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10 How to Train a Disciple – Gifts and Calling


Just before His death on Calvary, the Lord Jesus expressed to His Father what was on His heart. In that prayer, recorded in John 17, we find one of His major concerns was that Christians dwell together in unity.

The holy Spirit’s bestowal of gifts on the church was designed to ensure that our Lord Jesus’ prayer for unity would be answered. He did this by making sure that all Christians has all of the gifts. This assured the importance of every believer, because his gifts were necessary to complement the rest of the body. It also assured the dependence of every believer on others. Since one did not have all the gifts, he needed his brothers and sisters in Christ. This was God’s formula for unity. This design for unity, however has been jeopardized by certain problems that have entered the life of the church.

One of the problems is found in the background of many new Christians. Many today come from a background of existentialism, which teaches that meaning and reality are only to be found in life through an “experience.” Drugs, sex—anything to find purpose in a life that is at best a “sick joke.” This desire to “have an experience” has permeated Christianity. In many cases it finds its expression in people looking for the more spectacular gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Another problem confronting the church regarding the gifts is that they are so often sought in a spirit of comparison and competition. I become proud because I have gifts that you lack, or I become envious because you have gifts that I lack. What originally was intended to unite us as brothers and sisters becomes the thing that divides us. The reason for this disunity is the absence of true Christian love, and this is precisely why the Apostle Paul sandwiches the great chapter on love, 1  Corinthians 13, between his two chapters on the spiritual gifts.

Still another problem that we face today regarding the gifts is the tremendous feeling of inadequacy that many Christians have simply because they are not sure what gifts—at least this is what they have been taught from the Bible. But if you were to ask them what their gifts are, they would be unable to answer.

As we train young Christians to become disciples, one of our primary objectives should be to help them discover and develop their gifts, since every believer has gifts which God holds him accountable for developing and using for the sake of the body. In making disciples we are not trying to produce proficient technicians who are able to reproduce themselves by a prescribed methodology; rather, we are seeking to develop men and women who are disciples diligently exercising their particular gifts and abilities.


To explore this subject, let us briefly study Paul’s analysis of the gifts in 1 Corinthians 12.

In verses 1-11, we see the distribution and diversity of the gifts. It is frequently asked whether the gifts listed in Scripture are illustrative or exhaustive. Are they examples of a broader list of gifts? Or when you list all the individual gifts mentioned in the Bible, do you have the sum total of all the gifts that God distributes? The supporting evidence for either view is inconclusive, but I believe that the lists of gifts, such as those in verses 8-10 here are illustrative.

This is important when helping a man discover his gifts because you have to decide whether you will confine your quest to the gifts mentioned in the Bible or whether you will view the subject more broadly. As I help people in this area, I work on the premise that any talents or abilities a person has are God-given and become “spiritual” when controlled and energized by the Holy Spirit. Other than those mentioned in the New Testament, we might look for abilities in the fields of music, writing, or art. Having helped a disciple determine what his gifts can be used in accomplishing the objective of making disciples.

All that God has for me was made available through the cross of Jesus Christ; and as a believer, it is my responsibility to appropriate all that He has made available. Helping a disciple discover, develop, and use his gifts is simply a matter of helping him fulfill his responsibility to appropriate that which was made available to him through the cross of Christ.

In verses 12-31, we see the dependence of the members on the body and the body on the members. As we said earlier, the Spirit’s endowment of specific gifts to each believer means that each has a uniquely significant place in the body and a complete dependence on every other believer.

This passage illustrates the foolishness of comparison. It is as ridiculous for me to compare myself with my brother as it is for my hand to compare itself with my foot. If I can understand my role in the body and the role of my brothers and sisters, I can rejoice in their success because I know that it contributes to the body as a whole.

While visiting Mexico City, I was shown a beautiful mosaic on the wall of one of the buildings at the university. The magnificent picture was composed by arranging stones of various colors and sizes in the form of a pattern. If any one of the stones had been removed, the picture would have been incomplete. The removal of your gifts from the body would make what Christ is doing incomplete.

Consider a lineman on a football team. By himself, he cannot win the game. But his blocking is indispensable if the ball carrier is going to score. An oboe in a symphony orchestra is not a solo instrument, but when played in harmony with the other instruments, it sounds beautiful.

In verses 11 and 18, we learn that God decides what function each of us is to play in the body. The feelings of inadequacy or inferiority that many Christians experience often stem from wrongly comparing oneself with others. For example, if I had been led to Christ and disciple by a pastor, I would tend to compare myself with his speaking ability and then feel quite inferior if I could not duplicate his gift. If, however, a talented musician led me to Christ and disciple me, I would be prone to compare myself with his abilities in the area of music. Again, if I could not duplicate his gifts, I would tend to experience feelings of inferiority.

We can readily see the importance of helping a man to discover his gifts and to realize their unique importance early. These gifts, whatever they are, assure his worth as an individual. It must be remembered, though, that there is no such thing as being given a gift solely for one’s own personal use and edification. The very nature of the gift, whatever it may be, is such that it can be used to build up the body of Christ. The value of the gift is measured by the degree to which it contributes to the well-being of the rest of the Christian family.

Verses 25-26 teach that the body is dependent on each of the members for its proper functioning. Paul says a strange thing in Colossians 1:24: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body (which is the church) in filling up that which is lacking in Christ’s affliction” (NASB). What I understand Paul to be saying here is that Christ in a certain sense is still suffering. He is not physically suffering, since that was finished at the cross; but as our Head, He continues to suffer, as 1 Corinthians 12:25-26 suggests. When the head is in danger of being hit, the hand immediately responds by trying to ward off the blow at the sacrifice of itself.

Anytime one member of the body suffers for the cause of Jesus Christ, it affects every other member in the body. For example, when Jim Elliot and his four co-laborers were martyred in Ecuador, all the church suffered. The vacancies their deaths left became our responsibility. Again, adapting Paul’s illustration in 1 Corinthians 12, when one of the limbs, let’s say the leg, is amputated, the body can adjust, but it cannot function as well as it could before. We say therefore that the body is handicapped.

If a person’s gifts are not being used for the well-being of the body, he will not feel a part of the fellowship and will soon lose his sense of personal worth. This could be one reason organizations such as the Lion’s Club, the Optimist Club, and the Masonic Lodge are successful—they give their members a feeling of belonging and personal importance.



Every believer needs to know what his gifts are and be using them for the well-being of the church. The church is actually handicapped if any member’s gifts are not being properly applied. How then do we help people discover and develop their gifts? Let me offer four suggestions:

  1. 1. If he is a disciple, get him involved with people.

First Corinthians teaches that the purpose of spiritual gifts is to help edify the body. Gifts are never for ourselves. If a person does not know what his gift is, it may be because he is not giving himself to other people. One discovers one’s gifts by selfless giving. Therefore, encourage the person you are helping to become involved in the lives of other people. As he serves others, his gifts will come to light.

  1. 2. Help him exercise any gift that you both suspect he might have.

Let’s take teaching as an example. If your disciple suspects that he has the gift of teaching but is not sure, encourage him to use every teaching opportunity he can. As he teaches, it will become evident to him whether he has the gift or not.

  1. 3. Generally speaking, a person’s gift lies in the area in which his interests lie and where he can most easily exercise faith.

Let me illustrate this by my own life. I do not have the gift of healing. When I meet sick people, I find it very difficult to exercise faith in their being made well. I do, however, preach. And whereas I am always fearful and apprehensive about standing before an audience, I can, nonetheless, muster enough faith to do it.

  1. 4. Have him exercise the potential gift in front of people who can give an honest evaluation.

If your disciple thinks he has the gift of teaching, let some gifted teachers evaluate him. If he thinks he has the gift of speaking, let speakers evaluate him.

A word of caution is in order here. Not having a specific gift does not absolve you of responsibility in those areas where God has commanded obedience. Let’s use evangelism as an example. It may very well be that you and I do not have the gift of evangelism, but God does command that we be witnesses. His commandment is not abrogated simply because we are not gifted in that particular area. I may not be a gifted evangelist, but I am still obligated to do evangelism.



God never asks a person to do something he cannot do. There are times when He may ask a person to do something he does not think he can do. God asked Moses to represent Him before Pharaoh and the people of Egypt. Feeling very inadequate, Moses in effect replied to God, “Lord, You have the wrong man.” But God assured him that he had the right man and that He would endow Moses with whatever gifts were necessary to accomplish the task.

The gifts and calling of God always go hand in hand. Most churches have some form of ordination formalities for their pastors, usually preceded by an examination council. The council examines the individual to see if he has the gifts and training necessary for the work of the ministry.

The person says to the church, “I am called of God to be a pastor.”

The church, in response, says, “We must examine you to see if we concur that you have the necessary gifts and call.” Ordination, then, is a recognition of the fact that the gifts and calling of God go together.

It is imperative that, early in the discipling process, the person begin to look for his gifts and develop them. His calling in life should be in harmony with whatever his gifts are. So many Christian are uncertain about their life work simply because they are not sure of their gifts. The disciple’s life is a fulfilling one because he is involved in the most satisfying and exciting life affords, namely, helping to transform people into the image of Jesus Christ.

To experience this fulfillment, however, the disciple’s life must be in accordance in the way God has made him. His function ought to be in harmony with his gifts. Whatever else the training of a disciple should include, helping him discover and develop his gifts must be part of it.