How would you feel, if someone gave you a gift, but then forbade you to use it?
“Enjoy this _____________. But don’t you dare use it.”
What sort of giving is that?
What would we think of someone who gave a gift that way? But isn’t that exactly how we regard God, the giver of all great gifts (see James 1:17), if we set countless Heaven-gifted Christians on the shelf?
Most Christians have some degree of understanding about the many gifts of God’s Holy Spirit. How many sermons or Sunday school class lessons have we heard about the variety of spiritual gifts God gives to believers? How many books have we read on this topic? We may even have identified which gifts we have and begun exercising them.
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NOTE: If you have not yet figured out which spiritual gifts you have, you can find many free questionnaires online that help with that question.
Since I was a teen, I have completed countless spiritual gift inventories, and the top results have always been the same. Teaching tops my inventory results list every time – by a significant margin. That all sounds well and good … until I recall the many occasions when I have been forbidden to use it.
“You can work in the church nursery.”
“How about teaching elementary-aged kids?”
“We have just the spot for you: women’s ministry.”
“How about serving as a greeter on Sunday mornings?”
Please understand: I am not knocking nursery, children’s, women’s, or welcome ministries. Those are essential elements of any congregation’s ability to survive and thrive. Over the years, I have willingly done my time in all of those areas. And I enjoyed it … mostly. (OK, that's not the point.)
All that doesn’t make me any less frustrated by the exclusion of women from so many ministry opportunities. I’ve seen men walk out of Sunday services, when female evangelists or missionaries or even fellow church members stepped up to the microphone to speak. I have to believe our loving Lord is grieved by such behavior.
Many of the churches I have attended in my lifetime have blocked women from exercising the spiritual gift of teaching, except to teach other women or small children. I’ve even read church by-laws that stated that women would be allowed to teach boys, but only until they reached puberty. (Don’t you wonder what committee is supposed to monitor that stage of life for the youngsters?)
This has always frustrated and puzzled me.
Throughout my Christian life, I have been blessed to learn from several wise and gifted Christian teachers, both men and women. I’ve also sat under some that made me shudder. Clearly, the best ones are spiritually gifted and yielded to God’s direction. What does gender have to do with that?
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Here’s an analogy.
Let’s suppose God gives a man and a woman each a truck with a plow. Then a giant blizzard sweeps through town. The man garbs up in his winter gear and grabs his truck keys to go out and clear the neighborhood.
But let’s just say (for the purpose of this illustration) that the church leadership says women are not allowed to plow snow.
“Only men can do that.”
If the woman remains in her cozy home, while her neighbors are stuck in their snowbound states, will God not hold her accountable for the unplowed snow? After all, she holds the title and the keys to a fully equipped and functional snowplow. And the need is great.
But those church leaders put words in God’s mouth, so to speak. So people are stranded in the storm. Some may even face medical emergencies or food shortages. But they cannot get out – at least, not until the man gets around to them with his snowplow.
Teaching God’s truth clears away clutter that blocks people from knowing Him. It’s a little like snowplowing, in that it helps to make an unobstructed way for individuals to get to where they need to be.
The need for solid teaching is great in our time.
Why do so many churches bar half (or even much more) of the body from using powerful God-given gifts?
Some Bible scholars like to cite verses that talk about women speaking in church (see 1 Corinthians 13:33-35) or having authority over men (see 1 Timothy 2:11-12). Others explain these passages in historical and cultural ways. Several point out examples of honored female judges, prophets, and teachers in the Bible.
A few are willing to question honestly why women may be lauded for serving the Lord as missionaries and church planters overseas, but not permitted to teach in churches on our own shores. (This unfair reality sounds more situational than Scriptural to me!)
Some Christian leaders (and followers) even go so far as to blame Eve (and subsequently all females) for the fall of mankind. They claim the serpent approached Eve in the Garden of Eden (see Genesis 3) because she was presumably more fallible than Adam.
Bible experts argue whether Adam was close at-hand during Eve’s temptation, or if he simply joined the dreaded apple eating afterwards. If he was there all along, why didn’t he contend with the serpent? And if he happened to stroll in after the serpent departed, why did he go along with the whole shebang?
Some say Eve was deceived, and Adam partook willingly.
Now, we could blow this up into a whole argument to compare the apparent "worseness" of Eve's gullibility or Adam's deliberate disobedience. Even if we did, how could we assume those character traits transfer to all women or all men?
And what does that have to do with teaching roles in the church?
Spiritual gifts cannot be denied.
I’ve been dragged around the farm multiple times on this one. Although the conversation hasn’t always been this direct, it has sort of gone something like this:
“What is your primary spiritual gift?”
“Well, you can’t teach here. And shame on you for even suggesting such a thing.”
Um, I’m pretty sure the teaching gift wasn’t my idea.
So many of those those times I took and re-took spiritual gifts inventories, I was trying to come up with a less-labor-intensive gift. Teaching takes preparation – and lots of it. It’s homework. Many of the other spiritual gifts sound more like show-up-and-let-the-Spirit-step-in. Frankly, that sounds a lot simpler. (OK, I know I am oversimplifying. And I don’t mean to sound flippant or comical about it. Just go with me here for a moment.)
But the teaching gift remains, whether I asked for it or not.
Many other women are in the same proverbial boat. What is a woman teacher supposed to do (according to the naysayers): Stop and pause, while instructing a women’s group or children’s Sunday school class, just because a random man happens to walk into the room? What if he overhears the content and learns something? And what if that man happens to be a pastor?
I’ve encountered such resistance to female leadership in much of the church-at-large that I have occasionally questioned my gifting.
But God is bigger than that. And He is not threatened by our questions.
God is sovereign. He gives as He pleases for His heavenly purposes. And He calls us to use what we have been given. Who are we to argue with that?
Doesn’t the great cloud of witnesses (see Hebrews 12:1) that cheers us all on include Deaconess Phoebe (see Romans 16:1), Judge Deborah (see Judges 4), Prophetesses Anna (see Luke 2:36-38) and Miriam (see Exodus 15:20), Queen Esther, Teacher Priscilla (see Romans 16:3-5), and so many other gifted lady leaders?
I think the Lord mourns the longtime put-down of His beloved and gifted daughters, who long to step up and do His work.
Hierarchical Complementarianism (a high-falutin’ word for distinctly dictated gender roles in the church), in its effort to prescribe what women can and cannot do in Christian ministry (regardless of their spiritual gifts), is anything but complimentary.
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The harvest stands ready, but the workers are few (see Luke 10:2). Let’s not let human preconceptions get in the way of the work to be done by gifted people.
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