By Joel Comiskey
Appeared in the Small Group Network, April 2001.
“Joel, you’re placing too much emphasis on small groups,” the board member insisted. “I believe we should focus on developing more ministries in our church–like a social action program–so that people can truly exercise their spiritual gifts.”
“But in the small groups they’ll have a chance to exercise their gifts,” I countered. “Those with the gift of mercy will have the opportunity to reach the poor and needy, and even know personally the people they’re trying to reach.” Our conversation that night ended in a stalemate. We both had strong opinions. But the conversation was a blessing in disguise because it forced me to revisit the issue of spiritual gifts and small groups. The conversation stirred me to clarify why I believe small groups are the best place to exercise spiritual gifts.
New Testament Context
I reread the passages of Scripture that talk about the gift of the Spirits: 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, and Ephesians 4. I was reminded that when Paul was writing those epistles, he was writing to house churches—not congregations meeting in a church building. In fact, all of the New Testament books were completed by the year 90 AD, but the first time the early church had a building of their own was in the 150 AD. The New Testament was written to house churches in which the exercise of individual gifts was possible.
Freedom to Discover
In the intimacy of a small, closely knit group a believer feels the freedom to experiment with different gifts. It’s an intimacy issue. It’s the best atmosphere to discover, test, and receive approval for spiritual gifts. Carl George writes, “Because of the intimate, accountability-inviting context of an affinity-based group, participants will readily accept the call of God that accompanies the discovery of their gifts.”Very few can or will participate in the large group setting. How many can preach on any given Sunday? How many can lead worship? How many can give announce-ments? But even if more could participate, few are bold enough to do so. In a small group of 5-15 people, however, even the most timid can participate.
The Gifts of the Spirit
The list of the gifts in Romans, 1 Corinthians, and Ephesians give us great information, but I believe that 1 Peter 4:10-11 gives us the best summary: “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.”
Speaking and Serving. These are the two general gift categories that Peter mentions. Some of the speaking gifts are prophesy, teaching, and exhortation. Serving gifts include mercy, giving, and the gift of helps.
In verse 10 Peter tells us that each one of us has a gift that must be exercised. Discovering and using our gifts on a regular basis gives God glory (v. 11). The whole passage is developed in the light of Christ’s imminent coming for church. Verse 7 says “The end of all things is near.”
When Jesus comes, he wants to find a church that has been faithfully administrating His gifts of grace in their various forms (not like the unfaithful servant who hid his talent).
Discovering Your Gift (s) in the Small Group
I suggest four key principles to help people discover their particular gift (s) in the small group environment.
- Find out about spiritual gifts by reading the gift passages (1 Cor. 12, Rom. 12, Eph. 4). I also recommend reading one or more of the excellent books on the subject of spiritual gifts.
- In the small group try to exercise as many gifts as possible (both speaking and serving gifts).
- Check your desire. Exercising a gift should not be a chore. You should enjoy it. Do you like explaining Bible truth? Perhaps, you have the gift of teaching. Do you pray for people in the group and 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. Are you drawn to visit a cell member who is having problems? Perhaps you have the gift of mercy.
- Look for confirmation from those in the group. People will be edified by your gift. Watch for their replies. What do they confirm in you? Do they notice your capacity to clarify the meaning of Scripture, it’s likely that someone will tell you that you have the gift of teaching. My wife’s gift of counseling (exhortation) has been confirmed over and over in the small group environment.
Frank attended our church for years without getting involved. In the large group environment he was just a face in the crowd. Eventually, he slipped through the crowd and left the church. I didn’t hear from him for years. Suddenly he emerged again, and I jumped at the opportunity to invite him to my small group. Frank blossomed in the small group environment. He had abundant opportunities to exercise a wide variety of gifts. In the group Frank taught, exhorted, evangelized, exercised mercy, and served in a wide variety of ways. Frank’s life was forever changed and eventually he began leading his own cell group.
Are you a cell leader reading this article? Encourage your members to use, test, and discover their spiritual gifts. Are you a cell member? Read about the gifts of the Spirit, exercise as many gifts as possible in the small group, and then look for confirmation from other group members.
Jesus desires to return to a healthy church in which every member is actively using his or her gift (s). Small groups provide the perfect atmosphere to make this happen.
 Carl George, How to Break Growth Barriers, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1993), p. 136.
 Normally, ONE speaker preaches ONE sermon per Sunday. I was surprised—and initially offended–after I preached a 50-minute translated sermon in a large church in Russia last Sunday and another pastor stood up to preach a second sermon! There are always exceptions but you understand my point.