There are many sorts of churches to be found today. Large and small, traditional and very new, in a variety of western and eastern cultural styles. The diversity may sometimes be helpful, but a little baffling. I wonder if you have ever thought of categorising them by their ideal member?
Some patterns are clearly not good: the church where the ideal member is rich and gives a lot of money does not have much to commend it; nor does the church where the ideal member is clearly a “very important person” or recognised celebrity. Others are a bit more mixed: a church which expects humility has not got it all wrong – but may be in danger of oppressing members; a church which expects keen, extrovert enthusiasm likewise has some understanding, but may undervalue the quiet and thoughtful. Sadly many seem to think the ideal Anglican is dumb and never causes any trouble by questioning or disagreeing with anything!
It is interesting to note that Jesus didn’t seem to have a “preferred personality” for his disciples. They were mixed socially, professionally, and there were women in support as well as men. Some had traumatic backgrounds, others were educated, or ordinary working people.
So when Paul wants to tell us about Spiritual Gifts (in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11), we need to take notice, and not mutter excuses about preferring to make the tea or do the practical things. What he has to say is very straightforward, but seldom listened to or taken seriously.
Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. 3 Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.1 Cor 12:1-3
The Holy Spirit is expected to be active in all Christians from baptism, and makes faith possible in word and deed, which is how it is expected to show.
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.1 Cor 12:4-7
“to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” There are things the Spirit does for the individual Christian ( – we call those “fruit”, and look at Galatians 5:22.) But here Paul says the spirit provides each and every Christian with a spiritual gift to use for the community. You have been given something to use for everyone else’s good – and each of them has something, too.
7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.1 Cor 12:7-11
I don’t see Paul talking about being nice to people, or organising rotas – though both can be helpful. We have to face up to the fact that Paul says everyone is given a Spiritual Gift so that the congregation can be enriched and drawn together by the exchange of gifts and the mutual benefit. If we don’t identify our gifts, or refuse to practise them, then we weaken the church. If we don’t encourage other people to recognise and use their gifts, again, the fellowship is damaged.
This isn’t about some pushy people dominating the group, quite the opposite, it is about the group working to recognise and help each to contribute and all to benefit.
So what is the ideal member of our church? Not a particular type or personality, but someone happy to accept and use what God has given them for the benefit of others, and to receive from others what they can usefully offer. I wonder if we are like that yet?