Gifts and Callings: Refining the Conversation
by Kristi Meyer
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. (1 Corinthians 12:4-6)
If you had told me at the beginning of 2020 that I would enjoy wrangling microphones, livestreaming church services, and pre-recording choir songs for worship, I’d have told you that you were crazy. Sure, I knew how to run the church AV system, but I was by no means good at it, nor did I operate it regularly. And recording and microphones? Nope. Not a chance. Putting together a slide show of still pictures set to music pushed my tech limits.
But then the pandemic hit, church services became entirely virtual, and I found myself volunteering to run AV so that we could have a consistent and steady presence in the AV booth. Although those first couple of weeks (OK, the first couple of months) were absolutely terrifying, now I love it. And in a twist that I never would have predicted, I’m good at it. I discovered a gift that I didn’t know I had, a gift that I’m blessed to be able to use on a regular basis.
It’s been an incredible privilege to partner with so many people in this area. Pastors and teachers, organists and musicians, congregational leaders and members—all of us come together to make a worship service happen. Partnerships like these can be seen in all aspects of the body of Christ, and—in the vein of this devotional series—they can especially be seen when men and women come together and use their spiritual gifts in service to one another, to the church, and to their Lord.
Partnerships in the Home
This partnership is perhaps seen most clearly in the home. As we discussed previously, Adam and Eve were created to complement each other, to complete each other, to do for the other what each could not do on their own. Next week, we’ll dive more deeply into how this partnership plays out in the home, in marriages, and in unions that produce children. For now, a couple of brief thoughts are appropriate.
Husbands and wives are called to use their spiritual gifts and partner in their marriage and their family, but they are called to do so while also respecting their unique roles. Husbands are called to be the head, to assume spiritual responsibility, to love their wives, to bring their children up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Wives are called to submit to their husbands, to respect them, to support them as they seek to fulfill their role as spiritual leader.
This isn’t going to look the same in every marriage; it certainly shouldn’t look like a dictatorial husband and a cowering wife. The specifics are up to each family unit. Open and honest conversations, along with time spent together in God’s Word and in prayer, are key. The general principle still holds, though: husbands and wives have been given different roles and different spiritual gifts. When they live within these roles and work together using these spiritual gifts, they live out God’s plan for their marriage and reflect the beautiful and mysterious union between Christ and the church.
This isn’t going to look the same in every marriage; it certainly shouldn’t look like a dictatorial husband and a cowering wife. The specifics are up to each family unit.
Partnerships in the Church
I’ll be honest: partnerships between men and women in the church are sometimes hard for me to deal with. It’s not because I have difficulty seeing the value of these partnerships. As a female who works closely with her pastors, I can clearly see how my gifts complement theirs. I can see how I view issues differently as a female than they might as males—different viewpoints that are not in conflict but rather come together in harmony to form a more complete perspective.
No, I have difficulty with male and female partnerships in the church because it seems as though we so often focus on what women can’t do. Can’t serve as a pastor? Check. Can’t distribute the Lord’s Supper? Check. Can’t authoritatively teach a Bible study? Check. It doesn’t matter that all of these prohibitions are biblical. It doesn’t even matter that I probably wouldn’t want to do most of these things anyway. My sinful nature hears “can’t, can’t, can’t,” I immediately become angry and irritated, and all the while I continue to feel more and more restricted.
But these prohibitions are a very small snapshot of what goes on in the church. Don’t misunderstand my meaning: I’m not saying serving as a pastor or distributing the Lord’s Supper or authoritatively teaching a Bible study is unimportant. I am, however, saying that these roles are not the majority of places where partnerships in the church occur, and they’re certainly not the place where most people—men and women alike—are going to serve.
What should be done? Let’s change the conversation. Instead of focusing on what women can’t do in the church, let’s focus on what women can do. Simply by sheer volume, the list of “cans” is much longer than the list of “can’ts.” Each one of us has the privilege and joy of finding our own “can,” our own place to serve that utilizes our spiritual gifts. When we look for our “can” instead of concentrating on our “can’t,” our mindset changes and we are able to pay attention to the positives rather than the negatives.
Let’s change the conversation. Instead of focusing on what women can’t do in the church, let’s focus on what women can do. Simply by sheer volume, the list of “cans” is much longer than the list of “can’ts.”
Is this easy? No, absolutely not. Will there still be “can’ts” for females, “can’ts” that make us feel as though we aren’t serving to our full potential? Certainly. Are all of these “can’ts” biblically commanded? Likely not, and that adds a whole other wrinkle—a wrinkle that we’ll consider in an upcoming devotion. For me personally, that wrinkle is particularly difficult to navigate. But again, focusing on the “cans” rather than the “can’ts” brings a renewed sense of joy and purpose as I seek to build up the body of Christ through my service.
Women and Leadership
When it comes to partnerships and callings in the church, one more important point needs to be made. We hold to Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2:11-14 on women not exercising authority, words that we will explore more fully later this summer. The terms “authority” and “leadership” are sometimes used interchangeably, and some leadership positions are positions that are also imbued with authority. At the same time, however, leadership and authority are not the same concept, and one should not treat them as such.
Many women—myself included—are blessed with gifts of leadership. It is entirely possible for a woman to exercise her gifts of leadership properly without stepping out of her helper calling. It is also entirely possible for a woman to exercise her gifts of leadership improperly by usurping the role of head. Women must be careful, then, in how we exercise our gifts of leadership, but it is certainly possible for us to exercise these gifts in a God-pleasing way.
Women must be careful, then, in how we exercise our gifts of leadership, but it is certainly possible for us to exercise these gifts in a God-pleasing way.
This was made clear to me in a conversation I had several years ago with one of my pastors. We were discussing the unique callings of women in the church in general and church structure and governance in particular. I lamented that as a single female unable to vote in the church, I had no official mechanism for expressing my voice in any church decisions made by the voters’ assembly. My pastor said something that has stuck with me: essentially, that I should not conflate not being able to vote with not having influence in the church.
Since then, I have come to see that in spite of being female, I do indeed have a significant amount of influence in my church, and I do serve in multiple leadership roles. I say this not to be boastful nor in an attempt to circumvent the calling of helper which I have been given. Rather, I strive to remember that God has put me where he wants me to be and has given me the gifts he wants me to have. Therefore, I have a responsibility to use those gifts as best as I possibly can—not in violation of my unique calling, but in harmony with it.
Life would be pretty unbalanced if we were all good at the exact same things. Some tasks would get done very well, but other equally important tasks would remain unfinished or be ignored entirely. Similarly, our family of believers would be unbalanced if we were all gifted with the exact same spiritual gifts. Some aspects of home and church life would be enhanced, but the vast majority would instead suffer, and the body of Christ wouldn’t function as God intended it.
By God’s grace, he has given each one of us just the right spiritual gifts. By God’s grace, we come together as males and females to use these gifts in service to each other and to the church. And when we focus on what we can do rather than what we can’t do, our attitude changes and—by God’s grace—we are privileged to carry his message of salvation to a sin-darkened world so desperately in need of a Savior.
For Further Reflection
- If you are married, how do you and your spouse partner with each other and enhance each other’s spiritual gifts? If you are single, what other partnerships do you participate in where you also enhance someone else’s spiritual gifts?
- Does the conversation in your congregation focus on “can’t” or “can”? If it focuses on “can’t,” what can you do to change and reshape the conversation?
- How would you explain the relationship and connection between leadership and authority? How would you explain the differences between these two concepts?
Lord God, we do not deserve any of the gifts you shower upon us. Lead us always to give thanks for our gifts rather than desiring gifts that we do not have. Grant that we might always use our gifts to work for the common good and bring glory to your name. Amen.