Both gifts and governance are supposed to reside in the Churches of God. God intended there to be both in every congregation; gifts of the Holy Spirit and also elders who are appointed to lead a congregation. They are supposed to work together to teach, to edify, to protect, for miracles, and also to preserve the truth of God.
You will find both of them in varying degrees in most congregations. But too often, they are not allowed to work together as God wants them to work. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are generally the hardest to find, while governance is usually there in spades.
What often happens in a congregation is that someone, or a small group of people, gain control of the congregation; they hire a pastor, they select elders, they appoint deacons, they may establish a board, and before you know it there is human control and human management. Men and women have selected their new leaders; or the new leaders are simply appointed by the resident hierarchy. How leaders are selected depends on the traditions of the congregation. Folks generally pray about their selections, they even ask God to make the selections for them, but the reality is that these are still very human choices because they are made by mere men and women.
The congregations of the Churches of God have plenty of government, but too often the gifts of the Holy Spirit are scarce and so much harder to find.
Healings tend to be infrequent, sermons and messages often seem uninspired, and there are relatively few miracles. The Holy Spirit just isn’t working in many of our congregations as we want it to work.
Why is that?
Why do the gifts of the Holy Spirit seem noticeably absent in most of the congregations of the Churches of God?
Two Areas of Responsibility
First, it is important to remember that Jesus Christ is the head of the Church. He is the one who leads and administers the affairs of the Church. He usually does it at a high level and He generally leads gently. He doesn’t force Himself on our congregations. He allows us to make choices and He allows us to make mistakes. The recent history of the Churches of God is filled with mistakes, yet Jesus is still the one who actively leads the Church, even if there are mistakes, Colossians 1:17–19,
“And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell.”
Jesus, who is the head of the church, has placed two distinct areas of responsibility in the church to lead and protect the church. There is one group of people to whom He personally gives gifts and there is a second group of people who are chosen by men to lead and administer the affairs of a congregation.
He gave gifts and He gave governance. The two are supposed to work together in the Churches of God, notice Eph 4:7–8 and Hebrews 13:17
“But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore He says: ‘When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men’” (Ephesians 4:7–8).
“Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:17).
It is important to stress that these two areas of responsibility are different, and they are filled very differently. The Holy Spirit gives gifts. These are divine gifts and the folks who have them are led by the Holy Spirit to use their gifts to benefit their congregation. Each one of us is given a different gift by the Holy Spirit and we are expected to use it in our congregation.
On the other hand, governance is distinctly different. Men and women appoint elders and deacons; those who govern and administer the affairs of a congregation are appointed by humans. The Holy Spirit may or may not be involved. The bottom line is that these are human choices; and too often they are based on traditions, on hierarchy, and pure human politics.
Gifts of the Holy Spirit
Gifts are given by the Holy Spirit to whomever Jesus chooses. They are given to both men and women and young and old. Jesus directs the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit then gifts to each person in a congregation. Each and every person is given some gift to benefit the congregation.
It is important to realize that men and women don’t make any of these choices; in fact they have no input at all into the process of giving gifts. “God has appointed” and given gifts, 1 Corinthians 12:27–31,
“Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues.
Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.”
These are some of the many gifts of the Holy Spirit. Apostle is mentioned first. Prophet is mentioned second. The third gift listed is that of teacher and after that we read of miracles, healings, helps, administrations, and finally tongues.
These are all gifts. They come through the Holy Spirit and God gives them to whom He chooses.
An Apostle is not an office; it is a gift of the Holy Spirit. A Prophet is not an office; it too is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Gifts come directly from Jesus through the Holy Spirit, and we humans have no input in the selections made by the Holy Spirit.
Jesus doesn’t ask anyone for advice. He just gives gifts to whomever He chooses. He doesn’t ask the elders, the pastor, or the deacons. He does not ask anyone for his or her input! He doesn’t poll the resident hierarchy. Nor does He ask for the congregation to vote on His choices.
He doesn’t consult with anyone, He does what He pleases, read Isaiah 40:13–14,
“Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord, or as His counselor has taught Him? With whom did He take counsel, and who instructed Him, and taught Him in the path of justice? Who taught Him knowledge, and showed Him the way of understanding?”
Many in the Churches of God have looked at those who are apostles, or prophets, or teachers, or those who the gift of healings, or miracles, or tongues as having a high office in the Church of God.
They are not offices.
These are all gifts of the Holy Spirit they are not offices. We are all brethren, equal in every way in the church. We simply have different gifts, Romans 12:3–9,
“For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.
Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.”
Those who have gifts are to serve their brethren in the congregation and their gifts are given to them so that they can edify, teach, encourage, heal, prophecy, and in every way help the Church of God.
Gifts do make each one of us special, but they don’t put any one of us on a higher level then our brethren. We are all equal in the body of Christ. Notice what Paul said about his gift of apostle, Ephesians 3:8–10,
“To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.”
We are all given gifts of the Holy Spirit for “the work of ministry”, “for the edifying of the body of Christ”, so that we can all come “to the unity of the faith”. Let’s read Ephesians 4:7–13 one more time
“But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore He says: ‘When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men.’ (Now this, ‘He ascended’; what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
The members of each congregation have an extremely important responsibility, they are to recognize those who have gifts and they are to allow the gifts to be used in the church, 1 Corinthians 14:29–32,
“Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.”
Too often those who govern a congregation do not allow the individuals with gifts to use them in the congregation and the direct result is that the Holy Spirit is not allowed to work in our congregations. That is one of the major reasons we have few miracles and the messages seem uninspired.
Governance is very different than gifts of the Holy Spirit. Men and women select their own elders and deacons; they can even put themselves into the ministry. These are human choices. We normally seek God’s guidance in selecting them, but they are still human choices.
People can and should take on leadership roles in the church. Elders and deacons are servants of a congregation. They are to serve the Church of God by leading the congregation and administering the affairs of the congregation. They are a necessary part of the Church.
In Paul’s day the house of Stephanas put themselves into the ministry, the Greek word for “devoted” used here means “appointed” and is most often translated that way, 1 Corinthians 16:15–17,
“I urge you, brethren; you know the household of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the ministry of the saints; that you also submit to such, and to everyone who works and labors with us. I am glad about the coming of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, for what was lacking on your part they supplied.”
Those who have responsibility to administer the affairs of the Church are a very necessary part of the Church. For example the Greek word for “bishop” is episkope, and it is similar in meaning to “elder”, which in the Greek is presbuteros. The elders are to be chosen by the congregation and they are to have the following qualifications, 1 Timothy 3:1–5,
“This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work.
A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil.
Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.”
We are given a list of qualifications for an elder. We humans are to look at the men and women in a congregation and see who fits these qualifications. That is why there are qualifications, we are to choose our elders. These are human choices. The elders are appointed by humans to administer the day-to-day affairs of a congregation.
Again, we have been given very definite instructions on how we are to choose elders.
Elders are generally older and they should have the gift of “administration”. They may or may not have other gifts of the Holy Spirit. They are older, moral individuals, who can administer the affairs of the Church, and they can work to preserve the truth of God. The church of God is the “pillar and ground of the truth”, 1 Tim 3:15,
“But if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”
Those who lead the Churches of God have an important responsibility, but their gifts are often few and limited. Generally they don’t have the gift of healing. Elders should have faith, because they are to anoint the sick and they are to pray a prayer of faith. They are to pray for the sick as a group, James 5:14–15,
“Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.”
Again, it is important that elders have faith. The Lord honors their faith and He promises to heal the person who is ill and asks to be anointed by the “elders”, notice that more then one is to anoint the sick.
Elders are to help maintain order in the Church, that is one of the major roles. The affairs of the Church should be handled “decently and in order”, 1 Corinthians 14:39–40,
“Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues. Let all things be done decently and in order.”
The entire congregation is to follow the leadership provided by the elders, 1 Timothy 5:17,
“Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.”
and Hebrews 13:7,
“Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct.”
Those who administer the affairs of a congregation have the very important responsibility to lead the congregation and they must allow those who have gifts of the Holy Spirit to use those gifts in the church. If they do not, then the church is not being lead by Jesus Christ, it is being lead by mere men and women.
Gifts and governance are supposed to work together in the churches of God. But governance usually dominates gifts. People get caught up in wanting to rule and govern the church, rather then desiring Jesus to lead the church through the Holy Spirit. They want to do the job of the Holy Spirit and they seek to legislate who in the congregation is to have the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
They seek to control God’s people and tell the Holy Spirit what it is to do.
That simply doesn’t work. When they try and do the work of the Holy Spirit, they quench the Spirit and the Spirit leaves, as explained in 1 Thessalonians 5:18–20,
“In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies.”
The elders in the Churches of God tend to “despise prophesyings” (KJV). They usually don’t have the gift of prophecy and they don’t allow others to use the gift of prophecy in “their” congregation.
The Holy Spirit then simply goes away.
The Holy Spirit is “quenchable”. If the leadership of a congregation does not allow it to work, it will simply go away. That is one of the major reasons that the congregations of the Churches of God lack the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit has been literally driven away by the leadership of the church.
Christ doesn’t ask the “pastor”, the “deacons”, the “elders” or the local church board who should receive gifts of the Holy Spirit. Nor does He ask the men and women in a congregation who should be given gifts. The Holy Spirit does Jesus’ will and gives gifts to those whom Jesus chooses.
Because elders often don’t allow those with gifts to use them, the folks who have gifts tend to hide them. Then gifts of the Holy Spirit can remain hidden and unused for a lifetime, and the Holy Spirit simply goes away.
In other situations, leaders may accept someone who appears to have a spiritual gift, but then the first time he or she makes even a small mistake, they use it as a reason to put an end to the spiritual service. This is not being fair in judgment—elders do not disqualify themselves from their service when they make a mistake in administration.
Elders are sometimes afraid that they will lose their position if the brethren see spiritual gifts at work in other people. They may think that if someone in the congregation is recognized as having a gift of prophecy, knowledge or teaching, that the congregation will want to make that person an elder instead of them. The elders need to recognize that they need not fear what God is doing, and that people who have spiritual gifts often do not desire eldership.
For a healthy Spirit-filled congregation, gifts and governance must both work. That means that those who govern must allow those who have gifts to use them for everyone’s benefit. It is the job of the congregation to recognize those who have gifts and insist that they be allowed to use them, it is not just the job of the elders, 1 Corinthians 14:29–33 (NIV),
“Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.”
We in the Churches of God need to encourage those with gifts to come forward and use them in our congregations. We must not allow the elders, leaders, or administrators to quench the Holy Spirit by insisting that they alone have the greater gifts of the Holy Spirit. The reality is that elders have one of the lesser gifts, that of administration.
Until we have the courage to allow those with gifts to use their gifts, the Holy Spirit will play a very minor role in most of our services.