I am a woman with gifts. God has given me gifts to serve others, gifts to love others. But I haven't always thought or lived with that conviction.
When I became a Christian one of the first things I began to learn about was spiritual gifts. Prior to becoming a Christian anything I was talented in was really for me and about me. So I was academic---it was to get good grades. I was athletic---it was to exercise to feel better or look good. Whatever it was, it was for me.
When I joined my church I was given a list of ways I could serve. But I did not initially respond with eagerness. I remember my friend telling a worship pastor that I could sing. "No!" I pleaded. "Don't make me sing!" Then one Sunday a pastor announced a need for children's ministry. I had time to serve in this area, but again I just wasn't all that excited because the commitment would take away from "my time" in the service.
As I grew in Christ and my understanding of the church, ministry, service, and love it became increasingly evident that my gifts weren't about me at all. I began to develop a theology of service and a conviction, thanks to the apostle Paul's example, to count any gain as loss and rubbish compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ (Philippians 3:7-8).
Piper on Spiritual Gifts
In 1981, John Piper preached an instructive sermon on spiritual gifts that explains my conviction. He shares:
If you were reading through the New Testament, the first place you would run into the term "spiritual gift" is Romans 1:11, 12. . . . Writing to the church at Rome, Paul says, "I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you, that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine." The translation "impart to you some spiritual gift" is misleading because it sounds like Paul wants to help them have a gift, but the text actually means that he wants to give them the benefit of his gifts. "I long to see you, that I may use my gifts to strengthen you."
The first and most obvious thing we learn from this text is that spiritual gifts are for strengthening others. This, of course, does not mean that the person who has a spiritual gift gets no joy or benefit from it. . . . But it does suggest that gifts are given to be given. They are not given to be hoarded. "I desire to share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you." What does strengthen mean? He's not referring to bodily strength but strength of faith.
Piper goes on to explain how to strengthen one's faith and the general purpose of spiritual gifts. Point is, they are not our own. Spiritual gifts are the gift of God to the body of Christ for building up and strengthening others. Ultimately we glorify God by exercising spiritual gifts.
And there is nothing more thrilling, more joyful, more meaningful, more satisfying than to find our niche in the eternal unfolding of God's glory. Our gift may look small, but as a part of the revelation of God's infinite glory it takes on stupendous proportions.
Anything I have I count as loss, yet I still have the opportunity to strengthen others. What a kind God! But for some of us there appears to be a potential stumbling block to serving---we are women.
Until recently it never occurred to me that I was a woman serving. I simply thought of myself as a person attempting to be a servant. I have never felt sidelined as an active member in the worship team, children's ministry, and campus ministry and evangelism.
I realize my experience may not be shared by all women. Perhaps you not been able to serve for various reasons. Maybe you desire to serve as a pastor and chafe against passages such as 1 Timothy 2:12, where the apostle Paul says, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man."
No matter your interpretation of this much-debated passage, Scripture also teaches us that if God has put you in a church, he wants you to serve. It is no small thing that God has gifted you for the benefit of the whole church! Paul's description of the body and its various parts shows you are a valuable, and dare I say, needed part of the church (1 Corinthians 12).
The debate over gender roles can distract women from serving with all their might in the church. It's tempting to focus on one aspect of church involvement closed to women rather than rejoice over the hundreds of ways we can and should be serving. If I am not a pastor, does that mean my service means less? Not so, according to Paul, who teaches us to take joy in working hard for God in every way he has gifted us, for the benefit of the body and to God's glory.
God helped me put to death my selfishness and go hard with everything he has enabled me to do in the church. My ministry is important, but not because of my gifts or because I mostly serve women and children. No, it's important because my gifts come from God to bless others.
Don't be distracted by the debate. Serve. Serve the church. Serve God. The workers are few, so let's be among those few.
If you need some ideas and inspiration for how to get involved, check out the helpful and extensive list compiled by Piper.
Trillia Newbell is a wife, mom, and writer who loves Jesus. She is the author of United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity (Moody, 2014). You can follow her on Twitter.