Proverbs 3:5,6 (ESV) instructs us to: ”Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” It’s okay to use your understanding, but not lean on it. Likewise it’s okay to use your spiritual gifts but not lean on them, depending instead on God’s grace in life and ministry.

The bottom-line question to ask: Is the focus of your ministry on the gift or on the giver?

It’s a fine balance…a delicate dance.

When I was a younger leader, I knew nothing and I knew that I knew nothing. It led me to become grace-dependent.  But, as I got older and more experienced, the more tempting it was to become gift-dependent and experience-dependent.

I desire to grow in:

  • Using my gifts, but not depending on my gifts.
  • Being thankful for my gifts, but not proud of my gifts
  • Knowing my gifts, but not being envious of other’s gifts

Paul makes a distinction between gift and grace dependency in 1 Corinthians 3:5-7: “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” It’s not men and their gifts, but God and his grace that makes things happen!

On the same theme and in the same book, 1 Corinthians 15:10 in The Message reads:

“But because God was so gracious, so very generous, here I am. And I’m not about to let his grace go to waste. Haven’t I worked hard trying to do more than any of the others? Even then, my work didn’t amount to all that much. It was God giving me the work to do, God giving me the energy to do it.” (Underlining mine)

My prayer for myself, and others, is to be led by him, empowered by him and honoring him– that is, to be grace-dependent rather than gift-dependent.

Here are some ways to tell the difference:

Five characteristics of gift-dependent leaders

  1. Gift-dependent leaders tend to look to their own skill and ability to determine ministry success
  2. Gift-dependent leaders often don’t see their need for confession and repentance
  3. Gift-dependent leaders sometimes manipulate followers, through their gifts, to achieve their ends
  4. Gift-dependent leaders easily overestimate what they can do and underestimate what God will do
  5. Gift-dependent leaders fall into the sin of being more in love with their gifts than the giver

Five characteristics of grace-dependent leaders

  1. Grace-dependent leaders live by the conviction that fruitful ministry is impossible without the power of the Holy Spirit
  2. Grace-dependent leaders realize that God has ordained and allowed difficulties, pain and failure to uncover their weaknesses and sin, and reveal their need of him.
  3. Grace-dependent leaders regularly practice repentance as the engine of the Christian life and a necessity in their lives
  4. Grace-dependent leaders understand that being vulnerable and honest about sin, mistakes and weaknesses actually increase rather than decrease their effectiveness
  5. Grace-dependent leaders will motivate people, through the power of the Holy Spirit, rather than manipulate people through the power of their own gifts