What we are a part of is more important than the part we play. Here are two comments representative of many I've heard from single women and men over the years:
Comment #1: "The vice president of the company says they see me as having great potential. If I can give them three years on the fast track, I can write my ticket anywhere. It's a lot of travel, but I figure it will pay off in all I can do for God when I'm done."
Comment #2: "It seems like every time I sing my songs, people respond. Everybody says I should make a record so more people can hear my music, but I'd have to move to Nashville to do it. That's just the way the business is. But if I have a gift, shouldn't I find out what my potential is?"
Both of these issues, and countless others like them, address a larger question: "How do I use the gifts and talents God has given me?" What counsel would you give in the situations described above? I generally respond with what may seem like an odd question: "Why do you feel you need to reach your potential?" This is a question that may challenge every lesson you have ever been taught. How would you answer it?
Let's examine the Bible's perspective on that question. First, Scripture says very little about using our gifts to their fullest potential. When Paul talks about spiritual gifts (in 1 Corinthians 12, for example), he is not encouraging folks to "find your gift." He is not recommending a gifts seminar or a spiritual-gifts evaluation test. He sees gifts spilling out all over the place and is calling people to use their gifts in an orderly and humble manner.
Paul describes the spiritual gifts as parts of a body. He does not say to the hand, "You need to reach your fullest potential as a hand," nor to the eye, "You know what's holding you back from really being something special? It's these two unreliable ears next to you." When people view the body, Paul wants them to see all the parts working "for the common good" (1Co 12:7)-a body working like a body should. While we are encouraged to "eagerly desire the greater gifts" (1Co 12:30) and "fan into flame the gifts" (2Ti 1:6) the larger issue is, "Why? To what end are we to pursue these gifts?"
On this point, the Bible is quite clear. The use of our gifts is never intended for our personal fulfillment. Rather, it is always for the building up of the church, the body of Christ. From this it follows that our gifts and callings have no real value apart from their contribution to the body, the church of Christ, and its mission in the world.
If you're like me, you first became a Christian, then you started going to church, because everyone knows good Christians go to church. That's American Christianity 101. The reality, however, is we are saved into the body of Christ. We don't go to church, we are the church! The church is not some cosmic concept, some heavenly fraternity we sometimes kind of feel around us; it is the people of God, set apart for his purposes.
When it comes to the church, Christians are not, and can never be, "believers but not belongers." The Church Universal, the Bride of Christ, expresses itself at the level of daily life in individual local congregations. From the very beginning (see Acts 2) Scripture has directed every member of the universal church to be an active participant in a local church. This local community of faith includes not only dear old Pastor Bob and Wanda the Angelic-Voiced Worshiper, but Ed the Obnoxious Zealot and Betty the Chronic Whiner as well. Oh yes, you and I also bring our little casserole of mixed motives and limited skills to the party. Believe it or not, the imperfect church is the place God hangs out, it is the thing God says he will build, and it is the humble vessel through which he will reach the world.
How can we have an impact in the cramped confines of a local church? Jesus told his disciples, "Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant" (Mt 20:26). The Lord, by the way, backed this principle up with his very life. Where the world says "Be all you can be," Jesus says, "He who loses his life for my sake will find it" (Mt 16:24). The door to fulfillment of our call, expression of our gifts, and lasting impact in the world is opened by one key: the key of servanthood. As a single adult, you have a precious opportunity to make an impact on this world, but that opportunity begins through serving in the context of a local church, God's tangible presence in the world.
My friend Joshua Harris is one such example. He has many gifts and talents and has made quite a mark in publishing with his best-selling books and his national conferences. Josh would be a first-round draft pick of any parachurch ministry organization. But he has gotten off the calling track. Josh has traded in his personal ministry platform for a passion for serving in the local church. Several years ago-before he became a pastor-he wrote:
Too many people my age have lost a vision for the church....My dream is to be a part of bringing the church back to the place God has always meant for it to play in our lives....Someday I hope to pastor a church or serve under another man in whatever position I'm best suited for. I don't know all that the future holds, but I want to be in on the action, and I believe the action is in the local church.
Do you suppose Josh might be right? That, as Scripture testifies, the action really is in the church?
When I focus on fulfilling my individual gifts and calling as an individual, my impact will be limited both by my gifts and my opportunities to use them. But taking a servanthood approach to fulfillment means throwing my gifts in with those of others in the church and seeing the whole body in action. This is impact multiplied. Then position, influence, recognition, ambition, and other idols of the world are far less likely to ensnare me, because I'm making my contribution with no strings attached.
Whether leading the parade or being "a doorkeeper in the house of God" (Ps 84:10), what we are a part of, as someone once noted, is more important than the part we play.
The Rich Single Life by Andrew Farmer: "The truths contained in The Rich Single Life could revolutionize your understanding of singleness. Andrew Farmer skillfully shows single Christian men and women what a rich and valuable opportunity they have. Just as importantly, he explains how to take full advantage of that opportunity. This book will help you live the single life in all the fullness of God." -Joshua Harris, author and pastor. Available from the Sovereign Grace Store.
The Dearest Place on Earth Audio Messages: The 19th-century British pastor Charles Spurgeon called the local church "the dearest place on Earth." We are convinced, from Scripture and experience, that he was right. Let the biblical case for the centrality of the church build your passion for your local church and provoke your participation in it, so that for you the church may truly become the dearest place on Earth.