My sister is a very busy woman. She has four kids (ranging from infancy to 10 years old), works part-time from home, maintains a spotless house, and manages to follow the Holy Spirit through an active and ongoing ministry to people around her.
She and her family are actively involved in their church, and she serves where she can. God has given her obvious spiritual gifts in mercy, encouragement, administration, and discernment. But most of the time, she doesn't exercise these gifts in the church building. Instead, she more often finds herself doing ministry at home, at her kids' school, at the park, and at Wal-Mart.
She tells me she sometimes feels guilty because she doesn't seem to be meeting other people's expectations. She doesn't attend all the social events her friends do. She doesn't teach a Sunday school class (even though she's been asked several times). And when another couple asked her if she and her husband would lead a small group because they want to join one but don't want to lead, she said no.
But every time she starts feeling guilty, thinking that she should be giving more time to "church ministry," God brings someone into her life - someone in need of her ministry. A friend is facing a tragic end to a pregnancy. A neighbor is grieving a loss and needs a meal. Another mom needs a babysitter and can't afford to pay. A teenage girl needs a listening ear and a discerning heart to help lead her through a tough decision. So my sister uses her spiritual gifts to build up the body of Christ. Every time I talk to her, she tells me about a way she's helping to bear someone else's burden. I don't think she even realizes how much her heart for ministry pervades her speech and attitudes.
I think a lot of women feel the same kind of guilt that my sister feels. Perhaps it's because we're such a "doing" culture, heavy on formal titles and organizational roles that help us prove we're doing something. We tend to think of spiritual gifts as something we use "at church" or when we're doing stuff "for the church." And so these gifts feel like burdens - obligations we'll never be able to satisfy.
But perhaps spiritual gifts are more about being than doing. Instead of obligating us to fill formal roles within the church, perhaps our knowledge of our gifts should help us to seek the Holy Spirit's direction in spotting the ministry opportunities in our path. After all, as they say, the church is not a building. We are the church - all the time, everywhere. So we never really stop being "at church," right? Is there a realm in which we are not to use our spiritual gifts?