This summer, my husband and I are leading a
small large group through our church for all the college/grad school-aged students that are around Nashville. Tuesday nights from 8-10, cars take up every open spot on the street and we gather on lawn chairs around citronella candles and tiki torches under a sea of twinkle lights to study the Bible. This summer, we’ve chosen to go through the Corinthians.
Tuesday nights are by far our favorite nights of the week. We get to see some of our favorite Nashvillians, and we get to learn from one another. The discussions are rich, the community is real, the depth would put any middle-ager to shame. These students are eager to learn, eager to share, and eager to change the world.
We love working with college students because it reminds us to hold onto things loosely, cling to relationships closely, and to keep an open and adventurous mind to whatever and wherever God will lead.
As we’ve been going through Corinthians, we’ve been talking about unity in the body of Christ, the purpose of the body of Christ, and the gifts in the body of Christ. A few weeks ago, we gave the students a Spiritual Gifts Inventory, and asked them to take the week to figure out their gifts. The next week, we came back and shared.
And it was incredible. It was an incredible night to hear how God has wired each of us differently, and incredible to see the students putting together how their gifts line up with their majors and career goals. Some of them are wrestling through changing majors, others are feeling confirmed. It’s incredible!
But there was something that happened that night that I simply cannot shake. As students arrived, we had them mark their top 5 spiritual gifts on a white board. One of our female participants marked 4 of her gifts, and then said, “Well, pastor was one of my top 5 but obviously I can’t use that gift” and she contemplated not marking her tally.
So we unpacked that a little in the group that night, because there were a number of ladies in the group who had pastor as one of their top five spiritual gifts. And then this week, we talked some more about it, because we were going through 1 Corinthians 14, when Paul states in verse 35 that “women should remain silent in the churches…” And then we talked about some other similar passages like 1 Timothy 2:11-14, that have been used by many churches and Christians over the decades to determine a woman’s reach in the body of Christ.
This is a subject that has long been debated in various cultures, churches, and faith groups. It’s not an easy subject. And it has shattered the Church’s unity; the very thing that Paul, the writer of these passages about women, is so passionate about.
We have to remember that Paul wrote these letters to specific churches who were struggling with specific things in a specific period of time, in a specific culture. As Rachel Held Evans put it, “The epistles were written for us not to us.”
But many have taken this and other passages out of context. Many have selected bits and pieces from Paul’s letters, deeming some time and culture transcendent and others outdated. And that cherry picking of passages has affected the health and effectiveness of the body of Christ for centuries. When Paul talks about the gifts of the spirit in Chapter 12, he doesn’t delineate that only some gifts are given to men, and others apply to both genders.
“All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and He distributes them to each one, just as He determines (1 Corinthians 12:11).”
Brothers and sisters, we can’t keep putting up glass ceilings in our churches, because we’re selecting certain verses and soundbites to further our opinions about gender roles. The church shouldn’t lose ambitious, bright, competent, and most importantly gifted women to the corporate world, the not-for-profit world, or the Church world. God has gifted men and women alike to further His cause in the world. Why are we fighting so hard to put limits on half of God’s kingdom?
“When female executives, entrepreneurs, academics, and creatives are told that they have to check their gifts at the church door, many turn away for good. And while our sisters around the world continue to suffer from trafficking, exploitation, violence, neglect, maternal mortality, and discrimination, those of us who are perhaps most equipped to respond with prophetic words and actions – women of faith – are being systematically silenced in our own faith communities. ” Rachel Held Evans, Year of Biblical Womanhood
I wrote a letter a few years ago, and I want to share it again (for the full letter, read here). I want to share it for the ladies and gentlemen in our college small group because I believe in you, and I believe that the sky should be the limit for you. I want to share it for the ladies and gentlemen who are my age and who are past my age, because I believe in you, and I believe the sky should be the limit for you. I want to share it for all of us, because we need each other, and we need each others’ gifts, and the world needs our gifts and unified selves to bring healing and hope.
Dear Female Christ-Follower,
Let me first say that you are a valuable member of the body of Christ. You are a co-laborer with Christ. You are not a second-class citizen in the Kingdom of God. You are not a “helpmate” in the work of Christ. You are not limited in your calling.
Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” My sisters, you are one with your brothers in Christ. You are not second in line, you are not the shadows, you are not meant to be quiet and wait for your cue. Your cue comes from Christ, not from your male (or female) counterparts. As a Christ-follower, your calling is to love God and love others. You do that by being “you” in the way that God uniquely created you. He gave you a unique personality and giftings, so use them to live out your calling. Your giftings are not limited because of your gender.
If you have an extra few minutes, read all of 1 Corinthians 12. For blog length purposes, I’ve hilighed a few verses:
“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink… There are many parts, but one body. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the Church, God has appointed first of all, apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts.”
My fellow female Christ-followers, each of you is a part of the body of Christ. And each of you is a different part. You aren’t limited to being certain parts because you are a female. Forgive me if this seems crass, but I’m going to say it: Women, we aren’t the breasts of the Body of Christ – You know, ‘nice on the eyes, but really only practical and useful for babies and small children.’
Women, some of you are apostles, some of you are teachers. Some of you are prophetesses, and some leaders. Some of you have the gifts of helping, or mercies, or giving. Some of you have the gift of tongues. Yes, I said it, some of you are leaders, and you should be leading – and not just in the nursery ministry, or children’s ministry, or women’s ministry. Some of you are teachers, and some of you should be teaching adults, not just children’s Sunday School.
Women, some of you hold leadership and management roles in the workplace, in which you supervise, manage, lead, and steer both men and women – and you’re good at it. Why then, are you asked to check your gifts at the door of your Church? If you have gifts (and you all do), use them! Some of you love children, and are gifted at ministering to children; do that! Some of you are servants; so serve. Some of you are amazing cooks and you help by cooking meals for new moms and families in need. (Some of you men are also good cooks, sorry we as a Church haven’t often invited you to help with this!) Some of you are leaders; so lead in the areas that you are gifted! Not all of you are leaders, teachers, and apostles, but whatever your gifts, use them!
And if any male Christ-followers are reading this letter, may I remind you that some of you are apostles, some of you are teachers. Some of you are prophets, and some leaders. Some of you have the gifts of helping, or mercies, or giving. Some of you have the gift of tongues. And if you are a Christ-following male, who does not have a gift of leadership or teaching, but rather, who has the gift of mercy or helps or giving, you are not a second-class citizen in the body of Christ. You are not weak; you do not need to be called to greatness. You do not need to be corrected. May I remind you of Paul’s writings to the church in Corinth above: “God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as He wanted them to be.” (1 Corinthians 12:18)
My friends, if you are feeling skeptical about women leading, teaching, and steering the Church, let me remind you of some God followers who have come before you:
Junia – Apostle (Romans 16:7)
Anna – Prophet (Luke 2)
Priscilla – Teacher – (Acts 18) – Interestingly, she was listed before her husband in Paul’s writing – Priscilla and Aquilla
Deborah – Leader (Judges 4,5)
Phoebe – Service (Romans 16)
Read these women’s stories. They used the gifts that God had given them to serve their entire community; both men and women. Then, think about your gifts and whether or not you are using them. If you don’t know what your gifts are, talk to the people who love you in your life or take a spiritual gifts inventory. My spiritual gifts are: Leadership, Administration, Teaching, and Apostle, and Pastor. But I’m a woman, is that a sin? Absolutely not! It’s a sin for me to not use these gifts!
My fellow female co-laborers with Christ, we need you! We need all your gifts. You are first a follower of Christ. You are not first a wife or a mother or a career woman. You are a follower of Christ. There is a world full of hurting, lonely, lost people who need to hear the message of the love and redemption that Jesus brings. So bring the message through your gifts, your prayers, and your unlimited co-laboring.