGE God. We change oursleves to FIT INTO GOD'S TIME and schedule.

Not all talents fit into the church service itself. But can still be used and perfomed in a God fearing manner and Christian fellowship. Isn't that how God would expect us to humble ourselves?

I'll get hate mail for sure here, but I'm going to say it. LITURGICAL DANCERS. Why in Church? I know someone who does art's and crafts and only does carvings of Jesus. He too is an artist. But he doesn't sit up in front of altar on Sunday morning and whittle out a Jesus figurine for all to watch. It's certainly an art and him expressing his faith and love for Jesus as well. It's what he can bring to God using HIS gift of art he was given. But it doesn't have a place in God's house DURING worship.

Janet said...

Steve: What more is there to say but "AMEN?!" Great post!

Steve said...


Thanks! I don't have the answers obviously, but I'm VERY concerned that "popular demand or new idea's" are not being monitored as closely as they should. I'm not backing down on my statement that "Not everything belongs in the church service" rather, clarifying myself.

This isn't to say that new things can't ever be introduced. BUT....are the EXAMINED carefully? Honestly, I like having something new. I think we NEED a portion of that along with tradition. I think we tend to wander on Sunday morning's too often when it becomes "old hat." Something NEW grabs your attention and focus closer. We just need to make sure that attention it's getting in God's service is directed at HIM.

The concern is - what value do these new things have that can serve our spiritual needs? Does it have doctrinal references or just "fluff"? Is just a nice thought of Jesus?

Let's go back and look at the process of selecting hymns in the Lutheran hymnal's. We don't have hymns such as "His Eye is on the Sparrow" as a hymn. Why? It's a beautiful song, makes reference to God "(HIS)eye is on the sparrow, and I know (HE) watches over me." It has great soothing melody - almost lullaby like, but it has too much "fluff." Doesn't really have STRONG references to God and what he has done for us, or even what we can do for him. It doesn't make a statement on our faith, Law or Gospel. Obviously I can go on, but we can certainly look at it on our own and see the differences.

It's certainly a fine song! Can't argue that. But, it doesn't really have a place in our worship services on Sunday morning - God's time.

Maybe we should start coining the phrase "WWLD"...what would Luther do? We can start by comparing the text of "A Mighty Fortress..." with "His Eye is on the Sparrow." About 16 seconds in....we'll have Marty's answer! :0) Nein - (no).

The "anything goes" attitude is not a strong enough approach in respecting and honoring God in worship.

I know the church struggles with this. The fear of losing someone or people if they don't meet their requests. But, the truth is - If those individuals feels that can't come and worship there any longer based on that fact, it's more of a faith issue. It's VERY week, and a poor attitude. We don't get mad and stomp off. Who is that about? Not God.....

The church and synods need to take the control and stand firm - or it's just a free for all. I mentioned on another post a while back about a Lutheran church that actually hides the word "LUTHERAN" from the public. When questioned - it was a descision by the board as they felt it was intimidating or keeping potential worshipers away. EXCUSE ME? So, we loose our identity for popular demand? This church changed all signage, printing, publication's and so forth from Good Shepherd Evangelical Lutheran Church to "Good Shepherd Church." It was a softer sell??? Incognito Lutherans! Well, not any I want to associate with. Perhaps they should have removed the word church as well. That will keep more people out! Ay Yi Yi....

I can only think that God gives us these challenges to make us stronger. We as a church need to take those opportunities and USE them! Don't stop at just saying "NO" and calling it a day. We need to be sensitive of those individuals, but more sensitive of God and his Word. It can be done. The failure and losing people is "poor management" in these cases. It's not just up to the pastors to be the bad guy.

A lot of challenges - perhaps. But are we missing God's opportunities to grow? Are we missing the opportunites and letting people just walk away mad? Jesus doesn't want that either. Now the finger points back at us.

Hello, God.... aka "Our Help in Ages Past."