One of the biggest blessings in my life right now is that I get to serve as the coordinator of Southeastern’s Biblical Women’s Institute (BWI), the certificate program we offer for women. One of my responsibilities is processing applications. Sounds exciting, right? Well, one of the questions we ask is “How did you hear about BWI?” Sometimes she heard about us on a podcast or an event we attended, but usually a friend or pastor recognized her gifting and encouraged her into further theological education.
As I thought about these stories, I couldn’t help but to think about Ephesians 4 and what it says about how the church works together.
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:15-16)
The church is the body of Christ, and each member is given different gifts with which to serve the body and glorify Christ. As the church grows into Christ, we need every part to work properly so the church will build herself up in love.
Because of our union with Christ, we are united to one another in the church, the body of Christ, and the body needs each of its members to function as best it can. We can look to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:14-18,
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.
In part, that means the foot should be a foot and not want to be a hand; the ear should be an ear and not want to be an eye. Each part has a needed function in the body.
Being the Best Foot She Can Be
I’ve met women who don’t know what to do with their gifts within the church. They like to learn and teach, but they don’t know what that means within their local body. They would rather have other gifts like hospitality, mercy or even the love of serving in the nursery. They don’t know what it looks like to be a foot, so they want to be a hand.
But how do we help feet want to be feet, not hands? We help them to see their gifts and grow in them. Through these BWI applications, I get to see women who have had their gifts for learning named. Many teach Sunday School or youth small groups, while some facilitate the women’s Bible study at their church. They have been told they have a God-given gift, and now they have a responsibility to steward that gift for the church.
When she sees her gifts, we then get to help her be the best foot that she can be. She may be gifted, but she still has plenty of room to grow. How can we help her to grow? One way may be formal theological education. Here at Southeastern we have many opportunities available to women, from the certificate programs like BWI all the way to our advanced degrees. She may just need a little push.
Men and women may be different in this regard. An internal memo from Hewlett Packard revealed that men are willing to apply for a job if they meet 60% of the qualifications while women are hesitant unless they met 100%. For our purposes, this means that women are often going to be more hesitant than men when seeking to use and cultivate their gifts. Women more often need to be called out and into faith.
I know this is true because I’ve seen it in my own life. I recently applied for an advanced degree program, and I felt ridiculous. “I’m a homeschool mom! What am I doing?” I thought. But a friend lovingly told me, “You’re a fork. Go be a fork,” which I took to mean, “You’re a nerd, go do nerdy things.” In love, of course!
Another friend told me: “Those things you do are not normal, and they indicate an academic gifting. You have a responsibility to steward that gift for the church.” And my favorite: “I’m not going to tell you what to do, but if you don’t it MIGHT be disobedience.” That part stung for a couple of days. So what did I do? I applied.
I didn’t recognize an academic gifting in myself. I needed it to be named and called out of me. Once I recognized my gifting, I could see the need to cultivate that gift to the best of my ability and not let it run wild and become useless. I’m thankful the body of Christ came to me, saw what I couldn’t see and helped me to see it in myself. Their work in my life is helping me to be a better foot so that I can serve the church and help to build her up into love.
Within our Biblical Women’s Institute, I get to watch women grow as Sunday School teachers, Children’s ministry volunteers, moms and friends. They are intentionally cultivating the gifts and opportunities God has given to them. Southeastern has women in a wide range of degree programs seeking to do the same. Most of them have a story of someone going to them, pointing out their gifts and calling them to cultivate them for the church.
May we all do the same. Let’s help our sisters see their gifts and use them for the building up of the body “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, and to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).