Talking about giftedness has always been a sadly strange or underwhelming experience for me in church culture. Most of the time when we talk about the ways in which God has gifted us, we take one of two approaches: Emphasize the individuality of our gifts through some sort of “assessment” phase, or emphasize the unity of the one body though many gifts contribute. Neither or these emphases are necessarily bad, but I feel they often don’t have much to contribute to our own edification. If anything, discussion about how we are gifted often leans more practical and less theological and conceptual.
After attending The Gospel Coalition’s national conference, I walked away absolutely refreshed and grateful for the Reformation that we were celebrating over those few days together. Listening to reformational preaching through Galatians and anecdotal storytelling of the lives of the Reformers was a treat. As I’ve meditated on the material and content of the conference, I realized that we don’t often make a connection between the Reformation and Christian giftedness, especially for those in ministry. Put simply, what does Martin Luther’s ministry have to teach me about my own? Here are five quick reminders, supported by lessons from the Reformation, to bear in mind when thinking about how God equips us for the work of ministry.
1. What comes naturally to you does not come naturally to others.
In Galatians 2, we see the scene in which Paul is opposing Peter publicly, ultimately over the issue of justification by faith alone. Peter’s practices of avoiding eating with the Gentiles for fear of upsetting the Jews reflected wrong theological thinking about the doctrine of justification, and Paul labored to remind this brother apostle of his mistake. Perhaps this had happened before – after all, Peter was notoriously stubborn and slow to learn. Commenting on this passage, Luther makes an important statement:
“Most necessary it is, therefore, that we should know [justification by faith alone] well, teach it unto others, and beat it into their heads continually.”
Classic, brash, violent Luther! But his point is clear, and important. Pastor, what comes easily to you in studying the text may not come as easily to some in your flock. The gifted preacher is not just someone who likes studying Scripture and commentaries and can put together tweetable one-liners, but the preacher who learns how to draw out of his people a desire to read and know God’s Word. The worship leader’s gifts really begin to effect change when they draw out of people a desire to sing and pray and so forth. It bears repeating; what comes naturally to us may not come naturally to others. Keeping this in mind will help us be patient with our people, learn to contextualize and adapt, and remember to always make the main thing the main thing.
2. Giftedness does not equal instantaneous impact.
This won’t come as a surprise to those familiar with the Reformation, but it is worth mentioning. Sometimes, we deceive ourselves into believing that because God has gifted us in a certain manner, we are bound to make positive impact quickly. But this isn’t always the case. In fact, it’s normally not the case. Take the Reformation as our example. Luther nailed the 95 Theses to those Wittenberg church doors in 1517. But many consider the real “ending” of the Reformation to come around 1750. Centuries later, way beyond Luther’s lifetime, the movement continued. And even today, our churches are still being reformed. A core belief of Semper Reformanda is that our giftedness is less about the short-term change. We are people of the “long obedience in the same direction.”
3. Giftedness is about faithfulness.
This ties in with our previous point. If short-term gain is not what our giftedness is often used for in ministry, then faithfulness must be a key. One anecdote from the life of John Calvin is worth mentioning here. In 1538, after years of pastoring in the area, John Calvin was banished from Geneva. Three years pass, and after many circumstances change, Calvin was welcomed back to Geneva, to the same congregation from before. In his first week back, what did Calvin do? He opened up to the very next passage, the passage immediately following where he left off years ago, and began to preach the very next text.
The very next text. As I’ve said before, Heaven won’t look much different than Matthew 25:14-30. Calvin will have ten talents, I will have two. Our Master will evaluate both of us with the one same question: Did you steward what was entrusted to you? Giftedness is about faithfulness, no matter how many talents we might hold.
4. Seven billion people do not know or care about your giftedness.
And now, a story from a 21st-century Reformer, Kevin DeYoung. DeYoung told a story of once inviting D.A. Carson to his church to run a brief seminar for his church body, to which Carson agreed. When Carson arrived for the event, however, there was only a few dozen in attendance. DeYoung was extremely apologetic to Carson, that he came all this way and prepared all the material and took his precious time to come to find such an underwhelming response in attendance.
Carson’s reply was unforgettable. It went a little something like this: “You know, Kevin, every time I go somewhere to preach or speak, over seven billion people decide not to show up.” Carson humorously pointed to an important truth: Our giftedness must be kept in perspective. We are not ever the center of the conversation. We are a mere blip on the map, a blade in the grass. You and I will never be known or cared about by 90% of the world. Yes, the Reformation Wall pictured above memorializes four key Reformers (Farel, Calvin, Beza, Knox), but what of the tens of thousands of Reformers hardly anyone remembers, like Oecolampadius, Peter Martyr Vermigli, and other men and women whose names are lost with history? This reality only undergirds the importance of faithfulness where we are, for who God has entrusted to us.
5. Seven billion people may not know or care about your giftedness, but God does.
And yet, even though we will be altogether unknown in this world, God will know and care about our ministry. A pastor friend of mine, one of the hardest working pastors I know, came down with flu-like sickness that knocked him out of ministry for a few days. He was so frustrated, beside himself in bed as the world went on. He later told the story of a mentor texting him and checking on him, to which my friend said that he was certainly not okay being cooped up while he’s missing out on so much he could be doing. His mentor told him (my paraphrase), “Isn’t this a wonderful reminder that God doesn’t need you for His work, but that He wants you for His work?”
God doesn’t need Martin Luther, and He doesn’t need you. But He does want you both. He loves His sons and daughters, and though He is omnipotent and omniscient, He still for some reason invites us to participate in using our God-given gifts to point to the Giver. Who are we, that He is mindful of us? He simply wants us to be faithful with the talents in our hands, to take the road of patience and long-term growth, even at the expense of us being critically acclaimed.
This road is called Reformation.