Nevertheless, if people are accustomed to a church pastor doing most of the work, it usually takes some time to get away from that method of operation and to develop individual spiritual gifts. When brethren believe that pastors or ministers have a higher "spiritual status" and have too much respect for them, two bad things usually happen:
The brethren accept the pastor's words when they should be looking to the Bible and Holy Spirit.
The brethren do not believe that God could carry on a major ministry through them.
If people are accustomed to a church pastor doing most of the work, it usually takes some time to get away from that method of operation and to develop individual spiritual gifts. If there is a pastor in the congregation, he should not suddenly stop preaching, teaching, studying, praying, counseling, visiting, baptizing and planning before other brethren assume those responsibilities - otherwise nobody will be doing them. A person who carries the title of "pastor" usually has certain spiritual gifts, but not others. (Ask anyone who has attended a church that has had several different pastors - the pastors' gifts vary.) The "pastor" should continue in the areas where he is gifted, but the rest of the brethren should be encouraged to develop their gifts as well - sharing the work with the pastor as much as possible.
List of common gifts of service
The Bible contains several lists of spiritual gifts (Romans 12:6-8; 1Corinthians 12:7-11,28-31; Ephesians 4:11-15, 1Peter 4:8-11). There is a lot of overlap between them, but no two lists are the same. Sometimes, different words are used for what appears to be the same gift. Since no one list contains all of the gifts, and since no statement in the Bible says that "these are all of the gifts", it is likely that Christ also gives other gifts as they are needed. Here is a summary of the gifts, followed by the number of times they are mentioned:
Discerner of spirits (1)
Evangelist - Gospel preacher (1)
Faith-filled person (1)
Giver (of money) (1)
Helping person (1)
Hospitable person (1)
Knowledgeable person (1)
Leader - one who leads (1)
Loving person (2)
Merciful person (1)
Minister - one who serves others (2)
Miracle worker (2)
Teacher or speaker (3)
The immediate question that usually occurs is: "Which gifts do I have?" Also, "Which gifts do others have?" There is a tendency to take the "spiritual gift list" and try to write one or more person's names from one's congregation after each gift. If you can do that and most of your congregation agrees on it, thank God for the blessing!
But in most congregations, that will not be the case. There will be many people who will wonder if they have any of the gifts. There will be some who think they have certain gifts and others who disagree. While spiritual gifts are for edification of the brethren, they are also a training tool so God can see what each person does with the abilities he or she has been given. This is explained in detail by the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-29) and can be easily summarized by Luke 16:10:
"Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much."
A person may start by inviting another believer to their home for a meal or an activity - maybe from simple boredom and lack of money to do anything else. When he sees that the other was encouraged by it, he begins inviting more and larger groups. Others in the congregation begin to take note of his gift and ask him to plan activities for the entire congregation. Later still, he may be asked to organize a several-day outing for multiple congregations. People want him to do it because he does it in a loving, caring manner - looking out for the best interests of all. As long as the person continues in a track record of service and success, there is no need to send him to a school, certify him, or have a committee "recognize" his spiritual gift. What started as a simple sharing act became a gift of hospitality, then grew into a gift of one kind of administration.
Brethren with some gift of hospitality are the ideal people to host a service in their homes (providing their homes are suitable and not too far from most of those who come). Kind and loving people that are not afraid to speak in public usually make good announcers for larger services - introducing the speakers and musicians, giving announcements, etc.
When you seek the advice or counsel of another believer, you know when you have dealt with someone full of faith, love and mercy. It can be positive and uplifting. Other counselors may have a gift of knowledge: they seem to know the right thing to do. You may have spoken with other counselors and later concluded that they did not have any gifts. Being honest with ourselves and honest with others is the best way for everyone to learn to recognize their gifts. If you believe someone is gifted in a certain area, let him or her know. A humble person is often more concerned with overcoming their faults and needs to be told of their capabilities. If you believe that someone else is trying to work with a gift that they do not have, let them know, in love.
Some gifts are easy to recognize. Most congregations will instantly recognize a person who is gifted at giving money. A person who helps - either through his own hard work or by praying for a miracle - is welcome anywhere. One with the gift of healing is also easy to recognize: he or she prays, and people miraculously recover. Prophecy is also similar if we are patient enough to wait to see if some of the prophet's statements have come to pass. (Do not be confused by someone who claims to be a prophet, prophesies extensively supporting himself with many scriptures, but then fails to have even small specific prophecies come true in the present. A prophet with no fulfillment yet is like a healer with no healings yet.)
Most people can recognize someone who is a good teacher - skilled at conveying the information they have in mind. Most people know when they are exhorted - stirred by a powerful message. But there are people who claim no belief in God who can do both of these things. The important issue is: are teachers, evangelists and exhorters preaching things inspired of God, or are they preaching their own words? (Remember, even Satan's ministers pretend to be ministers of righteousness - 2Corinthians 11:15.)
Each person in a congregation should be like the Bereans who "searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11, NKJV). But it is not easy for a student to detect a teacher who is not inspired of God when the student knows a lot less about the subject than the teacher. False teachers may be exposed through Bible study, through prayer, through mistakes on their part revealing their true intent and through someone with the gift of "discernment of spirits".
God has gifted some with the ability to determine the motivation and "spirit" of another person simply by listening to them talk and observing the way they act. This author knew of a woman who claimed to have that gift. She visited the local congregation I attended once and asked after a few minutes: "Who is that man speaking and who chose him to speak?" I had told her nothing about this man. Most of his words sounded good, but during two years of listening to him, I had concluded that he had a hidden agenda and was a false teacher. He later introduced a lot of heresy that caused most of his congregation to depart. (That congregation did not allow open discussion, nor did its members have any input into speaker selection.)
The point is that my friend, with the gift of "discernment of spirits", was able to discern the man's intent almost instantly. She had also been effective in discernment at other times. This is a wonderful gift to have in a congregation - but one of the more difficult gifts to recognize. If a person has a gift of discernment, it means that they can discern things that others cannot - so how will others know if the discerner is discerning properly? Believers have to watch the fruit of someone who claims to have the gift of discernment over a period of time to see if it bears fruit. I have met other people who claimed to have the gift of discernment, and later facts proved them to be wrong - they claimed people were false teachers when years of teaching showed they were not, and they endorsed teachers who later were shown to be false.
It is Christ who assigns the gifts. It is not the pastor who hands them out like church work assignments. If we desire a gift in a certain area, we should ask God for it (Psalm 37:4). However, we should never pretend to have a gift that we do not have, or use unbiblical methods to try to "work up" spiritual gifts. (Some teach the continual repeating of certain words, "meditation" or various other procedures for obtaining gifts. But these methods are not taught in the Bible.)
Each person needs to feel accountable for making the congregation successful - in whatever big or small way they can do that. The Apostle Paul wrote:
"How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification." (1Corinthians 14:26, NKJV).
If the services you have attended do not operate this way, it does not mean that God was not there, but it means that we all have much more to learn in returning to the "faith once delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3). Many spiritual gifts, such as love, helping and faith can be used every day of our Christian life - for the benefit of those in our congregation, and for all people. Others gifts, such as teaching, exhorting and administration may be used primarily in connection with a service. Later sections will cover those topics in greater detail.
How to reach out to others
Church groups can sometimes become consumed with internal issues: teaching the right doctrine, planning the best services and programs, expounding prophecy, perfecting their music, deciding who will be in charge of what, improving their facilities, etc. All of these things are important and must be done, but they should not consume all the energies of the group. If services are consumed by continual debate on these issues, visitors will find the services difficult and not come back; some current members may grow tired and leave. Christ gave some great advice about this both in His Sermon on the Mount and just before He ascended to the Father:
"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:16, NKJV).
"So when they met together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:6 - 9).
Christ told the Apostles to let their "light shine", to not to be overly concerned with prophetic timing, and to be "My witnesses". Who should hear our witness? Christ gives a lot of detail as to who we should serve and teach. By analogy, the four places he mentioned still apply today.
Those in Jerusalem were local people whom they knew. They had similar religious backgrounds, but still needed teaching about Jesus. This corresponds to our local congregation today.
Those in all Judea were eople with similar backgrounds, but more distant. Today there are many people with a biblical understanding similar to ours, but living elsewhere. We may be able to help them through our written or spoken word, or in some other way.
The people of Samaria had some knowledge of God and the Bible, but mostly relied upon their own tradition which was in error (John 4:22). Today, there are many people who call themselves Christian, but base many of their doctrines on traditions rather than on the Bible.
The ends of the earth today are still the ends of the earth - they include everybody. God has set his believers in a world with more people who need our help than we can possibly reach in our lifetime. He wants to see what we will do.
A small congregation cannot do everything listed above, but it should endeavor to do some of it. What it does will depend upon the spiritual gifts of those in the congregation and what God shows through prayer. Every congregation, no matter how small, can obtain an entry in their local yellow pages. They have a large list of categories of churches and will let a church chose whatever they want: Free Church, Bible Church, Nondenominational, etc. This author has known several small congregations that have obtained most of their new members this way.
Obtaining a "business number" will include a single-line yellow page listing. [Using a "business number" does not make a church a business (in the USA) any more than using a "personal number" would make a church a person. Phone companies only work with these two kinds of numbers. Using a "business number" may cause Dun & Bradstreet, other credit firms and even local taxing authorities to attempt to treat a church like a business, but a clear explanation to them that a church is not a business will usually cause them to stop calling.]
You do not need a "church building" to do this. Most telephone companies can add a second line in someone's home as a "business number". A "call forwarding" option would then allow incoming calls to ring anywhere. Some telephone companies do not even need to add a line, but can route your congregation's calls to an existing phone line that will have a "distinctive ring" so that one can tell whether each call is a home call or a congregation call. Also, "distinctive ring" answering machines are available so a different message can be played to congregation callers when the phone is not answered. A workable arrangement can cost anywhere from $2 to $40 per month.
This paper cannot begin to cover everything that could be done to reach out to others, but here are some ideas. Many of these ideas can be implemented as a group, by an individual, or by a group of individuals sharing their experience.
Businesses and even some religious groups spend millions of dollars on direct mail advertising to mailing lists - hoping that a third of the people who receive their mailings will open and read at least some part of them. Individuals can achieve a much higher "opened and read" ratio by writing people who are expecting them to respond. How? By responding to advertisements with a very short tract or hand-written note. Businesses that send out advertisements will certainly have someone open all the responses they receive and at least begin to read them. Mail-reading workers are generally required to work quickly, so what you send must be short. A simple message like:
The Bible has helped me greatly in my life and I would like to help you. I will send you a free Bible and will help find answers to any questions you might have. I will never ask you for money or to join anything. Contact me at: [phone number, address, e-mail]
An encouraging scripture or a helpful biblical teaching afterwards might be appropriate. These letters and tracts can be mailed free of charge in the business reply envelopes that come with junk mail. The purpose should be to encourage and to generate some other more effective communication. Longer tracts can be mailed to people who are expecting responses but do not open mail as a job. Such places might include chain letters sent to you, letters from small businesses or addresses from magazine or newspaper classified ads. Some mail ministries send specific tracts to people based upon the type of ad they answer: send relationship tracts to person-to-person ads, send morality tracts to people advertising illicit material, etc. When responses come, you do not have to be able to answer every possible question, but simply be willing to work with the people and try to help find answers for any who respond. (Obviously, do not mail to lists that do not belong to you or to addresses found in places that specifically request no unrelated mail.)
Creating a Bible-oriented web site is just one of the ways to establish an Internet ministry. If you have the skills, and a Godly motivation, you can reach thousands. But even without those skills, there are an endless number of Internet forums, chat rooms, mailing lists, etc. that one can join and help teach the Bible to others. One can often read messages for a while to learn something about the people before beginning to serve. A ministry can be as simple as sending an appropriate scripture and a personal note to someone in need, or to sending whole articles (which you can also find on the Internet) that appear to be in someone's area of interest. If you receive questions that you cannot answer, find people who can. It does not seem to be a good example to teach the Bible on forums where rules specifically forbid religious discussion - you will probably be removed for doing so. Many forums allow it, so use those.
The spiritually strong might consider venturing into groups that practice witchcraft, homosexuality, abortion, adultery, gambling, etc. Christ was not afraid to be among known sinners (Mark 2:15 - 17, Luke 7:39), but Paul warns us not to help people if we will hurt ourselves doing it: "Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted" (Galatians 6:1). Prayers for Godly wisdom are obviously necessary to do this. Some brethren have started by simply asking others why they do what they do - becoming their friends, then asking them if what they do is causing problems in their lives, then showing them the biblical solution. Leaving sinful environments is usually very difficult even when people are committed to do it. Former friends and employers may threaten, even harm, those who try to leave. Finding a new job and friends can be a great challenge. The power of God can overcome all these things, but it may take as much love and kindness as a Christian can give to help those involved. Like any ministry, everyone involved will gain in skill the more they serve.
Another ministry for the fearless and spiritually mature: Call "900" numbers, pay the fee to talk to them, but tell them that there is hope for them and that God can deliver them from what must be a fairly disgusting job. These 900 numbers are usually intended for talking about sex, psychics or some other sin, but the advertisements often say that they will talk about whatever the caller wants as long as they pay. This may not be a cheap ministry, but the message certainly will be heard. If the person contacted really wants help, you can give them contact information where they can reach you in off-hours. Company regulations frequently forbid these phone people from giving out any private numbers. Do not become tempted to sin! (Galatians 6:1).
This author has heard of other phone ministries that have met with varying degrees of success. Some try to teach the Bible to all of the telemarketers who call them. (One person said they never got much teaching done, but it did greatly reduce the telemarketing calls he received. Apparently, some telemarketers require their employees to press a certain button if the person called changes the subject.) Others set up an organized plan to begin dialing every number in their local phone book - or every possible number in their local telephone exchanges. They may say something simple like: "I am Jane Jones from Hometown calling to find out if there is anyone in your home who would be interested in attending a local Tuesday-night Bible study that is not connected with any church denomination." Most people hang up, say "no", or explain that they have a church, but a few usually ask questions and a very few come. The caller needs to be ready with dates, times, study topics, directions, etc.
Plan a Bible study that is open to everyone. The material can be as simple as reading through books of the Bible and commenting on them, or specific subjects can be studied. It is best to both have a subject prepared in case those attending do not wish to talk, but it is also good to spend as much time answering questions or talking about whatever those who attend want to talk about. This can be done in a church building or a rented hall - in which case it would need to be advertised. Advertising methods frequently include newspapers, radio announcements, flyers posted on bulletin boards, and sometimes word-of-mouth. One way to both advertise and reach small towns with a message is saturation mailing. A local post office will tell you the number of addresses and post office boxes to which they deliver.
It is cheaper and frequently easier to encourage a few people to attend an in-home Bible study. Some people feel more comfortable in a home - they will not be asked to join anything. Other people conduct a lunchtime Bible study at their place of work or school. It is much easier to feel comfortable with people whom they already know to some degree. Bible studies can also be started in other business places as long as they are wanted by the customers and acceptable to the management. Examples are mobile home parks, large apartment complexes, retirement homes, country clubs, hotels, campgrounds, large truck stops, parks, airports and restaurants. Some of these places will develop a regular attendance. Many of the latter ones will have mostly travelers, but travelers frequently seek out a Bible study or service when they are traveling and missing the one that they normally attend.
It helps to have members from your congregation attend each study so as to greet the new people and provide interaction to the study. But if visitors are asking questions, the congregation should be quiet, letting the visitors ask and say as much as possible.
Another modern speaking opportunity occurs on radio talk programs. There are hundreds of them throughout the country - some religious, some not. A person with time to listen to the programs can call in and express a Biblical point of view to many. The guidance of God and some experience will be required to develop skill at delivering the message without offending and being "cut off".