bits from bob....

Small Groups and Spiritual Gifts:
Have We Missed the Use of the "Non-Miraculous" Gifts of the Spirit?

by Bob Young
[permission is given to reprint with credit noted]

The religious group with which I most closely identify rejects the continuation of the miraculous apostolic spiritual gifts of the first century church. In fact, we have so adamantly rejected the miraculous gifts of the Spirit that all gifts of the Spirit, whether miraculous or non-miraculous, have virtually fallen out of view. This doctrinal understanding is a major factor in our lack of focus on spiritual gifts, but a second challenge arises because most churches today lack occasions for the membership as a whole to exercise spiritual gifts. At best, worship assemblies allow only a few to exercise such gifts, and many times entire segments of the congregation are excluded from any individual "gifted" participation. (Some churches, in an effort to involve more people in public roles, have expanded their definition of spiritual gifts to include virtually every talent or skill.) How to address this situation has puzzled me through the years, since it seems to me that the New Testament clearly teaches the continuing existence of certain spiritual gifts, and since it seems equally clear that those with spiritual gifts are admonished to exercise them for the common good of the body of Christ and for the effective functioning of the body.

I found a recent comment by Joel Comiskey ("Cell Groups and the Gifts of the Spirit") helpful.
Earlier on in my cell ministry, a person tried to convince me of the need to add additional programs, so that people could find and exercise their spiritual gifts. "But in the small groups they'll have a chance to exercise their gifts," I countered. "Those with the gift of mercy will have the opportunity to minister to those in need--both in and outside the group. The person with the gift of teaching can clarify a passage of Scripture. Those with the gifts of service or helps will have plenty of chances to use their gifts in the cell atmosphere." He didn't really hear what I was saying and our conversation that night ended in a stalemate. We both had strong opinions. But the conversation was a blessing in disguise because it forced me to revisit the issue of spiritual gifts and cell groups. The conversation stirred me to go back to Scripture for answers.

In this article I share and expand some of Comiskey's observations. Have you considered the significance of small groups as a part of the experience of the early church? Reread the book of Acts with small groups and house churches in mind. Think about how these small groups almost certainly provided opportunities for the early Christians to develop and use their various spiritual gifts. The believers met from house to house as well as in the public gatherings (Acts 2:46; 5:12,20,25,42). When persecution made larger group gatherings difficult, the preferred meeting places became the houses of the individual believers. In fact, the house church model became the primary type of church in the New Testament period. The Scriptures commonly refer to the "church in the house of" a certain person (Acts 12:12; Rom. 16:3-5; 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15 and Philm. 2). The New Testament books were completed by the end of the first century, but the early churches did not have buildings of their own until about 150 AD. This suggests that the New Testament was written to house churches-house churches that provided a context in which the exercise of individual gifts was possible and encouraged.

When the New Testament writers wrote letters and mentioned spiritual gifts, they were writing to believers meeting in home groups (Ephesians 4; Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12-14; 1 Peter 4). In the New Testament, spiritual giftedness is connected with the body of Christ. In the body of Christ spiritual gifts are discovered, developed, and exercised. The only way to know where a person fits in the body of Christ is to discover his or her giftedness. The informal home atmosphere of the early church gave each person ample opportunity to test, prove and discover their own spiritual giftedness and place in the body of Christ.

In the context of the house churches and small groups in which Christians met for worship, encouragement, teaching, and edification, the church found possible the involvement the members of the body without multiplying "programs" which may or may not have much to do with the eternal purpose of the church. When the church finds its spiritual identity and focus in small groups, concepts about the roles in the shared worship assembly change. The worship assembly focuses more on God and less on human abilities and skills. The worship assembly attracts outsiders and curiosity seekers. The worship assembly is no longer the primary context of fellowship, since a close, shared fellowship is experienced regularly in the context of small group meetings.

Today, more than ever, we need to get back to the small group as the primary experience and evidence of the church and of the presence of the Spirit among us. When small groups become the primary support system for the Christian life and faith, they become also the primary place to exercise spiritual gifts. They provide a natural context for worship and prayer together. They are an excellent opportunity to find encouragement and accountability as we grow in our relationship with Christ, and a spontaneous and biblical place for the discovery of our spiritual gifts.

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Last updated April 21, 2011