Getting in SHAPE

May 13, 2014

This morning I will be meeting my personal trainer at the gym for the first time in over six months. Not with a little fear and trepidation, I will submit to thirty minutes of exercises, addressing each muscle group and testing my capabilities. What I know is this: I am out of shape. Cancer-drug-related weight gain has plagued me since the first of the year, my overall strength has diminished, and stamina is completely redefined by pulmonary limitations at the moment. Yes, it sounds pretty pitiful for one who used to be able to run the paces and maintain a heartbeat of 135/min. But one has to start somewhere, and today we will find out where that is and work up from there slowly but surely.

Being “in shape” is a great metaphor for the Christian life and has provided for me perhaps one of the most enduring discipleship concepts over the years. It originally came out of Saddleback Church (Lake Forest, CA), where the guiding question has been What is your SHAPE for ministry? It is this outline I would like to use to identify the type of ministry to engage me in this next phase of my life.

SHAPE stands for five areas of assessment:

S—Spiritual Gifts
H—Heart for Ministry
A—Abilities
P—Personality Type
E—Experience

Spiritual Gifts. My spiritual gifts are teaching, prophecy, and leadership. Other gifts have been prominent in certain times of my life, like creative communication, especially through music, and discernment. And God has certainly worked in me—out of necessity—disciplines involving evangelism and compassion. But my primary gift is teaching: helping people to know and love the Scriptures and discover their implications for everyday life. It’s been a good day when I see folks grab hold of God’s Word and take steps to align their lives with the Living Lord revealed therein. The goal is not simply to acquire an impressive set of facts about God and his history with the human race but to gain an understanding of God’s nature, God’s actions, and God’s vision for us in such a way that we are able to trust and obey him in every area of our lives.

I also happen to believe, and wrote a doctoral dissertation on the subject, that teaching is a primary way to fulfill the Great Commission. Everybody needs good information upon which to make a decision to believe in Jesus and a commitment to follow him. The Church has drifted a bit on this score, as there are many proponents of the idea that evangelism is primarily relational and not informational, but I disagree. Particularly in an age where a much larger percentage of children are growing up in families with no exposure to the gospel, to church life, or to the Bible, we are starting with an information vacuum. How do we expect people to understand the choice for their life direction without giving them God’s Story to explain God’s Invitation? Yes, I am passionate about teaching people, even while I understand that the packaging for that gift is not limited to a classroom or a lecture, but can happen effectively in the context of relationship-building activities: Hence, my sit-downs with “my coffee ladies” at Peets and my walks around the block with neighbors on my street.

Prophecy is perhaps a misunderstood gift these days. What I mean when I use that term is the God-given ability to speak for God into a situation, public or private, in which it is important to know God’s perspective. I probably lean into the “forth-telling” aspect more than the “foretelling” aspect of prophecy, and it is this gift that fights the propensity to be critical rather than discerning. It is very hard to describe the moment, when I am talking to someone, when I simply know something about that person’s spiritual life that has not been spoken yet (that would be the gift of discernment at work) and ask God for wisdom to know what to do with that information. Usually the assignment is to help that person come to grips with the spiritual and emotional reality that is driving his or her behavior and to appreciate the power God is offering for a transformed life.

On the public side of this gift, prophecy expresses itself in my preaching of God’s Word, proclaiming “thus says the Lord” from Scripture and with a sense of urgency encouraging people to act upon it.

Leadership as a gift has found expression since the beginning of my walk with Jesus. My pastorates, for instance, have afforded the opportunity to influence people through the communication of vision shaped by a God-centered worldview, a Christ-centered focus on the Kingdom of God, and a Spirit-empowered energy to move forward. The spiritual disciplines required for the leadership gift are listening to God, staying anchored in God’s Word, having compassion on the people to be led, and thereby being a humble follower of Jesus Christ.

Next post: Heart and Experience

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One Response to “Getting in SHAPE”

  1. emd5542 Says:

    A perfect message sometimes begs me to affirm. This one, however, leads me to just be still to digest your words. In the joy stirring that his blog and its successor are read by many, Eleanor

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