It was long after my boys’ usual bedtime as my family gathered around our homemade farmhouse table, swept up in a board game I was teaching them to play. My young son drew a card and waited for me to explain the options for his next move, wiping eggnog from his lips and holding up his empty glass for a refill, more focused on his frothy dessert than our game.
In teaching the rules of the game, I also volunteered the strategies I had honed over the years. I made suggestions and explained all the different options on each turn so they’d all have a fair chance. We joked good-naturedly as my five-year-old stumbled his green pawn around the board with no apparent strategy despite my suggestions.
To my shock, I lost that game. And I really lost — I came in last. It was one thing for my husband to win, and for my second grader, who implemented every strategy I suggested, to come in second, but I was blindsided when my five-year-old beat me to the finish, eggnog in hand.
I was a good sport about losing, but I also joked, “That’s the last time I help anyone in this game! Next time, I’m keeping all my suggestions and strategies to myself!”
Of course I didn’t mean it. If I hadn’t taught my boys the game, there wouldn’t be a game at all. I wouldn’t be able to play it with them, and they wouldn’t know how to teach it to their friends to play later. I must be willing to share what I know, or my knowledge will atrophy. By sharing what I know, I allow others to flourish.
We are all part of the body of Christ, and God has placed gifts and passions on each of our hearts. What would the church be like if we guarded these gifts and passions for ourselves, for fear that someone else might take our talent and run with it, or become better at it than us? In a larger church, we may feel discouraged to see someone else already serving in an area where we feel called. Author Emily P. Freeman shares in A Million Little Ways, “Our offerings aren’t vague and invisible. Our specific offerings reveal the unique version of our worship, not for the glory of us, but to the glory of God and for the benefit of others” (175). Everyone can find a place to serve. It might mean looking for gaps and starting your own ministry or offering a special gift you have within an existing ministry.
Others won’t know of your unique gifting unless you bring it to the table. I’ve caught myself sitting in church thinking, “No one knows I can do that, too. But someone is already doing it here, and doing it well. They don’t need me.” Sharing might require vulnerability or overcoming self-doubt, wondering if you are “good enough.” Whether you are a novice or an expert, you have wisdom to offer. Your life experience matters, and others need to hear it. Perhaps your stepping out in faith will encourage them, inspiring them to share their own stories and gifts. Draw your own inspiration in knowing “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17, NIV).
You may worry someone will piggyback off your idea and even receive recognition for it. But it was never about us; it has always been about reflecting glory back to God. In her book, Restless, Jennie Allen writes, “Our mattering doesn’t depend on a stellar performance. We matter because we are children of the living, breathing, reigning God of the universe” (14). Allen continues, “Because by using my gifts, others would be released to use their gifts, and so on” (46). We know the glory belongs to God and no one else. Our gifts and passions always point back to the one who wrote our stories in the beginning.
Where are you holding back? What are your gifts? Where would you serve if the opportunity was wide open? Freeman poses the question, “Could it be possible that the thing you most long for, the thing you notice and think about and wish you could do, is the thing you were actually made and are being equipped to do?” (47). Imagine the potential reach of the church if every member stepped out in faith with the gifts God instilled in us– how many lives we could touch, how many families we could impact, how many others we’d reach through our example, drawing them closer to their own relationship with Jesus. The impact would be exponential. The impact would be new life with Christ.
Written by Ashley Bartley
Ashley Bartley is a wife, mom to three small boys, and an elementary school counselor in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. She writes @TendingWild on Instagram and at www.ashleybartley.com, where she encourages women to create a habit of pause in every small, great, and wild moment. She also creates resources for elementary school counselors and is publishing her first children’s book with BoysTown Press this year.