Servant Leadership: Pathways

“Gifted for Christian Service” (SL#56)

by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., adapted from SkillTrack® 1:2 – Following Biblical Patterns

A biblical and practical study of spiritual gifts may benefit servant leaders today who are “following biblical patterns.” Let’s start with a working definition and a biblical explanation:

  • Working definition: “Spiritual gifts are attributes and expressions of God’s power and grace, given through the sovereign Holy Spirit to Christian believers to empower them to make known through words and deeds His grace and power to others, especially within ‘the body of Christ.’” (Lloyd Elder)
  • Biblical language: “Spiritual gifts” is a concept expressed in the New Testament primarily by two words:
    1. pneumatikon, a general word referring to a thing, event, or person which serves as an instrument of the Holy Spirit; and,
    2. charisma, which means that which is graciously given to be expressed as a means of grace to others.
  • Glossary–spiritual giftsA theological term meaning any endowment that comes through the grace of God (Rom 1:11). Spiritual gifts were given for special tasks in and through the churches (12:6-8; 1 Cor 12-14; 2 Cor 1:11; 1 Peter 4:10). Paul told the Corinthians to diligently seek these gifts (12:31), but he pointed out that “the most excellent way” was love (12:31; 13:13). Everyone is accountable for any gift given to him or her by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 4:7; Heb 2:4; 1 Peter 4:10). –Source: NIV Study Bible Dictionary
  • This article will focus on spiritual gifts that support Christian leadership, provide some definitions and perspectives, and invite you to find your own starting place by evaluating your own gifts and your attitudes about spiritual gifts.
  • Finding your Starting Place
    Following are seven self-evaluating statements regarding one’s relationship to spiritual gifts. Read through them carefully, and then assess yourself–from 1 (low) to 5 (high)–as to how accurately the statement reflects you. Use the following paragraphs as a survey and make your action plan at a later time on those things that you scored 1 or 2.
    1. “I have made a careful study of the biblical teachings of ‘gifts of the spirit.’” Assess: _____
      • Spiritual gifts are spoken of throughout biblical writings but are most specifically taught in five passages: Romans 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12:1-11, 1 Cor. 12:27-31; 1 Cor. 13:13; Eph. 4:7-13; and 1 Peter 4:7-11.
    2. “I understand and can summarize the biblical message about spiritual gifts.” Assess: _____
    3. The Holy Spirit gives a rich diversity of spiritual gifts to the body of Christ and its members; as many as two dozen are mentioned in the texts above.
    4. “I believe I have discovered my spiritual gifts and their purposes.” Assess: _____
    5. Every believer receives the gift of the Holy Spirit at conversion (Acts 2:38), and, from the Spirit one or more other gifts for service in the body of Christ.
    6. “I have consciously developed those spiritual gifts to be of greater service.” Assess: _____
    7. Spiritual gifts reported in Scripture seem to include a combination of Christian graces, gifted servants, common abilities, special skills, and miraculous powers.
    8. My church emphasizes prayer and reflection regarding spiritual giftedness when service positions are being filled by its members.” Assess: _____
    9. The biblical concept of “one body–many members” (1 Cor. 12:27-31) is an energizing lesson for recruiting, assigning and equipping disciples for effective service. li>
    10. “I consciously try to exercise my spiritual gifts in a way that honors Christ.” Assess: _____
    11. Each believer should desire to discover, develop, excel and exercise spiritual gifts that build up the body of Christ and give glory to God. The greatest such gift is love. (see 1 Cor. 14:1-40)
    12. “I give careful attention to the gifts of others and seek to help them discover and exercise their gifts.” Assess: _____
    13. “Practicing servant leadership” involves equipping others for the ministry of Christ as they discover, develop, and exercise their ministry gifts. (see Eph. 4:11-12)

    Application: Now re-read these seven, important self-assessment statements regarding spiritual gifts and plan how you can apply them to your leadership ministry.


    1. Basic Texts on Spiritual Gifts
      • There are five basic passages that identify spiritual gifts and instruct us in their practice; throughout Holy Scripture, there are numerous other texts that expand our body of knowledge. The five basic texts and their focal points are:
    2. One Body/Differing Gifts – Romans 12:3-8
      • As many members of the same body of Christ, we belong to one another; we are challenged to serve the perfect will of God with humility and to express our diversity of spiritual gifts:
    3. Prophesying/preaching
    4. Serving/ministering
    5. Teaching/instruction
    6. Encouraging/exhorting
    7. Giving/contributing
    8. Leadership/governing
    9. Showing mercy/cheerfulnes
    10. One Spirit/Differing Gifts – 1 Cor. 12: 1-11
      • In the context of correction and instruction, spiritual gifts are presented with a focus on “Jesus as Lord,” one and the same Spirit, for the common good, and so –differing gifts to each one:
      1. Message of wisdom
      2. Message of knowledge
      3. Faith
      4. Gifts of healing
      5. Miraculous powers
      6. Prophecy
      7. Discerning the spirits
      8. Kinds of tongues
      9. Interpretation of tongues
      10. One Body/Many Parts – 1 Cor. 12: 27-31; 13:13
        • To a church greatly divided, the apostle carefully presents the body of Christ as one unit with many parts, including those appointed and gifted for service:
          1. First, Apostles
          2. Second, Prophets
          3. Third, Teachers
          4. Workers of miracles
          5. Healing gifts
          6. Helping others
          7. Administration
          8. Different tongues
          9. Love, the greatest gift
      11. One Calling/Many Grace Gifts – Eph. 4:7-13
        • This text emphasizes the unity of the body of Christ in the one calling to a worthy life, followed by a litany of “oneness” with grace gifts to all. He concludes with a list of those given for service:
          1. Grace to all
          2. Apostles
          3. Prophets
          4. Evangelists
          5. Pastors and teachers
      12. “For equipping believers”
        • Gifts to Serve Others – 1 Pet. 4:7-11
        • Peter adds a note of urgency as the church moves toward the end-time–live a thoughtful, disciplined, loving life. Each gift is to serve others:
          1. Love
          2. Hospitality
          3. Speaking/teaching
          4. Service
      13. Truest Purpose of Gifts
      14. How do spiritual gifts, and our understanding of them, contribute to a consistent practice of servant leadership? That becomes clear when we remember the truest purpose of gifts of the spirit: service to others. And as servants first, servant leaders must be in touch with their gifts and the gifts of those around them. To manage, organize, energize and truly lead as a servant means making the best possible use of tools (gifts!) provided to us and those around us; not for our own glory, but in service to others!
          1. Practicing Spiritual Gifts
      1. The combined biblical texts on spiritual gifts leave a rich resource for our practice of servant leadership. Some helpful conclusions can be drawn about the nature of these gifts, and our practice of them, including–most importantly–LOVE, the greatest of all gifts.
      2. As believers, we should should seek to gain understanding about spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:1 “. . . I do not want you to be ignorant. . .”).
      3. No authentic gift of the Spirit will detract from your confession of, or submission to, “Jesus as Lord” (1 Cor. 12:3).
      4. There is a diversity of spiritual gifts, but all from the same Lord (1 Cor. 12:4-5).
      5. The Spirit gives gifts to each one for the common good (1 Cor. 12:7).
      6. All the gifts are the work of the same Spirit as he determines (1 Cor. 12:11).
      7. The concept “many parts of the one body” is given as an illustration of spiritual gifts working together for the common good (1 Cor. 12: 12-27).
      8. By the Spirit’s design, all do not have the same gifts; a rich diversity of gifts is present (1 Cor. 12:29).
      9. “Desiring the greater gifts” is the capstone instruction of those who would exercise spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:31; 13:1).
      10. If we “desire the greatest gifts,” we will discover and walk the more excellent way of love (1 Cor. 12:31; 13:1-13; 14:1).
      11. Love is the more excellent way.
      12. Love excels all other gifts: tongues, prophecy, knowledge, faith, generosity, even martyrdom.
      13. Love excels in that it encompasses other distinct Christian actions and attributes.
      14. Love excels in that it never fails; it lasts beyond time into eternity (1 Cor. 13:8-10, 13).
      15. Love excels in that it serves our present human frailty, but also complete spiritual maturity (1 Cor. 13:11-12).
      16. Believers may be eager to desire the more celebrated spiritual gifts, but should excel in the gifts that build up the church body (1 Cor. 12:31; 14:12).
      17. All spiritual gifts are to be faithfully used to serve others and to bring glory to God (1 Peter 4:8-11).

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© 2006; hosted and copyrighted by Lloyd Elder & Associates, Inc.
For full citation of referenced works, see Bibliography/Links at
Adapted by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., Founding Director, Moench Center for Church Leadership