Thursday, February 12, 2009

Spiritual Gifts- The Right Fit

When I got married I received something I had wanted for a long time, something I had put on my registry, a beautiful KitchenAid mixer. But after setting up house, I realized I had no idea how to use the bulky contraption. It looked professional and impressive, but I already had a simpler electric, hand mixer. So I found myself in the unhappy position of owning a gift I was unsure I wanted.

Sometimes a spiritual gift feels like an expensive KitchenAid mixer. We want to have one but we’re not sure what to do with it once we have it. It’s an embarrassing and awkward to long for a gift, then to get it and let it sit idle. I’m kind of embarrassed to admit that after six and a half years of our marriage I still don’t know how to use my KitchenAid for more than mixing. I’ve heard I’ve been told its uses are amazing, but I haven’t experienced it.

Pink and Blue Spiritual Gifts?

Often I’ve mused how much more practical and comfortable it would be to have the gifts of serving instead of the gifts my spiritual inventory tells me I have: teaching, exhortation, prophesy. If I had the gift of serving I imagine myself supporting my husband’s speaking ministry on the side-lines, preparing sustenance (like healthy snacks on the road) and encouragement (sweet notes tucked in his suitcase) without the distraction of writing, speaking, preaching in my own right. I puzzle at how to fit my spiritual gifts into the church.

At times it feels like I’m in the wrong body, like a man should have gotten my bundle, not a woman who loves kids and homemaking. But, no mater how hard I look, I cannot find any evidence that the Spirit reserves some gifts just for men. 1 Corinthians 12: 4-11 shows us that the Spirit of God has the power, the freedom and the joy to distribute “to each one, just as He determines.” If he determines it, then he must provide the grace to juggle a multifaceted life. So far he has along with some other sweet gifts like joy in my work.

In both complementarian (ministry roles differentiated by gender) and egalitarian (equal ministry opportunity for both genders) camps, theologians believe God gives to both men and women all formal spiritual gifts listed in Scripture. New Testament Professor and complementarian, Craig Blomberg, writes,

“Virtually every Bible student today agrees that when these terms (teachers, administrators, leaders, evangelist and pastor-teachers) are used as spiritual gifts, women may receive and exercise them just as powerfully as men may.”[1]

The Spirit doesn’t dole out his gifts in pink and blue: a man may have the gift of helps or service (Samuel to Eli in I Sam. 3) and a woman may have the gift of teaching (Priscilla to Apollos in Acts 18:26) or leading (Deborah) or prophesying (Huldah, 2 Kgs. 22:14). Spiritual gifts are given as the Spirit of God chooses. And often God chooses to give his gifts without regard to my plans, but with a deep regard to use me with my femininity in his kingdom.[2]

Lately, I’ve found myself in a church where instead of an invitation to use my gift of teaching to benefit all men and women, I’ve been requested to help with women and children. For the last year, I’ve volunteered for the nursery and taught the women’s groups. But this summer my husband and I came up with a new idea; we’ve decided to open our home for a weekly Bible study for all people,. We have families attending, young teens asking questions, their parents giving input alongside their children, church leaders, pastors, elders, presidents of local non-profits, friends all having a voice to share and we get the chance to teach as a husband-wife team. No leadership in my church officially sanctioned this activity, but all, even the all-male elder board, are excited about the work we’re doing: a Bible study for the common good. I’m still praying that the more hallowed places of teaching, like the pulpit on Sunday mornings, will be opened up for women to exercise their gifts for the common good. In the meanwhile the body still needs to be built up. The Spirit is still giving abundantly for what we need; we just need to take our creative cue from him.

Make it Fit, or Else . . .

Somewhere in Sunday school lore I learned that you must use your talents for God and if you didn’t, just like that stingy, lazy servant in the parable, God would take your talents away. No matter that Jesus was talking about gold talent not spiritual talents (see Matt 25:14-30), the pressure was on. Find your gift, make it fit you and the church.

The very idea that I could lose my spiritual gifts was an awful pressure. It would be like finding at my door one morning the generous givers of my KitchenAid Mixer demanding it back because I neglected to fully use it. That’s not what I’d call a true gift. A gift is a releasing of ownership, transferring the joy of owning to someone else. Some might say a gift is a matter of stewardship, but a gift is more a matter of grace. Romans 12:6 links spiritual gifts with grace, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.” “Gift”, in Greek charisma, comes from the same root as “grace”, charis both of which God gives lavishly, freely, graciously, without ticking off how many people you’ve touched with your gift.

In Junior High I heard that we should discover our spiritual gift as soon as possible by taking a Spiritual Gifts Test. It sounded accessible and easy. A natural test-taker, I easily discovered a smattering of gifts that matched my personality and seemed to make sense. Some of my friends didn’t fare as well, their tests coming back all vanilla. In the end many lost confidence in this whole spiritual gift thing, feeling they didn’t belong, couldn’t compete, like God only handed out pre-fabricated gift, or gifts that didn’t fit them—all revealed through a man-made test. Meanwhile I learned that smart little girls could appear more spiritual.

Limited by the List?

I gravitate towards spiritual hierarchies, the comfort of knowing my gifts are spiritual not merely natural. I liked knowing that I had some gifts that were accredited by the Spirit of God. Accreditation feels so official, so secure and permanent. But God isn’t stingy with his gifts, he gives them irregardless of good test-taking skills.

I’ve found the lists gleaned from New Testament passages (Rom. 12:4-8; I Cor 12:7-11; I Cor 12: 28-31; Eph. 4:11; I Pet. 4:10-11) are more like starter-kits, designed to get our creative juices flowing. They are not the final masterpiece. The rest of Scripture doesn’t give me tidy, predictable ways for understanding the Spirit’s work. When the Spirit first fills people in the New Testament, he’s like a violent wind, unpredictable and rather life-altering. The Spirit’s gifts range from speech to a donkey to prison breaks (Numbers 22:28, Judges 15:14). He’s hardly limited by our list.

The first time the Spirit is recorded as filling a person is not for a preacher or even a leader like Moses, but Bezalel from the tribe of Judah, an artist. God gives him “wisdom, understanding, knowledge and all kinds of skill to make artistic designs” (Ex 35:31-32). James says that every good and perfect gifts comes from God (Js 1:17). Just a little digging and we can find a cornucopia of spiritual gifts, many given to women to build up God’s people: the gift of good food (Abigail, I Sam 25:18), the gift of artistic skill (engravers, designers, embroiderers, weavers, Ex 31:34-35), the gift of dance (Miriam and the Israelite women, Ex 15:20-21), the gift of gatekeeping (women at the tabernacle, Ex 38:8), the gift of patronage (benefactresses, Luke 8:3, Rom 16:2), the gift of overseeing house churches (Mary, Acts 12:12; Lydia, Acts 16:14-15; Nympha in Col 4:15).

Customized for Us

The only pattern I’ve been able to make out in God’s gift-giving abundance is that he gives to fill the gaping holes in his people, his church. So his gifts are ready-to-use, powerful, customized, things we will want to use because we all need them right now.

Let’s keep a sharp eye out for the creative work of the Spirit in our lives, a Spirit like the wind, changing out new gifts according to the need. Like when we get a new pair of shoes, instead of wondering if they’re comfortable we have to put our feet into them and walk around, the best way to see if your spiritual gift fits you is to try it on. What is the Spirit is pouring into you in this moment, filling you to walk into the needs around you?

"The Right Fit" first appeared in a different format in Today's Christian Woman, September 2008

[1] Two Views on Women in Ministry, ed., James R. Beck (MI: Zondervan, 2005), 152.

[2] To read that journey thus far see my Ruby Slippers: How the Soul of a Woman Brings Her Home (Zondervan, 2007)


Angela said...

This post is about a topic very near and dear to my heart. I feel that I have the gifts of teaching, prophecy, and exhortation as well. And I have often thought how much simpler my life would be had I been born a man! I have 4 small children to tend to right now, so you can imagine how all those previously mentioned gifts sit unused and stagnant, like a dusty nicknack on a shelf. I often wonder if I should be trying to find ways to use those gifts NOW, or wait until the kids are older, when I have more time to focus on such things. Also, I often feel guilty for wishing I could be teaching and preaching somewhere rather than fixing mac and cheese and changing diapers! Am I wasting time by sitting and hoping and waiting for the day that God will use me again? These are all questions I am currently wrestling with.

lois said...

Jonalyn, I just had a conversation with some young adults about this today. 'Spiritual gifts' is something either misunderstood or not applied well in the church here in Ukraine, at least in my experience. There is talk about it, but a very vague understanding of it. Anyhow, it was encouraging to read what you wrote after the discussion I had today.

Jonalyn Fincher said...

I want to share a beautiful quote that I read recently that I think applies to this feeling (that I identify with) of our gifts not seeming fit for a female body.
"Long before Jung or other psychologists developed ideas of the feminine and masculine Genesis 1:26-27 had set us free to define our particular femininity or masculinity in the way in which each of us shows the picture of God. It doesn't matter than in our culture's stereotypes certain leadership attributes in my character were formerly thought of as masculine traits; if they are ways in which the image of God is displayed in me, then those attributes are part of my being a woman in the likeness of God." From "Keeping the Sabbath Wholly" by Marva Dawn

Hope this encourages you to find space to pursue the unique way you splash more of God's image on earth!

Love knowing this was helpful to you. It makes me so thankful that you read and chime in, all the way from Ukraine. I love hearing your thoughts... would you be up to sharing any of this conversation you had?

Mandy Orozco said...

Great insight on what God is doing in and through you! Thanks for sharing more info on spiritual gifts and refreshing my memory of those tests...what does coming up all vanilla mean?

Nicole said...

I very much identify with you in the spiritual gifts department. I am the one with the teaching, exhortation, and discernment gifts, and my husband is a server, maybe administrator--he won't sit still long enough to take a "dumb test," so my analytical self will never know. But contrary to what he thinks, he really was "born organized."

As for pink and blue theory... I'm still working through that. My experience has been limited to churches with mostly male leadership. However, spending my formative years in several different churches has taught me that there's an inherent danger in trying to interpret and apply God's word too stringently. When we finite humans try to explain supernatural and infinite concepts, we can inadvertently stay in a spiritual "comfort zone" and then limit His work. Not that we should leave the Bible in a mystic and ethereal realm; however, our beliefs and interpretations of the Bible should grow along with our experience of His work in us. I've always believed that if any of my opinions NEVER change or grow, then I'm stunted and stagnant.

So, Jonalyn, thank you for giving me some ideas to wrestle with and process. May God continue to guide you on your journey toward loving Him more than yesterday.

Jonalyn Fincher said...

Hi Mandy!
Nice to hear from you on here.

Glad you asked for clarification! All vanilla means no clear distinction of one gift being stronger than another. You could substitute the word "bland" or "inconclusive" :)

Anonymous said...

Just one thing stung a bit in this and that is your feelings on the gift of teaching, prophecy and exhortation and that would also apply to Angela's comment as well...How are you not using those gifts, when you are using it to teach "just" women or children? As a mom of three, I can see no better way to apply my gift of teaching then to apply it every second of the day with the 3 amazing blessings He has given me. To let it sit "stagnant" (as Angela commented) would mean I was neglecting leading my children to Salvation and ignoring every teachable moment I spend with them.(Timothy 2:15, Psalm 127:3)What an amazing task and blessing and how sad it is to read someone who doesn't see that and then to have you affirm it with some silly quote. And as for using it for more "hallowed" places in the church... then again, does this mean that being able to teach from the pulpit or with men present is more important then leading or teaching women or children? Why? While I am certain we have different takes on 1 Timothy 2:12, I am not looking for a debate, only looking to point out something that I think was missed.

Jonalyn Fincher said...

I'd like to reply to you, but I'm a bit confused about which silly quote you meant. Can you help me out?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for responding. The quote I am referring to is the Marva Dawn quote from "Keeping the Sabbath Wholly" that you shared with Angela.

Jonalyn Fincher said...

Thanks for the clarification!

First, I'd like to say that I do not think a gift is minimized if you use it primarily for children. I think ministering/teaching/preaching to children is just as vital as preaching to men.

Second, I do not think the pulpit is any more hallowed than the nursery.

However, if a child is in need of a mother's training, why would we think the menfolk are not? It seems unfair, not to the children but to the MEN!

I've found most men, especially in the church, suffer from not hearing a woman's voice in the many scriptural passages as they hear most sermons only from a man's perspective.

Think of the many insights a mother gives when she tells the story, say of Deborah and Barak defeating Israel's enemies. Imagine the helpful insight she brings when she explains Jaal's courage in slaying Sisera. I believe that the insights a woman brings to her children are insights she could further cultivate, deepen and enrich in the lives of every adult male. If all mothers were invited to bring greater wisdom to every adult male in her church, I believe the body of Christ would be better for it.

Furthermore, teaching adults requires more study, deeper attention to application and nuances, more investigation into the subtleties, the marbled goodness and evil in humanity, more context and historical background study than teaching children. Even if you prepare equally for teaching children and adults, it seems obvious to me that adults can think longer, harder and more intricately about theological insights and personal application. I believe we are all called to have humility of children (Matt 18:4) but the minds of adults (Romans 12:12). In this way I would want to invite all mothers training children to share their knowledge and deepen their theology by teaching adults as well. After all, we have no problem hearing from fathers of young children, welcoming their additional insights among all adults. Why don't we do the same for mothers of young ones?

2- As far as the quote, and Angela's post, while I do not want to put words into Angela's mouth (help me out if I misread you Angela!) I believe Angela's point was that some gifts, particularly the gifts of teaching, prophecy and exhortation often require deeper levels of theology (systematic, philosophy of religion, ethics, justice, law, hermeneutics). And these do feel unused when you are consumed with changing diapers, keeping your children burped, napped, changed and healthy. This is the reality for MANY mothers of young children who are too young to be told anything about salvation.

A case in point is my own very well-meaning mother who led me to salvation at the ripe old age of 3. Honestly, I was way too young to have any clue about what I was doing. I really wish, now, that my mom had waited a good five more years. I even recall the moment and feeling very pressured and wanting to please more than having any clue about who Jesus was. She tape-recorded the prayer, so it's documented that I told her, upon her first invitation, that I wanted to wait, "until I was older."

I think it is very important to admit the way many women feel under-used especially during the younger years. As Angela wrote, she's excited for her little ones to grow so she CAN teach them. And in the meanwhile, I believe she is still showing them what God is like in the way she loves them in the little/big tasks of fixing a killer mac and cheese dinner.

Anonymous said...

I would like to start by thanking you for posting my comments and then for taking the time to respond. I realize that this is YOUR blog and you didn’t have to do either of those. So, thank you for the conversation.
I was going to leave it at that, since I don’t want to be a pest, and I have already taken a great deal of your time, but for the sake of the conversation I will respond and then respectfully leave you alone ;)
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb 13:8) and we are not to be carried away by varied and strange teachings, so what we “feel” or “think” is lacking in the Church structure can be a real problem if it goes against scripture (to put it mildly). So what is the structure exemplified in the NT? I hate to be patronizing, because I think you know all of this and I know that I said earlier I didn’t want to get into this, but for the sake of context, I just can’t leave it out... women fulfilled a vital role in the Christian church (Acts 1:12–14; 9:36–42; 16:13–15; 17:1–, 10–12; 18:1–2, 18, 24–28; Rom. 16; 1 Cor. 16:19; 2 Tim. 1:5; 4:19), but not one of leadership. The apostles were all men; the chief missionary activity was done by men; the writing of the New Testament was the work of men; and leadership in the churches was entrusted to men. The apostle Paul appointed no female pastors and elders and although he obviously respected them (Rom. 16; Phil 4:3), he made it quite clear in his letters that women were not to teach or exercise authority over men (1 Tim. 2:12). Did the message suffer from this? It is a Christ ordained structure that seems to have worked (surprise). While both of us- male/female- are made in Christ’s image, and spiritual equals, we each have different roles divinely designed for us. Regardless of how badly a man might want to give birth to a child, that is not the role that was designed for him (and boy does God know what He’s doing, because we all know that they couldn’t handle it…KIDDING of course, sort of.
Thank the Lord we go to Church to hear God revealed in Scripture and not man’s ideas or we might have to concern ourselves with whether it is male or female teaching. Instead we can simply know that by following God’s plan and in obedience to His word we will be giving glory to Him. The Word will not return empty without accomplishing what He desires (Is 55:11), whether it lacks that feminine angle or not.
If a woman is not able to exercise a deeper level of theology unless a man or the pulpit is involved, I have to wonder if they understand Christ’s equal respect for women. Personally, as someone who thought myself a “strong” Christian since a young age, I did not even begin to delve into the “deeper theology” and the daily pursuit of Christ like I have since having children and the responsibility to be a good steward with these amazing blessings. While a woman led the human race into sin, we are blessed as mothers to lead many out of sin to godliness (again 1 Tim 2:15). (I am so grateful for God’s wonderful design!) While right now my son cannot get past the idea that Satan must wear a bad guy costume and carry a gun, the “why’s” are already starting to come, which only fills me with a deeper urgency to study and search scripture. Knowledge that is not going unused I might add. It is being used daily not only through answers to “why” (be it dumbed down or not), but also as it displays itself in its fruit, as well as encouraging and teaching other moms, friends and women. I think there is a great need for good, studied, wise, women teachers to teach WOMEN.
I have carried on for much longer then I wanted to, so I will leave it at that. Please do not feel any need to post this if it is too long (maybe I need my own blog :) Thank you again for engaging in this conversation. I will read anything you might want to say, but like I said in the beginning, I will leave you alone ;)
Thank you for your time,
Anonymous aka Kelsi

Jonalyn Fincher said...

Hello Kelsi,

Forgive me for taking so long to respond, I've been traveling.

I would love to continue this conversation, though perhaps the comment area on my blog isn't the best place for it.

Can I recommend you check out this article I and my husband wrote: "Unmuted: the Welcome Colors of a Woman's Voice"

I also believe Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. The Father and the Holy Spirit also never change. However, the way God interacts with humans does change (slavery is one great example).

You, as a woman who loves God and values his Word, must grapple with the places God places women in positions of authority, command, judgment and prophesy (Deborah, Ruth, Huldah and Mary Magdalene being a few) and decide if God is contradicting himself in I Tim 2, or if, perhaps, God meant something differently to these women and if so (this is key) WHY he made an exception.

As you said Jesus is the same in all times, that means that perhaps, he has different ideas of how women can and should act depending on the times and, dare I say it, the culture.

There is scholarship done by Bible believing, God-honoring, Christian men and women that contradicts all these statements you made:
The apostles were all men; the chief missionary activity was done by men; the writing of the New Testament was the work of men; and leadership in the churches was entrusted to men. The apostle Paul appointed no female pastors and elders and although he obviously respected them (Rom. 16; Phil 4:3), he made it quite clear in his letters that women were not to teach or exercise authority over men

If you're up to hear how this is not a clear-cut, obvious issue, (nor should it, be in my mind a fellowship breaking issue :)), please email me at and let's continue this discussion.

Glad you chimed in, thankful for your zeal and hope to continue talking!

Rachel R. said...


I wonder if your gifts are in other areas than those being discussed? I suspect that my theology and yours are very similar. I do not believe that women should teach from the pulpit. And I do believe that women should be characterized as "workers at home." I'm a stay-at-home, homeschooling mother of two young children - with the gifts of prophecy, exhortation, and teaching. And, no, I don't believe these gifts are being used in the raising - and even homeschooling - of my children. Children are capable of much more than we often give them credit for, but teaching children is just not the same as teaching adults. A young child's brain is not developmentally ready for deeper logic and rhetoric - all things I thrive on. Meanwhile, I lack gifts in more domestic areas like nurturing or servanthood, so every last speck of my role as a mother and homemaker is a struggle.