Recently, I had the unfortunate chance to observe spiritual disempowerment being played out. The effect was both disheartening and chilling, and I fear one that’s only begun to reverberate through the affected parish. I'll not labor the details, but it was unsettling.
So what just is “Spiritual Disempowerment”? Webster tells us that to disempower someone is to make them weak, ineffectual or unimportant. For our purposes, I’m defining spiritual disempowerment as making or causing a believer in Christ to be ineffectual, weak and under utilized within the economy of the Kingdom of God. Though certainly not the sole cause, this disempowerment is a major factor behind spiritual immaturity and failure to thrive as members of the family of God.
Disempowerment occurs when believers, gifted in their respective spiritual gift are thwarted in their proper exercise. By gifts, I refer to St. Paul’s descriptions in his writings to the churches at Rome and Corinth.
And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. 1 Cor 12:28 (NIV)
Though some of these gifts are miraculous and rare, other gifts are widely given and in full operation within healthy, vibrant churches. Think about it, how could a church grow without the gifts of faith, helps, mercy, prayer, teaching or administration? You’ll find at least one of these gifts operating in a spiritually healthy saint. Its also not rare to see multiple gifts operating in God’s people. In its immediate effect, disempowered believers miss the opportunity to move, grow and mature in their gifts. The greater, farther-reaching effect is that the ministry and outreach of the local church is stymied.
I need to consider the question of why do folk spiritually disempower other believers. The answer, I feel is two-fold. There’s a willful, intentional type that is rooted in pride, envy and insecurity. The second, though less malicious, is just as dampening. This unintentional variety stems from a lack of spiritual sensitivity or awareness. Regardless, both willful and unintentional spiritual disempowerment is a church killer, driving gifted saints away from one local body and into another.
Next, I’d like to discuss our role as church leaders in empowering the saints in a way that sets them onto a path of spiritual growth, fruitful lives, and God-honoring service to the Kingdom.