What Can “The Marvels” Teach the Church About Spiritual Gifts?

What Can “The Marvels” Teach the Church About Spiritual Gifts? November 14, 2023

What Can The Marvels teach the church about spiritual gifts? A lot, actually!

This weekend, after I had finished officiating two funerals in as many days, I took the First Girl to see the new Marvel movie, The Marvels. My daughter is a huge Marvel-head like her old man, and we had been binging MCU movies to get all caught up for this one. Needless to say, we had a great time.

I am going to try the best I can to do this spoiler-free, but I think there is an important lesson the Church can learn from The Marvels. In the film, Captain Marvel, aka Carol Danvers, has her powers become entangled (because Sci-Fi reasons, but mostly so the movie can happen) with those of Monica Rambeau, aka Photon but not in this movie, and Kamala Khan, aka Ms. Marvel, a young Pakistani girl from Jersey City who is also Captain Marvel’s biggest fan. Every time they use their powers, they switch places, sending Captain Marvel crashing into the Khan’s living room and stranding Kamala in a Kree spaceship.

Monica is the one who figures out that their light-based powers are entangled. Kamala can turn light into physical matter, Monica can see light and absorb it, and Carol’s superpowers are all powered by light. Because the source of their powers is the same (light) they are getting them mixed up. Every time they use their powers at the same time, they switch places. Which makes fighting the bad guys—who have basically stolen President Skroob’s plan from Spaceballs and are stealing air and water and light from other worlds—quite difficult.

So the bulk of the middle part of movie is the three Marvels learning how to coordinate the use of their powers. Captain Marvel, who typically wants to go it alone, has some difficulty embracing this, seeing it as more of a hindrance to her than an asset. But they learn to utilize their powers in concert, learning when and where to switch places for maximum impact and by the end of the movie become a near-unstoppable fighting force.

What Can the Church Learn from The Marvels?

So what can the Church learn from this? I mean, other than learning to use our light-based superpowers to prevent the Kree Empire from stealing natural resources from other planets.

First, like the Marvels, Christians have supernatural abilities. No, none of us can fly or shoot lightning out of our fingers but we do have Holy Spirit-given gifts and talents that are to be used to edify the church and do the work of ministry in this world. Some of us have the gift of teaching  or leading or serving or administering or prophesying or shepherding, among others. All Christians have abilities given to us to use to serve God, his people, and the world.

Second, like the Marvels, our supernatural abilities come from the same source. There are many gifts, but only one Giver, the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the source of our gifts, just as light was the source of Kamala’s, Carol’s, and Monica’s superpowers. And as their power reflected the properties of light, our powers reflect the character of the Holy Spirit and reflect the Spirit’s desire to care for the church and grow God’s Kingdom.

And third, like the Marvels, our supernatural abilities work better in tandem than alone. Captain Marvel, even though she is the strongest Avenger (sorry, Thor), was stronger working together with Monica and Kamala. Our gifts work best in tandem with each other’s gifts. The church needs all the gifts and only together can each local expression of the church have them.

Carol, while possessing great power, didn’t have the ability to turn light into a shield, like Kamala, nor could she absorb and redirect light like Monica. Both those abilities turned out to be extremely valuable for her and the others as they fought the Kree. She ended up needing both of them just as they needed her. I am gifted for preaching and shepherding but I am not as gifted for administering or giving as others are. I need them and they need me. We need to work together to make sure that the whole ministry of God is being done.

Determine Gifts, Discern Ministry

One thing churches can do to better lean into their own giftedness is to communally discern one another’s spiritual gifts and to see what every person in the church is bringing to the table. Each church should take a good hard look at its gift-mix to see for what God has gifted that particular church. In discerning its spiritual gift mix, a church is also discerning the types of ministry it should pursue.

For instance, if a church is high on people gifted for generosity, it should look into ways it might leverage those spiritual gifts for Kingdom ministry. It might start a benevolence fund for use by the community or financially support other ministries in its community like food pantries and clothes closets. You might even consider starting your own.

Or, if a church notices it has many people with teaching gifts, it should discern how it might best employ those gifts. It could be a robust Sunday School or small group ministry or it could be offering ESL or financial literacy classes for the community.

But if the church doesn’t have a lot of people who are gifted for, say, hospitality, it probably shouldn’t hang its hat on its ability to really and warmly welcome people. It should certainly do what it can, but this should probably not be a central emphasis of its efforts.

This is what churches should do. See what powers it has and build its ministries out from the gifts God has given it. Discern its ministry direction from how the Spirit has specifically empowered it. And, determine how the spiritual gifts they have can be used together for maximum edification of the church and impact on the community.

Getting it Backwards

But almost all churches—mine included!—get this backwards. We decide what ministries a church needs to do, should do, in order to be a church and struggle to fund and staff those ministries. Why? Why do we do this? I have no idea, but it makes no earthly sense.

Rather, we should see what gifts and abilities we have available to us and design our ministries to take best advantage of the skills our people can bring to them. More importantly, the gifts the Spirit has given a church should indicate which direction God wants that church to do and the kinds of ministries it can do to serve his overall Kingdom mission.

I tell people at my church all the time that every church can’t do everything. We can’t be all things to all people. We don’t have infinite resources and talent to be able to. But there are a few things we are uniquely gifted for and focusing on those things would help us carve out our niche in the Kingdom of God. There are other local expressions of the church; let them do the things we are not gifted or empowered to do.

Working in Concert

The Marvels can teach the church a thing or two about ministry and using spiritual gifts. Marvel Studios.

When a church understands its gift-mix it is vital that it focuses on where it is most gifted and then uses those gifts in tandem to minister to one another and to its neighbors. We shouldn’t silo our ministries; this would be like the Marvels using their powers separately at different places. Rather, we should see how each of our gifts complements and enhances each other.

For instance, say your church is high in hospitality and wisdom, but low in preaching. Perhaps the best way to structure your Sunday morning ministries is to gather around tables with coffee and treats and after a brief sermon to prompt discussion, discuss the Scripture of the day and the life of faith together around the table. You are using two gifts—hospitality and wisdom—in tandem to create a unique and meaningful gathering. The gifts are working in concert, not on their own and not in competition with one another.

Every Christian has been gifted by the Holy Spirit. These spiritual gifts are not for our own benefit, but for the service of others. To quote another superhero movie, “With great power comes great responsibility.” It is always a joy to watch in a superhero origin movie the moment when the hero realizes that their powers aren’t to be used for their own sake, but to serve mankind. Our gifts are similar; they are to build the church and grow the Kingdom. How can you use your spiritual gifts to serve your church? How can you use your Spirit-given abilities to grow God’s Kingdom?

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