How the Gifts Work in Small Groups

Cell Basics

by Joel Comiskey

Taken from chapter 6 of Joel Comiskey’s book, The Spirit-Filled Small Group: Leading Your Group to Experience the Spiritual Gifts (Chosen Books, 2005).

I’ve noticed a deadly disease that plagues many small-group leaders. It’s called the Super-Leader Syndrome. It’s deadly because it often leads to the small-group leader’s resigning or just dropping out of sight. This disease might allow the leader to survive for several months or even several years, but my observation is that it’s almost always terminal.

The small-group leader is the facilitator—not the workhorse. She is the person who orchestrates the work that the whole group, in turn, carries out. And this is where the gifts of the Spirit play such a vital role.

There’s simply too much work for one leader to do alone. Consider the following pressures that a cell leader places upon himself when he embraces the statement, “I need to do all the work”:

  • He must prepare and facilitate all the various parts of the weekly meetings, ultimately making it look polished and professional.
  • He must personally reach his lost friends (and his members’ lost friends) for Christ.
  • He must meet with everyone in the group as often as possible to mentor and disciple them into strong believers.
  • He must train interns or apprentices by having them watch what he does, so that when they get their own group, they’ll know what to do.

Instead of doing everything yourself—which will never create a feeling of community or equip new leaders—involve the entire team through the gifting of each person! Ask others to help you in every aspect of cell life and leadership:

  • Discover what others like to do according to their giftings.
  • Delegate all the various parts of your weekly meetings to others, a month at a time, and watch them learn as they do it. For example, ask someone in the group to be in charge of refreshments, someone else to be in charge of prayer, worship, the ministry time, etc.
  • Ask others to host the small group.
  • Establish mentor relationships among the small-group members.
  • Develop a small-group team that will share with you in the planning for the group.

All of this can be accomplished through members’ understanding of the place of their spiritual gifts and having a 100-percent commitment to allow others to use their gifts and talents. By involving others, your group will become an exciting place of ministry and growth, and you will not feel like Atlas, with the weight of the world on your shoulders.

In reality, many believers are bored with their Christian life, especially if all they seem to do is go to church, sit and listen to sermons and then come home again. Spiritual gifts allow people to discover their place in the body and to serve with others while following Jesus. In a small-group atmosphere, believers work together to edify the body and reach out to those without Christ. Spiritual gifts, exercised in love, help each person discover his or her purpose in relationship to the Church.

The Definition of Spiritual Gifts

In the Greek language, the original language of the New Testament, the word gift is actually the word charismata. Charismata refers to “something bestowed out of grace, favor or special kindness.” The English word grace, in fact, is the Greek word charis, the first half of the word charismata. The gifts of the Holy Spirit, then, are God’s undeserving grace endowments to born-again believers. The gifts of the Spirit are simply the extension of God’s grace to His people.

The connection between grace and gifts is clearly seen in Romans 12:6, where Paul wrote, “We have different gifts [charismata], according to the grace [charis] given us.” Some people are fond of referring to the gifts of the Spirit as gracelets because of the intimate connection that spiritual gifts have with God’s grace (note 1).

The Holy Spirit’s Sovereign Role

The Holy Spirit owns the gifts: They are gifts of the Spirit. The Spirit might lend one, two or more of these gifts to believers, but the believer must always realize that the Holy Spirit owns them and is the only One who can successfully make them work.

The sovereign Spirit distributes His gifts according to His plan and purpose. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:7 and 11: “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.”

The Holy Spirit equips the Church with spiritual gifts in order that it may serve Christ, because the Church is the bride of Christ. As the supreme Head of the Church, Christ guides and directs believers through the work of the Holy Spirit.

One of the key purposes of the gifts is to give clarity and purpose. Leaders lead. Administrators administrate. Prophets guide. Apostles pave new trails. God uses the gifts of knowledge, wisdom and prophecy to encourage and edify. The gifts of helps, mercy and hospitality remind us of God’s care and love. Teachers keep us on the right path. Those with the gift of discernment protect us from demonic forces. As the gracelets of God’s Spirit move among His people, the Church of Jesus Christ functions correctly.

The Believer’s Role in Gift Use

The believer is called to discover which gifts the Holy Spirit has already given to him or her as an individual. We don’t choose which gifts we receive, but we must develop the ones we have been given for we will be held accountable. Peter began his exhortation on the gifts by saying, “The end of all things is near” (1 Peter 4:7). He concluded the passage by saying:

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever.

1 Peter 4:10–11

In the light of Christ’s coming, Peter reminds us that we must develop and use our gifts, whether the gift lies in the category of speaking (teaching, prophecy or exhortation) or serving (helps, mercy or giving). In Matthew 25:14–30, Jesus told the parable of the talents, and He said something very similar about being held accountable for the gifts and talents given to us.

The Scriptures do exhort the believer to desire spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 14:1). Paul even inferred that it was acceptable to desire certain gifts above others (such as, prophecy over tongues). The issue of desire flows into the idea of expectancy. Not only should the believer desire spiritual gifts, but he should also expect God to manifest those gifts. Because it’s clear from Scripture that the Holy Spirit wants this to take place in His Church, the next step is to expect Him to do so.

I once talked to a group of pastors about spiritual gifts. Some were actively practicing all of the spiritual gifts, while others were very cautious due to past experiences. Despite their differences, however, the one thing everyone agreed upon was the need to expect God to work. Active participation in the spiritual gifts creates an expectancy that God is working. Unfortunately, expectancy is a missing piece in many small groups and churches. Weary leaders have given up expecting God to work long ago.

Practicing the spiritual gifts renews the passion of the people to see God working in the group. Some small-group leaders over-organize the agenda of the meeting, to the point that at times it appears the Holy Spirit must make a prior appointment in order to be involved! Regimented organization can stifle the Holy Spirit’s move in a group, but effective small-group leaders leave room for the Holy Spirit to break in and manifest Himself through the giftings of His people.

Along with the instruction to develop, desire and expect the gifts, the Scriptures tell us to not “put out the Spirit’s fire,” and immediately afterward it instructs us, “Do not treat prophecies with contempt” (1 Thessalonians 5:19–20). If we agree that Paul’s words are applicable for believers living in the 21 st century, we must allow and expect and practice the flow of charismata. Some people resist gift involvement because of:

  • Fear of fanaticism
  • Fear of failure
  • Fear that use of the gifts will mean an increased commitment to Jesus Christ
  • Fear of disorder

While a legitimate concern for disorder or false prophecy may exist, the scriptural mandate is that we allow the Spirit to freely move among us.

A final principle with regard to the gifts is to exercise love in all things. Paul conveniently sandwiched the Love Chapter (1 Corinthians 13) directly between chapters on spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12 and 14).

Paul wanted to remind the Church that spiritual gifts must have the grand objective of edification, rather than showmanship or sensationalism. The Spirit energizes people to use the gifts with the goal of serving others and ultimately blessing the body of Christ.

Because spiritual gifts are not for our own benefit but to bless others, love must guide the process. If a spiritual gift doesn’t edify someone else, it’s best not to use it. The Holy Spirit’s love also helps those who are exercising gifts in teams to walk in unity. Because no one Christian has all of the spiritual gifts, we therefore need each other in the exercise of those spiritual gifts.

Love is pure and longsuffering. If we pray for someone to be healed, for example, and that person doesn’t appreciate the effort, it’s easy to become defensive and even angry. This applies to any of the gifts. Perhaps Sarah has the gift of helps and offers to clean Sandra’s house during Sandra’s last months of pregnancy. But perhaps Sandra doesn’t even say thanks for the effort. This would “naturally” upset anyone, but Sarah has helped because she felt led to do so—she was exercising her gift out of a pure heart.

Natural Talents and Gifts

The charismata are not the same as natural talents or skills. Spiritual gifts are manifestations of the Holy Spirit through a believer in a given situation. Spiritual gifts are given only to believers, but after conversion, every believer receives a spiritual gift.

Natural talents are aptitudes and abilities found in both believers and non-believers. Albert Einstein had a natural intellectual ability, enabling him to decipher complex mathematical equations. Yet, because he was not a believer, Einstein didn’t possess a spiritual gift.

Apart from the spiritual distinction, there is often an overlap between the gifts of the Spirit and natural talents. A person with the gift of teaching, for example, will most likely be articulate in teaching outside of the Church. Most of the time, believers do not change into totally different people when exercising their gifts than who they are in “real life.” Christians who use their natural talents in God’s service should ask God to use and bless what they are doing with that talent. Christians who are manifesting a spiritual gift make themselves open to a move of the Spirit whenever and wherever He so wills.

The Fruit of the Spirit and Spiritual Gifts

The fruit of the Spirit comes from the Spirit Himself. Because the Spirit dwells in every believer, so does the fruit of the Spirit. As the name implies, the fruit of the Spirit is part of the character of the Spirit that is made manifest in the believer’s life.

The gifts, in contrast, represent specific activities of the Spirit of God—not His character. The gifts of the Spirit are manifestations of the Spirit given in order to edify the body of Christ and cause it to function better.

Anyone operating in the gifts of the Spirit should do so with the fruit present. It is possible for a believer to exercise the gifts of the Spirit without showing forth the fruit of the Spirit; this is unfortunate when it happens, but entirely possible.

The Number of Gifts

The gifts are listed in three major biblical passages: Ephesians 4, Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12–14). Because Paul was the author of all three passages, he repeated the similar gifts in all three passages, but he also introduced new ones in distinct passages.

The fact that Paul introduced new gifts to distinct churches during a particular time period has caused many—like myself— to conclude that Paul was simply identifying particular gifts, not declaring that only certain gifts existed. The following chart is helpful to understand where Paul introduces new gifts and where he repeats the same ones:

Ephesians 4:11 Romans 12:6-8 1 Corinthians 12:7-10 1 Corinthians 12:28
Apostles Apostles
Prophets Prophecy Prophecy Prophets
Teachers Teaching Teachers
Word of wisdom
Word of knowledge
Healing Healings
Miracles Miracles
Discerning of Spirits
Tongues Tongues
Interpretation of Tongues Interpretation of Tongues

I don’t believe that Paul’s intention was to give the Church a close-ended view of the gifts of the Spirit. I take the approach that additional gifts are available for believers today. In other words, I don’t believe that the gifts are limited only to the ones listed in these three passages.

Writers on the gifts of the Spirit have differing opinions on the number of spiritual gifts represented in the Bible. Ray Stedman, famous author on spiritual gifts and body life, suggests there are sixteen or seventeen gifts. Peter Wagner believes there are twenty-seven, while Bobby Clinton, professor at Fuller Seminary, lists eighteen gifts. Rick Yohn, author of yet another book on spiritual gifts, lists twenty. John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard, describes twenty-eight (note 2). The number of gifts a person comes up with really depends on how that person defines charismata, and the breadth of their interpretation. My point is that we should allow for flexibility when defining the spiritual gifts and remain open for the Holy Spirit to reveal additional gifts.

The Categories of Gifts

In the next chapter, I’ll define specific gifts more fully. But for our purposes in this chapter, here is a list of the gifts in categories that seem to make the most sense (note 3).

The service gifts include:

  • Administration (1 Corinthians 12:28)
  • Helps (1 Corinthians 12:28)
  • Giving (Romans 12:8)
  • Mercy (Romans 12:8)
  • Service (Romans 12:7)
  • Faith (1 Corinthians 12:9)

The equipping gifts include:

  • Exhortation (Romans 12:8)
  • Wisdom (1 Corinthians 12:8)
  • Knowledge (1 Corinthians 12:8)
  • Teaching (1 Corinthians 12:28)
  • Pastoring (Ephesians 4:11)
  • Apostleship (1 Corinthians 12:28)
  • Evangelism (Ephesians 4:11)
  • Leadership (Romans 12:8)

The prayer and worship gifts include:

  • Prophecy (1 Corinthians 12:10)
  • Tongues (1 Corinthians 12:10)
  • Interpretation of tongues (1 Corinthians 12:10)
  • Healing (1 Corinthians 12:9)
  • Miracles (1 Corinthians 12:10)
  • Discernment of spirits (1 Corinthians 12:10)

Some theological persuasions and authors include the additional gifts of celibacy, voluntary poverty, hospitality, missions, exorcism, martyrdom, craftsmanship, artistic creativity and music. I will not be defining these additional gifts in this book, although various resources do explain them (note 4). The only gift that is not specifically listed in Scripture that I’ll cover in this book is the gift of prayer, which I’ll cover in the last chapter.

Gifts of Successful Small-Group Leaders

One key question to ask is whether or not it’s necessary for a small-group leader to possess a particular gift. The quest to discover the answer to that question partially motivated me to administer 700 small-group leader surveys in eight different countries. One of the questions on the survey concerned the leader’s spiritual gifting. The leaders in the study specifically had to write down what they believed their spiritual gift was. My theory before conducting the research was that specific gifts, such as evangelism and leadership, would correlate with the small-group leader’s effectiveness in growing and multiplying the group.

Surprisingly, the results of the statistical study showed no such correlation. Instead, the survey showed that those with the gift of mercy were just as effective in growing and multiplying a small group as those leaders who had the gift of evangelism.

I believe the reason for these results is that successful cell leaders don’t solely depend on their own gifts: They rely on the Holy Spirit’s power to marshal the gifts of everyone in the small group. Great cell leaders truly see themselves as facilitators of others. They don’t try to do everything themselves. They don’t wear the “super-leader” shirt. The best small-group leaders, in fact, get out of the way and allow energized small-group members to lead the way.

I have arrived at the conclusion that successfully facilitating a small group is related more to the spiritual maturing process of a believer—not a matter of what gift the leader possesses or doesn’t possess. Nothing matures a believer more than depending on God to prepare a lesson, facilitate the small group, care for the members and motivate the group to reach non-believers. The Holy Spirit uses the process of small-group facilitation to grow and mature the leader, and I’m convinced that anyone can successfully facilitate a small group, although not everyone will do so (note 5).

The Reception of the Gifts

There are two views about the reception of the gifts of the Spirit: the constitutional view and the situational view.

The Constitutional View

The constitutional view understands the gifts to reside in the believer as a semi-permanent endowment. Most writers on the gifts of the Spirit, including Peter Wagner, take the constitutional view, believing that once we receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we receive those gifts for life. The basic teaching holds that:

  • Each Christian has already received the gift(s) for life,
  • We must discover and use our gift(s), and
  • We must be content with the gift(s) we have been given.

Most tests to determine spiritual gifts are based on this model. A believer simply fills out a questionnaire, which will, in turn, determine his or her spiritual gifting.

The problem with this model is that it assumes the Holy Spirit will only use a believer within his or her areas of gifting. Some believers further add to this dilemma by refusing to minister outside of their so-called gift.

Some churches and pastors, in fact, don’t emphasize the gifts of the Spirit because they’ve noticed that it’s counterproductive in developing mature disciples. Rather than focusing on involvement in diverse Christian ministry, some believers decide to only work in one or two areas that have been identified by a spiritual-gifts test.

Critics of this view say that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are given to the Church, not to individuals. Reflecting on how to discover spiritual gifts, Richard Gaffin, professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, says:

One way not to proceed is to take the ‘spiritual inventory’ approach and ask: What is it that I would like for my spiritual specialty? What is ‘my thing’ spiritually that sets me apart from other believers? The New Testament would have us take a more functional, or situational, approach to identifying spiritual gifts. The key question to ask is this: What needs are there in the situation where God has placed me? (note 6)

The Situational View

The situational view believes that the gifts reside with the Church and that the Holy Spirit endows believers with particular gifts as the need arises. In the situational view, any member of Christ’s Church can operate in each and every gift, if the Spirit so wills it.

The late John Wimber said, “I believe and teach that the believer can move in all spiritual gifts in accordance with God’s timing and purpose. Previously we have limited ourselves to one or more of the gifts and have shied away from the rest” (note 7). Wimber defined spiritual gifts as “supernatural manifestations of the Spirit of God, given momentarily so that God’s love, charity, kindness and grace may be shed abroad among His people” (note 8).

In the situational view of ministry, the work of the Holy Spirit can be carried out in any environment, because the Holy Spirit may choose to drop new gracelets on His Church at any time, depending on the need and situation. Paul wrote: “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7). This verse indicates that the Spirit’s primary objective for the distribution of the gifts is the common good of the Church, rather than the individual believer.

The tendency for those living in individualistic, western societies is to interpret the gift passages as related to individuals. Yet, the Spirit is primarily concerned about the group—in contrast to the individual—and He endows the charismata on the Church. The reason that individuals are given free grace in the form of gifts is to bless and edify Christ’s Church.

The situational view of the gifts creates a greater expectation for the Holy Spirit to work in new, exciting ways—rather than, for instance, to wait for Harry who has the gift of tongues and always delivers his gift at 10:15 A.M. on Sunday morning. The situational view also frees believers from operating only in their one or two gifts and not expecting to be used in any other way, opening the door for new possibilities.

A Balance between Situational and Constitutional Views

My own conviction is that both views are right. I believe that the Holy Spirit can, in His sovereignty, give any believer one of His endowments at any time—even if that gift is not part of the person’s usual gift mix. I equally believe, however, that the Spirit normally places one or two dominant gifts in each believer’s life.

Paul seems to indicate the distribution of particular gifts to individuals in Romans 12 when he wrote:

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.

verses 3, 6

Paul then went on to talk about additional gifts that the Holy Spirit has distributed to members of the body.

God grants measures of faith and grace, and He also distributes particular gifts to members of His body. The caution in our over-individualized society is to fully understand that God is concerned more about the group than the individual when He gives His gifts.

I believe each believer should be open to receive new charismata as the Spirit wills. Often the Spirit will do this because of particular needs in the Church. Does someone need healing? Perhaps God will grant you one of the gifts of healing for a particular moment to meet a particular need. Does someone need specific counsel? Perhaps God will give you the gift of exhortation for that particular occasion. Perhaps suddenly, God will grant you the endowment of teaching to clarify a passage that was way beyond your capability to understand. He might do this occasionally, even though you know in your heart that your primary spiritual gift is service.

It seems that some people go overboard with elaborate gift lists and “foolproof” methods of discovering the gifts. It’s a better idea to focus on the needs within the Church and then ask, “How has God positioned me to meet those needs?” The exercising of a spiritual gift should bring fulfillment to you, but more importantly, it should minister to others in the body of Christ.

Identification of the Gifts

Throughout this book, I’ve declared that the small group is the best place to exercise spiritual gifts. The atmosphere of trust in a small group is the key cornerstone that allows the free flow of the spiritual gifts. When trust is established, people are more willing to risk and try out new, potential gifts. A small group has great potential to provide honest feedback about the person’s success, as well as areas of improvement.

Operate in the Context of a Relationship

The only way to discover spiritual gifts is in the context of relationship. Spiritual gift tests, while helping believers to think through the possibilities, are insufficient in themselves. Gift surveys do give a glimpse of how to perceive giftedness, but people can project into those questionnaires the gifts they want to have, rather than affirming the gifts they actually have (note 9). The more people develop relationships in the context of a group, the better idea they will have concerning their own spiritual giftedness—always remembering that gifts function in the context of relationships. I encourage believers to read material, take one or two gift tests, step out in the exercise of potential spiritual gifts and then seek confirmation from others. Were people edified? Was Christ glorified? When trust is high, members feel like they can experiment with a variety of gifts, and they don’t feel thwarted.

In the larger worship service, naturally experimenting with the gifts rarely happens because a larger audience demands a certain level of performance. Risk-taking is not encouraged in such an environment, nor should it be. Yet, in the safety of the small group and with the encouragement of the group leader, experimentation can happen, and the Holy Spirit will bless.

Although the primary application of spiritual giftedness is found in the Church, I believe the Spirit wants to also use the gifts to reach a lost world. The Spirit can use His endowments through believers at work, at home or at school. Jesus loves the whole world, and He wants to reach it through His body. Perhaps when you are talking with a friend or colleague at work, a particular need arises. The same Spirit who was at work in your small group the night before wants to use you right then and there. Ask the Spirit to give you wisdom and to manifest His gifts through you, whether they be miracles, discernment of spirits or service.

If you have the gift of mercy, God will surely use you in hospital visitation, whether or not you’re visiting a church member. Those with the gift of evangelism must take their gift to the world at large. Dr. Robert L. Saucy, professor at Talbot Seminary, says, “Since the church is the church whether members are gathered for corporate meeting or scattered in their homes and communities, the ministry of gifts can take place in all situations.” 10 The gifts are primarily for the edification of the Church, but the Holy Spirit is pleased to manifest His gifts to needy people, wherever they might be.

Experiment with Various Gifts

Once the group becomes comfortable with each other and more knowledgeable about spiritual gifts, the leader can encourage them to confirm in each other their spiritual gifts in the small-group time.

The gift that God gives you doesn’t need to be something different from your natural abilities. It might not even appear on the lists (although the lists are certainly good places to start), nor may it be the same gift at all times.

Anything God has given you that you can use to meet a need in the body can be your spiritual gift. So often, a particular gift springs up in the presence of a particular need: a person with emotional difficulties, a demon-possessed person, a non-Christian with serious questions. In the presence of such needs, the Holy Spirit might endow you with a gifting that you didn’t know you had (and perhaps, you didn’t have it until that moment!)

Gift discovery takes place in the process of serving one another, caring for one another and living the life of the body. When you find that God consistently blesses your efforts in a certain area, you can confidently conclude that you have that particular gift.

Some churches magnify just one or two gifts, to the exclusion of others. Some have called this process “gift colonization.” If the pastor is a gifted evangelist with regular campaigns, there may be a strong tendency to organize the entire church around evangelism. The other gifts of the Holy Spirit may be less likely to be manifested in the church because like-minded people will either stay or leave, depending on whether or not they like the pastor.

Great group facilitators, on the other hand, allow for more diversity. The leader needs to be open to allow people to experiment with gifts that are different from his or her own gift mix—as long as the use of that gift edifies the rest of the group. As the leader gives members more liberty to exercise their gifts, the members will experience a new responsibility and will consequently feel more committed to the church.

Check Your Desire Level

One of the main secrets behind discovering spiritual giftedness is trying to determine your “desire level” to operate in a particular gift. Exercising a gift should not be a chore—it should be enjoyed. You should experience a high degree of passion and desire when exercising your spiritual gifts. I like to ask those trying to identify spiritual giftedness: Do you like explaining biblical truth? Perhaps you have the gift of teaching. Do you enjoy praying for people in the group, and when you do, do you see them healed? Perhaps you have the gift of healing. Do you love to bring refreshments and organize group events? Perhaps you have the gift of helps or administration. Are you drawn to visit cell members who are having problems? Perhaps you have the gift of mercy.

Joy, excitement and fulfillment should accompany the exercise of spiritual gifts. Greg Ogden writes in The New Reformation: “The central clue to discovering our spiritual gifts is to get in touch with the spheres of service that produce a flow of inner joy, excitement and energy.” 11 When it feels heavy and burdensome to exercise a spiritual gift, it might be because no such gift exists—the person was simply trying to fulfill in the flesh what only the Holy Spirit can do through His charismata.

Seek Confirmation from Others

Another key test is confirmation from others. I often tell people to look for confirmation from those in the group. What do people confirm in you? If they notice your capacity to clarify the meaning of Scripture, you may have the gift of teaching. My wife’s gift of counseling (exhortation) has been confirmed over and over in the small-group environment. The gifts were given for the edification of the body of Christ, and when you edify someone with your gift, others will let you know.

The Releasing of Others to Minister

The “Super-Small–Group-Leader Syndrome” occurs when the leader thinks that the title leader means that he or she must do everything. This is simply not true. The best leaders utilize the giftedness of everyone in the cell. The best leaders recognize that each person in the cell has something to share, and that utilizing the giftedness of each member is essential for the health of the group, as well as the health of each person. The best cell leaders realize that God is pleased when everyone is working together in harmony.

For a long time, I thought that the members of my small group were interested in hearing only me, but then I discovered that they really wanted to hear others besides me! The small-group atmosphere is simply too conducive to intimate, individual sharing to regurgitate a sermon, a lecture or a Bible study. The small group is also the perfect training ground for people to learn to use their gifts. In an effective small group, people learn to labor, are equipped for ministry, are encouraged to exercise their gifts and develop vision. Ultimately, they become leaders.

I started my own ministry in a small group. I learned to lead, teach, exhort, administer and above all, pastor a small group of people. Doubtful potential leaders learn to spread their wings and fly in a small-group atmosphere by taking baby steps. Would-be leaders learn through an incremental process of doing and learning.

Super-small-group leaders must learn to facilitate others by asking them to get involved. Not only will this make the small-group leader’s job so much easier, it will also satisfy the needs of the members. Turning members into ministers will involve:

  • Teaching on spiritual gifts and then giving opportunities for members to use their gifts
  • Creating assignments for group members (such as, to pray, to lead worship, to bring refreshments, to evangelize neighbors, etc.)
  • Rotating the small group so that different homes have a chance to be the host
  • Taking turns in facilitating the small-group lesson, allowing specific gifts to be manifested
  • Evangelistic outreach from the small group, in which various gifts, including the gift of evangelism, will be revealed

Allowing small-group participation is always risky. When people and emotions are involved, a certain amount of messiness can’t be avoided. Yet, life and joy are also generated, which makes the difficult moments more than worthwhile. As Paul said about the Holy Spirit, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17). We need to allow the Holy Spirit to bring that same freedom into our group and allow Him to work through each member.

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1 Various other Greek words are used in 1 Corinthians 12:1–7 to describe the Spirit’s working through gifts:

12:1: pneumatikon: spiritual endowments, rather than natural talents and gifts

12:4: charismata: free gifts of God’s goodness, rather than earned or merited

12:5: diakonian: function or ministry in the Church, opportunities to serve others

12:6: energematon: workings that are momentary, for a particular purpose, rather than a permanent possession

12:7: phanerosis: active exhibition or manifestation of God’s power, reflecting His power and glory

2 Ray C. Stedman, Body Life (Glendale, Calif.: Regal Books, 1972), 66–77; C. Peter Wagner, Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow (Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1979), 9; Robert J. Clinton, Spiritual Gifts (Coral Gables, Fla.: West Indies Mission, 1975), 40, 100; Rick Yohn, Discover Your Spiritual Gift and Use It (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 1983), 128–130; John Wimber, Healing Ministry and Church Growth (Pasadena, Calif.: Fuller Theological Seminary, 1983), 40.

3 The general categories were taken from Paul Ford, Unleash Your Church [(Pasadena, Calif.: Charles E. Fuller Institute, 1993), 55], although I altered the order and changed a few gifts.

4 Both Christian A. Schwarz (The 3 Colors of Ministry,157), and C. Peter Wagner’s book Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow (272), go into detail on these additional gifts.

5 My book Home Cell Group Explosion (Houston, Tex.; Touch Publications, 1998) goes into detail about the results of my Ph.D. study. This book can be purchased at or by calling 1-888-344-CELL.

6 Richard B. Gaffin Jr., as quoted in Wayne A. Grudem, ed., Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? (Grand Rapids, Mich.: ZondervanPublishingHouse, 1996), 62.

7 John Wimber, Spiritual Gifts, Vol. I.6. (spoken at conference, tape) as quoted in Steven W. and Victoria L. Long, The Word of Knowledge: A Historical, Biblical, and Applicational Study (Pasadena, Calif.: Fuller Theological Seminary, 1989), 187.

8 John Wimber’s classroom teaching and powerpoints during his Signs and Wonders course at Fuller Theological Seminary, as quoted by John F. Maher Jr., As the Spirit Wills: Leadership and Administration in the Local Church for the Manifestation of All the Gifts of the Spirit (Pasadena, Calif.: Fuller Theological Seminary, 1992), 86.

9 Various gift surveys include: Dr. Mel Carbonell’s gift survey that features a gift inventory and the DISC personality evaluation. Contact: 1-800-501-0490 or (published by Uniquely You, Inc.). Alvin J. VanderGriend’s gift survey (developed and published by the Christian Reformed Church, CRC Publications). Contact: 1-800-4-JUDSON; Paul Ford’s gift survey (published by ChurchSmart Resources). Contact: 1-800-253-4276; Christian Schwarz’s gift survey (published by ChurchSmart Resources). Contact: 1-800-253-4276.

10 Robert L. Saucy, in Grudem, 141.

11 Greg Ogden, in Ford, 49.