The typical church service has two parts: singing and sermon. There may be a time when leaders stand at the front and invite anybody who wants prayer to come forward after the sermon. Offering prayer after the service has become common. I went to a singing and sermon church for years, only no one stood at the front to pray after the sermon. And it was wonderful. I was a brand-new, shiny, seventeen-year-old convert from a traumatized family. In my first church, I saw stable families. Husbands kissed their wives in front of me. Men bragged on me and loved me. I saw people won to Christ. My second church was a singing and sermon church. I was one of the pastors of some of the finest people I have ever known. I miss them to this day.
It’s always open season on the church. People outside the church say that the church is full of hypocrites and that the church just wants people’s money. People inside the church criticize other churches because they do ministry differently. I’ve been in a larger variety of churches than most people, and I’ve had one consistent experience in every church: I’ve been loved. When my family collapsed into our dark night of the soul, it was the church that picked us up. In spite of all our faults, I do not know another place in the world where a person could go and be loved like they would be loved in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I am passionate in my belief that the church should equip and train in the spiritual gifts. But I don’t think the church that practices the gifts of the Spirit is superior to the church that doesn’t. The only one who is capable of judging the ministry of the church is the Lord of the church. And he is also the one who guides the ministry of each church. Once I was sure that God no longer gave most of the gifts of the Spirit to the modern church. What changed? Jesus came to me and guided me through a series of events and brought people to me who introduced me to the gifts of the Spirit. No one changes unless Jesus enables the change. Nobody wrote more about the diversity of Christ’s body than Paul, and here was his conclusion: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6).
In spite of all of this, there are healthy ways that a church can pursue growing in the spiritual gifts for the purpose of reflecting biblical patterns and pursuing the heart of God for his people. The following are some basic strategies and contexts that I’ve found to be true in my experience with spiritual gifts.
The Sunday Morning Service Is Not the Place to Practice Learning the Gifts of the Spirit
There is no one right way of using the gifts of the Spirit in the church. Every church is free to experiment and find out what works for them. The gifts must always be used under the authority of the leaders of the church. However, I do not think it is wise to let people try out their gift in the Sunday morning worship service in front of the whole church. That is the time for the mature expression of the spiritual gifts. One way to teach people to despise prophecy is to allow anyone who feels moved to come up to the microphone and give a “prophetic word” to the whole church. In my opinion, this was one of the few mistakes that one of the flagship charismatic churches made in its Sunday service. After worship, there was a five-minute programmed pause in which anyone could shout out a prophetic word to the thousands of people attending. People endured it because it only lasted five minutes.
We would not come to church on Sunday morning and say, “Who would like to give the sermon this morning?” We demand an exceptional level of maturity and expertise for a teacher to address the whole church on Sunday morning. If we want the gift of prophecy to disclose the secrets of hearts and cause people to fall on their faces and declare, “God is really among you!” (1 Corinthians 14:25), we have to demand the same level of expertise and maturity we expect of the Sunday morning teacher before we let a prophetic person address the whole body on Sunday morning.
Home Group Meetings Are Effective and Safe Places to Discover Our Gifts
The purpose of home groups is to give people an intimate setting where they can form close friendships and care for one another. In a home group of fifteen to twenty people, members share their successes and stresses of the week. They can ask questions and request prayer. The leader should be both a facilitator of discussion and a trainer in the spiritual gifts.
I frequently use the first twenty minutes to ask the Lord to speak to us about people in the group he wants to heal or give a message to. I tell them to discard what they know about each other. Then we wait in silence with our eyes closed for an impression or a picture that seems to come out of nowhere. Not everyone receives an impression or a picture, but some do. Then we tell the group what we heard. Some impressions are accurate, and some are silly, probably made up by the person trying to make something happen. Then we pray for the people who were singled out by accurate impressions.
At some point everyone fails, for no one can learn anything without making mistakes. I try to create an atmosphere where we can laugh at our failures. We keep doing this week after week, and everyone improves. After a few months of being with the same people each week, I can discern people’s spiritual gifts. Then we give them an opportunity to serve on one of the ministry teams for healing, caring for prisoners, shepherding the homeless, teaching kids, leading home groups, cultivating the gift of prophecy, doing administration, and being involved in other forms of service.
A Large Weekly Meeting Gives People Greater Opportunities to Discover and Use Their Gifts
I also lead an ongoing meeting on a weeknight to help people find and use their spiritual gifts. This meeting will have hundreds of people in it, and people will come from other churches to learn how to hear God and discover their spiritual gift. From the stage, a team and I demonstrate words of knowledge, prophecy, healing, and other gifts to those who want to discover their gift.
In every gathering, there will be depression, loneliness, insomnia, and back pain. Sometimes God will lead me to pray for one of these conditions en masse. But in training times, we don’t call out general words. We ask God to show us specific conditions and specific individuals he wants to heal or speak to. Most of us on the team have been doing this for years, and it’s normal for us to hear from God specifically and accurately. We feel no pressure to make anything happen. We simply wait for that impression or picture to come out of nowhere.
If we’re praying for healing, one of us may look at a person and ask, “Do you have tinnitus in your right ear?” Most of the time, that specific impression will have been true. Then we pray for the person, and usually the tinnitus goes away. Each time we do something like this, the Holy Spirit increases hunger for his supernatural ministry in the people we’re training. They also grow in hope that God will speak to them in specific ways.
Christians are hungry for supernatural experience. They want to know that there’s more to the Christian life than just their discipline. I speak about hearing God’s voice to crowds from different denominations every month. Frequently, after only one session, people have their first supernatural experience of hearing God’s voice. All they needed was someone to show them how to hear the Spirit of God.
Ministry Teams Give People a Place to Grow in Their Spiritual Gifts and to Build Up the Church
Out of the home groups and our larger weekly training sessions, we place people on different ministry teams. Churches can form ministry teams that specialize in prophecy, healing, evangelism, care for the homeless and prisoners, care for the elderly in the church, and many other forms of ministry. I’ll give one example of how a ministry team—the prophetic team—worked in my last church.
Prophecy is the gift that allows someone to predict the future. The prophet Agabus “predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world” (Acts 11:28). Or a prophet can tell a person God’s present priorities for their life. There were prophets and teachers in the church at Antioch. Through the prophets, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2). That’s how Paul’s first missionary journey began.
We formed teams with three prophetic people on each team. Before the service, people signed up for a team to prophesy over them after the service. The team, knowing only the first name of the person, prayed silently for a couple of minutes and then digitally recorded their words over the person so each one could have a copy of what was prophesied. We had four teams that took three appointments of ten minutes each after the Sunday service. It was one of the most meaningful and popular ministries in the church.
If a prophetic team member had an impression about someone attending our worship service, they were free to give a word to that person privately before or after the service if they felt like the Lord had given them permission to do so.
Young People Excel at Supernatural Ministry
Young people excel at healing and hearing God’s voice. They will take risks that older people won’t take. The older we get, the more we have to protect. I’ve taken twenty-year-olds around the world with me. I’ve put them beside me on a stage in front of thousands of people and watched them amaze people with accurate, life-changing prophetic words.
During one of our weekly meetings, some two hundred people were trying to hear God speak about someone he wanted to heal. A nine-year-old boy named Josiah raised his hand to give a word of knowledge for healing. I didn’t think he would be accurate, but I thought it was cute that he was trying, so I called on him. He named a specific disease he thought God would heal. I don’t remember the disease, but someone with the disease raised their hand, and we prayed for them. Over the next few weeks, Josiah did this again and again, sometimes calling out rare diseases and never missing it. His family did not go to our church. They only came on Wednesday nights. I said to his father, “You know that Josiah is special, right? God has marked him out for supernatural ministry.” The father said, “That’s why we come here on Wednesdays. Our church does not train in the gifts of the Spirit.”
One of the exercises we did regularly was to ask everyone to find a partner, someone they did not know well. We told them to ask God to show them something about their partner by revelation that would be encouraging. We gave them a few minutes to pray silently, and then they took turns telling their partner what they heard.
When the church of Jesus began, the Holy Spirit promised us, “Your sons and daughters will prophesy” (Acts 2:17). God has kept that promise, and a generation of young people are waiting to be trained to use God’s gifts.
This is an excerpt from Why I Am Still Surprised by the Power of the Spirit by Jack Deere. In this revised volume he demonstrates that the Scriptures teach that God is healing and speaking today just as he did 2000 years ago. He tells documented stories of modern miracles. He explains the nature of spiritual gifts, defines each spiritual gift, offers sound advice on discovering and using the gifts in church today. He shows how all of this part of God’s way of deepening our friendship with him. There are many new stories of God’s power, even walking on water and multiplying food. Deere also introduces the newest literature defending and explaining the gifts of the Spirit. All this and more continues the book’s legacy for a new time. Get the book from our store here.