How do spiritual gifts affect church health? To give a real-life example, I had the pleasure of serving for almost 7 years on the staff of a truly healthy church. I realize how blessed I am to be able to say that. The church’s health affected me in every way, and I didn’t earn or cultivate this. The church was healthy when I arrived and when I left. What was it that made this church so healthful, vibrant, and life-giving? Maybe a good starting point is, how am I defining health? You can find a picture of church health here.

It began when I arrived to find all of the ministries already running and fully staffed – even after a 6-month vacancy of leadership. This obviously speaks well of the ministry model of the pastor who went before me. I was instructed in my interview to not take on the direct responsibility of the various ministry departments, but instead to equip and cultivate the leadership teams. I was commissioned to go deep first, and let the ministries grow at a natural pace. And they were growing deeper and (slowly) wider – like a healthy plant.

The ministries did well when I did this well. In seasons when I took charge and tried to do things on my own strength and abilities, we had to adjust – painfully.

It looked something like this:

Years 1-2: Getting healthy by participating in a healthy staff and church environment (my more recent story of getting healthy again last year is found here). Observing and coming alongside leaders in various departments, leading team meetings, plugging in with my teaching, musical and discipleship giftings.

Years 3-4: Trying too hard to bring change. Prioritizing projects over people too often. Exhausting and frustrating some volunteers. Taking over too much responsibility, and taking too much personally. Seeing growth, but at the cost of leadership health, especially mine.

Years 5-7: Getting help. Receiving painful but necessary correction. Letting God and others gently shape my leadership style. Working together with other churches. Creating team lead roles for all the ministries. Writing a bold-lettered admonition on my wall – “People first.”

This is obviously a broad summary. There were seasons in each year when I made great decisions and terrible decisions and everything else on that spectrum, but the correlation between equipping and health, “performing” and unhealth, was consistent throughout. When the amazing (and patient with a young, learning leader) ministry leaders and volunteers were healthy, fulfilled, valued, and growing, so were the ministries. Thank God for calling me through others and His Word to a healthier way of leading. By God’s grace, I’m getting there.

How Scripture Defines Health

Paul writes in Ephesians 4:11, “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

The scriptural model is that the leaders of the church – Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds and Teachers, are given to equip, not to perform. The Apostles mobilize others. The Prophets help others to hear God’s heart and join God in his mission. The Evangelists model discipleship, and equip others to share the Good News. The Shepherds and Teachers (or a combination of those gifts) create systems of care and feeding, and apprentice others in the patterns and teachings of Jesus. These spiritual leaders help others to discover and grow in their own spiritual gifts.

Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds and Teachers, are given to equip, not to perform

The New Normal

As we transition to a post-COVID world, the sheer magnitude of the variety of expectations for “new normal” church is already disorienting for leaders. Let’s start slow, and determine to go deep before wide. This is going to require a deliberate shift for natural “get it done” leaders like me, and also a measured rejection of broader culture’s individualistic influence on how we be the church for members, especially volunteers.

We have all been through a season of tribulation that is going to require real reflection, rest, recovery, and prayerful listening before diving into doing. Our pastors are not superheroes, nor do they grow the church by their own sheer will and effort. The Spirit grows the church by equipping and maturing us. We are all participants, not spectators. We all own the discipleship of our families and those in our circles of influence. We are all given spiritual gifts for church health. Let’s pray together for a Spirit-led renewal of spiritual gifts to “equip his people for works of service” as we join God in his mission this Fall.