by Jonathan Leeman

Hopefully you have not had to deal with a Candace Whitcomb in your church, but my guess is that you’ve known one or two. Her story is funny and pathetic and all too familiar.

Candace Whitcomb is a character in Mary Wilkins Freeman’s 1889 short story “The Village Singer.” It begins with Miss Whitcomb’s dismissal after forty years as the church’s leading soprano. Her voice had begun to crack and those upper notes weren’t as strong as they used to be. So the church officers asked her to go.

As you can predict, Miss Whitcomb was none too pleased.

The following Sunday, a warm May morning in which all the windows of the building stood open, she had her revenge. Her house sat next door to the church, and just as her replacement, the young and delicate Alma Way, began her solo, old Miss Whitcomb, sitting at home, began pounding away on her parlor organ while loudly cawing another hymn to another tune. Poor Alma continued to sing, but Candace’s shrill strains were all anyone could hear.


Like Candace, we often think we know what we’re good at, and that’s how we want to serve the church:

  • “I play the guitar pretty well, you should use me in the band.”
  • “I’m a good teacher, why haven’t you asked me to teach?”
  • “Look, I’m competent with numbers. Put me, not her, in charge of the budget.”

In the meantime, we avoid other areas of service by feigning incompetence.

  • “Oh man, I’d love to help out in the nursery, I’m just no good with kids.”
  • “I’d take them a meal, but I’m sure my cooking would make them even more sick!”

Such attitudes become especially harmful when they are charged with entitlement: “I play the guitar pretty well, and I deserve to play in the band!” (No, we don’t say that, but we think it.)

What’s worse, we employ the Holy Spirit to back us up: “You know, the Holy Spirit gave me the gift of guitar playing. Do you really want to oppose him?!”


Many churches have used spiritual gift tests to help members discern their gifts. Such tests are not necessarily wrong, but they are a bit like the answers at the back of the math book. They might give you the right answer, but using them to avoid working out the solution misses the point of the exercise.

Also, such tests can work like self-fulfilling prophecies. We answer questions according to how we like to view ourselves, not as we really are.

But God has given all Christians spiritual gifts so that we can learn to submit ourselves and our resources to the good the church: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor. 12: 7; see also, 14:12, 46). The Holy Spirit has not gifted Christians for the purposes of self-realization, self-actualization, or self-expression.

If my eyes are instead focused on the good of the body, I will be delighted to employ my gifts if they are required, but I should also be happy to serve in areas where I’m not as gifted—if that’s what the body needs.

Furthermore, it’s through the natural processes of loving and serving the church body (wherever the body needs it) that a person’s gifts will gradually surface. But that means, ironically, the first task is to cultivate a right heart, not to find the best place to employ our hands. The former, after all, is a lot harder than the latter.


How do we cultivate right hearts? First, I’d encourage churches to avoid the short-cuts, like spiritual gift tests. Yes, they can help this or that individual, but they often cause people to focus on the wrong things. Also, they might simply reinforce people’s self-conceptions and cause them to miss learning new things about themselves, the kinds of things we can only learn through the rough and tumble of relationships. Which brings us to…

Second, we want to develop relationships where we give one another permission to challenge and encourage each other. Notice, this means changing a culture, and there are no short cuts for that. It can take years. But did you expect Christian growth to work otherwise? Another way to make this second point is to say…

Third, we want to develop a church culture of discipleship and service. Discipleship and service work together. Discipling occurs as older Christians serve with younger ones.

  • If you’re the pastor, invite a young man to review Sunday’s sermon outline with you over lunch.
  • If you’re the deacon of sound, ask someone to help you run the sound system for a couple Sundays in a row.
  • If you’re a homemaker, ask a single woman to help you prepare a meal for the family with a newborn.

When these kinds of invitations characterize a church, people’s gifts will emerge. But more importantly, people will learn to love the church.

Fourth, we should encourage one another to jump in and serve wherever the body needs it. “You’re not good with kids? That’s okay. I’m awful. We can pass the screaming toddler back and forth between the two of us.”


In many ways, teaching people to discover their spiritual gifts is like teaching your children to discover their talents. Will my five year old daughter be gifted at ballet? Piano? Writing? Hospitality? Right now, I know she’s gifted at cuddling and giggling, and that’s about it. But here’s what I want for her: to grow and expand and serve others in all the ways that God intends for her to do. To this end, I have four tasks:

  1. I want to cultivate her character, so that whether she’s working from a place of strength or weakness, she’s working out of love, not out of entitlement.
  2. I want to give her opportunities that let her test her gifts. I will encourage her to try a year of ballet or two years of piano. I’ll especially help her to try those things in which she shows natural interest or proclivity, which means being willing to spend a little extra money in those places.
  3. I want to consider her development and maturity as I encourage her in one direction or another. No doubt, maturity factors into what opportunities are within the realm of possibility. But the ability to assess her maturity and her capabilities depends on knowing her.
  4. I must balance how I spend my resources on her with how I spend them in other areas of family life. Some opportunities might be good ones on the surface, but for the sake of another child or limited resources, I must say no. And whenever I do say “no,” I can trust that there is a good lesson for her in it (going back to the first point).

Church leaders, I think, should view their congregations more like a family, and help members discover and employ their gifts in these four ways.


© 9Marks. Website: Email: Toll Free: (888) 543-1030. This article on the 9Marks’ website may be accessed here.

Thistlebend Quiet eMoment

by Laurie Aker

Focus Scripture: Luke 9:18-22 ESV

18 Now it happened that as he was praying alone,
the disciples were with him.
And he asked them,”Who do the crowds say that I am?”
19 And they answered, “John the Baptist. But others say, Elijah,
and others, that one of the prophets of old has risen.”
20 Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”
21 And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one,
22 saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things
and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes,
and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”


Before Jesus asked the disciples,
“Who do the crowds say that I am?”
He was praying.

All throughout the Gospels we see Jesus
taking time with His Father in prayer…
going away to a desolate place,
or up on a mountain, lifting His eyes to His Father,
or going to a certain place.

One commentator on Luke says:
“Prior to major events in Luke’s Gospel where Jesus’
identity, character, and purpose are revealed,
we see Jesus take time in prayer with His Father.”

Jesus was praying at His baptism and then
the Holy Spirit led Him into the wilderness
for 40 days and 40 nights to fast and pray
before He began His earthly ministry.

Jesus went up on the mountain
and spent the entire night in prayer
before He appointed the apostles.

We can trace His faithfulness in prayer and His communion with
His Father as He appoints, tends, and shepherds His flock of 12.
After the feeding of the five thousand and while the disciples
were out at sea in the midst of a storm
Jesus was up on the mountain in prayer throughout the night.

And now as Jesus prepares to tell them that He is the Christ,
the Lamb of God, the One who is going
to lay down His life for them, He prays.


I see a picture of a shepherd that deeply and dearly loves His
sheep and labors diligently and fervently for them in prayer.
He loves them as His own children.

Praying that they would fully comprehend that
He was truly sent from the Father.

Praying that they would know that He was the Christ,
the Promised One sent from God.

Praying that they would understand Him and His purpose.

Praying that they would truly have faith to see
that no matter what came their way
they had no reason to fear.

Praying that they would remember
what they had been taught in the Scriptures
and see Him more and more for who He is
and be willing to die to self and live for Him.

Even in His prayer life,
Jesus was truly the Servant of the Lord
that Isaiah had prophesied He would be.

Isaiah 50:4-6
4 The Lord God has given me
the tongue of those who are taught,
that I may know how to sustain with a word
him who is weary.
Morning by morning he awakens;
he awakens my ear
to hear as those who are taught.
5 The Lord God has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious;
I turned not backward.
6 I gave my back to those who strike,
and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard;
I hid not my face
from disgrace and spitting.


Chose one truth from today and apply it to your heart.
Take it with you throughout the day.


Lord Jesus, thank you for interceding for us at all times.
We need your prayers that we would see you
for who you are and what you have done.

Help us to pray for those
whom you have given to us to love and care for
so that we can love them and pray for them
as you love and pray for us.

In His hands for His glory,



by Laurie Aker

First,God is intimately acquainted with us in every way: “For you formed my inward parts” ([Psalm 139] v.13). And second, God is absolutely sovereign over everything that happens to us: “…in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (v.16). If we focus on God’s intimate acquaintance with us, but forget or ignore the concept of His sovereignty, we end up with a God who cares deeply about us, but is not able to ultimately control destiny for our good. Many of us may lean this way when trouble, hardship, or illness strikes. On the other hand, if we emphasize God’s sovereignty without remembering that He loves us, our times of pain and difficulty will be quite terrifying: “God ordained this for me! How awful!” The idea of an absolutely sovereign God will not be a comfort to us, but rather a terror, in the pain of life unless we also believe that He is a loving God who has ordained difficulties for us. When we acknowledge both God’s sovereignty and His great interest in us and concern for us, we can rest in the worst hardship, knowing that even though God Himself has determined that this awful thing should befall us, He has lovingly ordained it for our good. Perhaps a concrete example of this perspective might drive this home: Many Christians will get to heaven and say, “Lord you bitterly afflicted me in life with cancer,” and then incredibly go on to exclaim, “but thank you, thank you, Lord! How kind you were to me and how awesome are your deeds!”


This blog post is an excerpt from the Thistlebend Discipleship Study Falling in Love Again with Your Lord available here.