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Discipleship: Activating our Gifts

As noted previously, discipleship is a cornerstone of Kingdom culture. Last week we explored the rhythm of invitation and challenge found in healthy organizations focused on discipleship. This week we are exploring another aspect of discipleship – activation of the gifts given to us by Jesus.

Paul writes in Ephesians 4:11-13 “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip his 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.”

One of the most helpful interpreters of this passage and a strong voice for connecting Ephesians 4 to conversations about discipleship is Alan Hirsch, author of The Forgotten Ways, Untamed, and 5Q, among other books. He is also founder of 5Q, an organization focused upon a deeper understanding of the gifts introduced in the passage above.

It’s worth noting that the gifts listed above are given by Jesus (I was recently invited to speak on this passage at the church we attend – you can find that message around the 22 minute mark of this video). When we see these gifts as encompassing the “fullness of Christ” (verse 13) then we can begin to gain a glimpse of how the activation of these are vital to a healthy faith community.

The expression and practice of these gifts should contribute to unity. For example, while there are many today who may consider themselves prophets, it’s worth asking if their words lead to unity or divisiveness. If there are mature expressions of this giftedness then there are likely immature expressions of these gifts as well. The practice of any of these – apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd, teacher – should contribute to the building up of the body of Christ.

What are some ways we see this working out within theological education?

First, it’s worth noting that the Church has often elevated the giftedness of a Shepherd and Teacher above Apostles, Prophets, and Evangelists. This becomes extremely relevant in a seminary context since many who serve in some form of church leadership have taken courses at a school like Winebrenner. The challenge is to make sure that the fullness of Christ is represented in the program curriculum, faculty, individual courses, and even down to single class sessions. It’s worth considering the design of students as well – if most of the students fit within a particular giftedness it’s worth asking “why”? and what’s lost when we only have a portion of those listed?

Second, the point above should never be interpreted to mean that one particular gift design is better or more important than another. To suggest that Apostles, Prophets, and Evangelists have sometimes been neglected is not suggesting they are more important than Shepherds and Teachers. All five are vital to experiencing the fullness of Christ!

Third, using the invitation/challenge framework from last week, we can ask where is the invitation in this discussion? Christ has given us these gifts and is inviting us to be active in our use. What a privilege to grow in awareness that my efforts in high school at making some extra money selling baseball cards (true story) were not some random plans but may have been an early and slightly immature expression of my apostolic design. Tracing that giftedness through adult efforts like serving as a church planter helps me grow in my own knowledge and relationship with Jesus. The challenge is found in how I continue to grow in my awareness of my own giftedness as well as grow in my understanding of others who are designed very differently from me.

What if we evaluated the entirety of curriculum in light of the fulness of this passage? What if we saw students as existing on a continuum of spiritual maturity (and immaturity) based upon how these gifts are expressed in their lives and ministries? What if we named the fact that much coursework has been created assuming that the majority of students are Shepherds and that a pastor of a church must be 90% Shepherd, 5% Evangelist, and 5% everything else (I’m intentionally being sarcastic on that last point…)?

What if schools like Winebrenner functioned in a prophetic manner for the Church in recognizing that “fullness of Christ” really does mean fullness of Christ?

  • Brent C. Sleasman, President

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