Specific Gifts

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

1 Corinthians 12:28 (NLT)

Here are some of the parts God has appointed for the church:
first are apostles,
second are prophets,
third are teachers,
then those who do miracles,
those who have the gift of healing,
those who can help others,
those who have the gift of leadership,
those who speak in unknown languages.


Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve referenced spiritual gifts while preaching, and last Friday I issued an invitation to those of you who might want to learn more about your gifts, regardless of whether you’re a regular part of Holston View UMC. Today, please let me provide you with just a little more detail.

There are lots of ways to assess spiritual gifts, some formal, some informal. At previous churches, I’ve used the “3 Colors of Your Gifts” book and tests as part of an introductory church class for visitors and new members. I like these materials, and most people have found them useful. I think such a formal approach is at least a start in the right direction.

These tests usually work best in a small group setting, with a leader who has some training in the materials (I do). If you also have an interest in small groups, it’s fun to use spiritual gifts discovery as a starting point for a group.

Whether your search is formal or informal, you of course want to start with prayer. Simply ask God to reveal to you the gifts that will make you a more effective Christian. If you’re going the informal route, at least talk with a pastor and with other mature Christians around you about how they see God working in you, and consider how what they say lines up with a list of scriptural gifts, like this one:

Trusting your likes and dislikes is an important part of your discernment. If you find yourself on a planning committee and not really happy about it, you’ve learned something—you probably lack the spiritual gifts that go along with such service.

That’s okay! Don’t give up, just change up how you serve, and find what gives you joy while bearing fruit for the kingdom. Again, trust the guidance of mature Christians around you.

I promise you this: No sane pastor or church leader will try to prevent you from exploring different forms of gift-based service. We never have enough people in the church doing kingdom work under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We want you to find your place, and in the process, find the kind of joy that helps you experience eternity now.

Lord, thank you for the ongoing grace you pour on us in the form of spiritual gifts. Help us to see how we fit into your plans to change the world. Amen.

Small Groups Save Lives

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

The above headline makes a bold assertion. In the past few weeks, I’ve talked about how small groups restore people to God, keep people in a tight-knit community and help their members grow as disciples.

And yes, when times are tough, when much is at stake, small groups save lives.

One example is how small groups save the lives of leaders. While the idea of modern small groups is of course not fully formed in an ancient text, we see the basic concept at work in Exodus 18:13-27. Here, we are deep in the story of Moses and how he leads the Israelites out of Egypt.

At this point, Moses has been reunited with his wife and children, who have been staying with Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, a Midianite priest. Jethro is astonished by the miracles God has performed while liberating the Israelites from Egypt, but he is also concerned about how Moses is trying to handle every problem on his own.

“This is not good!” Jethro says. “You’re going to wear yourself out—and the people, too.”

Jethro’s advice is pretty simple: Find men you trust, men with high moral standards, and group the people under them to help. Moses takes the advice, at least initially.

Sadly, Moses eventually burns out anyway, the stress of leadership proving to be too much. A fit of anger while leading the recalcitrant people ultimately costs him entry into the Promised Land. No matter how smart we may think we are, we all need wise companions as we make our way through this broken world toward God’s kingdom, particularly if we are called to lead.

Small groups save lives in more direct ways, too. Churches structured around small groups have been able to do great kingdom work in the midst of terrible evil.

For example, if you don’t know the story of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, you should take time to learn more about it. This little French village, working mostly out of its small Protestant church, was able to save thousands of Jews from deportation and extermination during World War II. What fascinates me is how the people of Le Chambon said they never needed a planning meeting or a vote to figure out what to do.

Well before the war, the pastor had put in place a biblical system for teaching and communication. He taught a small group of leaders, each of whom then taught their own groups.

When genocide began to happen around them, the people knew biblically what God called them to do and they simply did it, using their established small-group system. They passed Jews back and forth, keeping them safe without ever having to discuss out loud what they were doing.

I once saw an interview with a church member from that era. She said that a knock might come in the middle of the night, and a church member, child in hand, would say, “Please take care of this one.”

Trust of the church, and a common biblical understanding of the need to love others in risky ways, had been established via the small groups long before the war broke out. The church members very naturally said yes to such requests, without hesitation.

Through their small-group system, they knew when to hide their charges in the woods. They knew how to call them back into the houses by singing a song. Forged papers quietly made their way from house to house, allowing many of the Jews to flee to the safety of Switzerland.

Le Chambon reminds us of the powerful, life-saving response we can make to evil when we follow common-sense biblical strategies.

Lord, grow us in our understanding of how to structure our churches along biblical lines, so we may be ready when people around us are suffering and in need. Amen.


I also have an invitation for you today. I am organizing a weekly online small group. If you want to participate, let me know. You do not have to be a member of Holston View UMC, where I am pastor, to join. It would be helpful if you are comfortable using Google Meet, or if you think you can become comfortable after a little guidance. Contact me at chuck@methodist.life.

Once I’ve worked out who is interested, we will decide together when to meet, and we will establish a particular focus for the group. We of course will be spending time in the Bible.

Small Groups, Day 2

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Matthew 28:18-20 (NLT): Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”


As we continue an exploration of what makes Christian small groups effective, I’ll propose what I think is their greatest existential threat, short of the devil joining. The members, having begun to enjoy some level of spiritual intimacy, will want to “close the circle,” keeping new people out.

Now that I think about it, that may be how the devil gets in!

Small groups are, of course, Christian in their mission. And regardless of how a group may define its specific reason for existing, it has to continue carrying out the “Great Commission,” Jesus’ mandate that we make and grow new disciples.

So small group members find themselves maintaining a strange tension. They want spiritual intimacy, and at the same time, they want to be drawing what are essentially strangers into the group where secrets are sometimes shared.

To succeed, the members from the start have to be deeply intentional about growing and then splitting, birthing a new group. And frankly, this is where American Christians seem to struggle more than Christians in other, more communal cultures. I have witnessed and heard stories of small groups locking down, fearing they will lose something precious if they let new people join.

I recognize the instinct. We have to understand, however, that what we lose is what is sometimes called “organic growth,” the development of the body of Christ, where the Holy Spirit best goes to work in the world. A locked-down small group is like a dead cell in a body.

If each small group successfully draws enough new members to split each year, the number of small groups in an area can grow amazingly fast. You may remember geometric growth from math class: 1 becomes 2, 2 become 4, 4 become 8, 8 become 16, 16 become 32. Most churches would love to be able to say that in five years, 32 healthy small groups containing 150 or 200 active, thriving Christians would exist in their congregations.

I personally think it’s ideal if the first true small group in a congregation focuses on understanding how to evangelize, either reaching those who have never heard of Jesus Christ or re-energizing those who have fallen away. That way, evangelism DNA should remain in each new generation of small groups.

Along these lines, every small group needs both a dedicated leader and a leader in training, someone ready to depart with the new group when it’s time for a split. Having a leader in training also emphasizes the group’s seriousness about splitting.

Tomorrow, we’ll consider some core practices of small group members, the kind of activities that ensure the group remains truly Christian.

Lord, we don’t always get excited contemplating math, but we know what we’re really talking about is vibrant, vigorous life, the greatest blessing in your creation! Renew us with a deep understanding of how quickly the kingdom can grow, if only we cooperate. Amen.

Small Groups, Day 1

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Hebrews 10:23-25 (NLT): Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.


Christian, do you want to let go of pain and thrive in faith and love?

One major goal of the Methodist Life website is to encourage a resurgence in small groups as the basis of the Methodist experience. I’m going to take a few days to explore this concept. If you’re not in a Christian small group of some sort, I hope you will sense the restorative power of participating in such a group, which sadly has become a foreign idea for most American Christians.

I suppose this aversion to serious fellowship is not a new problem. Our Hebrews text above, with its phrase, “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do,” is strong evidence that even the earliest Christians could be distracted from the life-changing impact of deep interaction with other believers.

Sunday schools are great, as are other educational and social groups within a church. They have their specific purposes. Don’t confuse these with small groups, however, which were the basis of the original Methodist movement that swept the world

Here’s the first major small group characteristic: “Small” is taken seriously. Most small group leaders would find that eight members are the maximum if everyone is to participate in a healthy way. The Discipleship Bands program begun at Asbury Theological Seminary recommends even smaller groups of three to five people.

If you don’t fully understand what the experience is supposed to be like, the restricted size should give you a clue. Over time, people meeting in weekly small groups should begin to have personal and confidential conversations about their faith, including their struggles. In this safe environment, Christians can find encouragement and mutual support.

Let’s be realistic—it’s hard to sit in a room with 20 people and have deep conversations about our struggles. We naturally fear that someone will gossip. In fact, when we’re really struggling, one of the loneliest places we can find ourselves is in a room full of people. If we’re going to open up to others, a tight circle of people is better.

That said, I also don’t want to scare you regarding what might happen in that private room (or these days, in that secure online meeting site). If you’ve never been in a small group, don’t think that people are going to put you in a headlock and force you to spill your secrets.

Spiritual intimacy takes time to develop. But when a small group of people understand from the outset the importance of maintaining confidentiality, they will achieve spiritual intimacy more quickly than you might think. Most groups begin by working out a covenant so rules and appropriate behaviors are clear.

Tomorrow, I’m going to explore what might at first seem to be a paradox. Small groups need to stay small, but at the same time, they’re constantly trying to draw new people into deeper Christian discipleship. Once we learn to maintain this tension, remarkable things can happen.

Lord, if you are calling us to a deeper relationship with you as we walk with others, let us sense clearly how we are to respond. Thank you for Christians who are willing to help each other grow. Amen.

Means of Grace, Day 5

By Chuck Griffin
Editor, LifeTalk

Acts 2:42-47 (NLT)

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.

A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.


Let’s take a little time today to think about the grace received while living in the Christian community called “church.”

In church, our individual experiences of grace intertwine. Working together, we find ourselves empowered in ways not possible when working alone.

That is, of course, an ideal description of the church. We tend to fall short; compare your church experiences with the above description of the early church in Acts.

I suppose we shouldn’t feel too bad. As we continue to read in Acts, we witness how the incredibly dynamic early church began to look more human as very old sins—pride, greed, ethnocentrism and deception, for example—crept in.

The church will not be heaven on earth until heaven and earth are rejoined. We are part of the “church militant,” the collection of Christians hoping to shove Satan backward, doing all we can to sustain ourselves and each other with God’s ever-flowing grace.

Even in a COVID-19 era, group worship remains deeply important to our mission. It is my prayer that once the United States exits this pandemic, we will better appreciate what it means to gather as part of a community and give glory to God. I would like to see Sunday morning restored as a uniquely holy time, not by legislation but by a genuine change in the hearts of people who call themselves Christian.

I’m not praying for a return to what we call normal. I’m praying that we will be astonished by what happens next. In a healthy local church, the number of people attending worship should exceed the number of members. This actually happens in other parts of the world. The members desperately want to be present, and the power of God is so evident that very-welcome newbies are looking in, wanting to know what’s going on.

If you have criticized your church because you think worship isn’t exciting enough, do something about it. Worship is not a show for an audience, it is a participatory group event directed toward God. Who knows, worship may not be exciting because you’re not involving your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service and your witness.

We should involve ourselves in church life in other ways, too. We should find our place in the body of Christ, understanding how the Holy Spirit seeks to change lives through us.

I am a big advocate of finding our place through participation in small groups, online or in person. Methodism originally was built around small groups, which offer opportunities for Christians to grow in trust and love for each other, study God’s word, reach out to the lost and do good works. We need to get back to the basics, knowing each other’s hearts.

Such meaningful fellowship used to give people a relationship with the church that they could find in no other institution or group. It is no wonder. Done correctly, fellowship with Christians invites the presence of the Holy, Eternal God.

As Jesus said in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.”

Lord, speak to us today as we take time to consider what it means to be part of a local church and your larger, global church. Give us a deep sense of our need to work alongside others, knowing we also will be working alongside you. Amen.

Means of Grace, Day 1

By Chuck Griffin
Editor, LifeTalk

Acts 1:8 (NLT): “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.”

In my Sunday sermon at Holston View United Methodist Church, I mentioned what are sometimes called the “means of grace.” That’s a very Methodist phrase for spiritual practices that create an encounter with God.

An encounter with God should bring about very positive change, of course. I would compare the offer God is making us to a rich man saying, “Any time you come to the corner of Church and Clonce streets, I will give you a bag of cash.” We likely would go to that obscure intersection quite often.

God is offering us much more, saying, “Meet me in these spiritual practices, and I will mold you for eternal life, letting you experience its joy now.” All the cash on the planet cannot match the value of eternal life! If we can better grasp what is being offered, we will regularly engage in these spiritual practices.

John Wesley talked about many different ways we can encounter God, but I’m going to focus the rest of the week on what he called “works of piety.” We will begin with the tremendous impact Scripture can have on our lives.

Paul told a young pastor in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.” And Paul was referencing just the Old Testament—remember, as he wrote this letter, he was creating an early piece of what would become the New Testament.

Bibles used to be hard to come by, but that’s no longer true in our digital culture. We can carry multiple translations on our phones, and if you have a little trouble reading—for example, I have friends with dyslexia—there are audio versions.

We also need to be sure we are working from a plain-English translation we can understand. Again, there are many options. I’m particularly fond of the New Living Translation, and Bible Gateway will let you explore a huge list of translations.

With all the resources we have available, encountering God in Scripture mostly is about taking time out of our too-busy lives.

The Bible is a library, meaning you cannot read it the way you would read a novel, but if you’ve never read it from start to finish, I would encourage you to do so. It helps to start with the big picture, understanding the library and its broad themes. Read just three chapters a day, and you’ll finish in a little more than a year. Don’t get bogged down on the lists, like the census data in the Book of Numbers. Where necessary, skim!

You will walk away with a deeper understanding of some basic truths. God is our creator. Creation rebelled by sinning, rejecting God’s will. God loves his creation so much, however, that he began to work to restore us, despite our sins. Through a particular people, the Israelites, a savior eventually came into the world, God among us in flesh. He died to free us from sin, and then rose from the dead to prove his victory. The Spirit of God sustains us now, until such time as God completes his work and we are restored to him in full.

Once you have those concepts in mind, you can dive into the individual books and letters, developing a deeper understanding of these life-changing truths. We are talking about a lifetime of study—you just keep going deeper and deeper.

It does take a little work to learn to process Scripture. The chapter numbers and verse numbers, which are not in the original manuscripts, make the Bible look like a book full of rules to be cited, but don’t be misled. There are powerful stories and mysteries to meditate upon. God wants to use all of Scripture to reach deep within our souls, helping us understand there’s so much more to life than what we simply have experienced.

It also is good to come alongside more experienced Christians. Find a small group of people committed to continuing the great traditions of the church as they delve into the gift God has given us all.

The other means of grace we will consider this week are prayer, fasting, the Lord’s Supper, and participation in the life of the church. Stay with me this week. I pray we will see how all of this comes together to give us a much fuller experience of God.

Lord, may your word work in us in new ways, making us better equipped to be citizens of your eternal kingdom. Amen.