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Spiritual Gifts in a Women’s Ministry

Photo of Anessa WestbrookAnessa Westbrook | Bio

Anessa Westbrook

Anessa Westbrook (DMin) is Associate Professor of Bible and Ministry at Harding University. She also holds a Master of Arts degree in Church Growth and a Master of Divinity from Harding School of Theology. Her doctoral research at Fuller Theological Seminary focused on the spiritual development of women.

When it comes to women’s ministry, the word “intentionality” is incredibly important. In the organic, often unstructured, development of women’s ministries, this has often been one of the missing components. Part of building intentionality into a women’s ministry is having an understanding of spiritual gifts and how to incorporate them correctly.

Upon our new birth, God gives us an incredible gift: spiritual gifts. 1 Corinthians 12:7 says each one of us “is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Much like a parent might select the best and most appropriate gifts for a child on Christmas, God also gives each person her own individual gift mix. 1 Peter 4:10-11 calls upon Christians to serve God faithfully with their varied gifts. God prepares each person for whatever ministry he has called them to in hopes that they will use them in service to the church and the community. As people use their gifts, they experience joy and their use “feels right” because they are living out how God has created them.

Sometimes, God takes our natural efforts and abilities and makes them more far effective—and eternally significant—than we could ever do on our own. We can probably imagine all sorts of ways God can take our natural abilities and use them for his kingdom purposes. Other times, it seems that God gives us new spiritual gifts, as described throughout the New Testament, in order to use them for his kingdom. Whether arising from natural giftedness or new gifts he gives at salvation, it’s important for women’s ministries to help women find a place to serve that helps them discover and utilize their spiritual gifts.

“It’s important for women’s ministries to help women find a place to serve that helps them discover and utilize their spiritual gifts.”

However, some women struggle to believe they have spiritual gifts. Sometimes they have difficulty getting enough ministry opportunities to discover them. Other times, they have difficulties finding the right place to use them. The church has a responsibility to help all members flourish in their gifts, but a women’s ministry is of particular importance when it comes to helping women discover and use their gifts.

The parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30) illustrates what is expected of all Christians. In this parable, the master entrusts his servants with bags of gold while he is away on a journey. When he returns, the servants who had doubled the amount of gold are commended, but the one who had simply held on to what he had is condemned. In the same way, when God has entrusted women with gifts and abilities, he expects to see them used. When women are growing in their faith and understanding the expectations on them—but cannot find a place to use those gifts—it can make them feel like they are being unfaithful to God’s call. Women have left congregations because they feel called to use their gifts but cannot find a way to use those gifts.

From a theological and practical standpoint, women serve valuable roles in the church. The church’s structures and functions can be grounded in biblical teachings even as fallible people make up its membership and distort those structures and functions. Churches have sometimes lost sight of appropriate leadership patterns and placed too much emphasis on certain roles while de-emphasizing others. A church should be able to draw distinctions between men’s and women’s roles[1] without downplaying the eternally important roles women play in the church. If a church will commit to renewing its focus on the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:5-9) and value the contributions of all members of the body equally (1 Cor. 12:12-31), it will be blessed by empowering and releasing members to serve.

“From a theological and practical standpoint, women serve valuable roles in the church.”

Jesus incorporated women into his ministry. Jesus validated the spiritual importance of women, and they should remain an important part of the church today. Actively considering ways to allow women to be a more active part of the body will reap blessings not only to them spiritually but also to the church and community. Women’s ministries need to help empower women to discover and steward the gifts God has entrusted to them.

Helping Women Discover Their Gifts

In John 15:1-8, Jesus gives us the imagery of the vine and the branches. This is a foundational teaching when it comes to spiritual gifts because it shows the crucial connection between our spiritual lives and our ministries. The branch of a plant can only produce fruit if it remains connected to the vine. Production is a natural byproduct of the plant’s connection to the vine. Likewise, spiritual fruit in our own lives is not something that we have to think about or decide to do, but it should just be a natural outpouring of our relationship with Jesus. The first step in helping women should be encouraging them to grow spiritually. When a women’s ministry is designed to help women grow spiritually throughout various activities of the women’s ministry, this reinforces spiritual growth.

“The first step in helping women should be encouraging them to grow spiritually.”

There are several free spiritual gifts tests available online.[2] There are also a number of books that cover spiritual gifts and include a test. Each spiritual gifts test is based off a slightly different gift list. It’s important to take the time to read their definitions and applications of the gifts in addition to understanding the scriptural basis for them. Once the tests have been taken, the women need to show the gift lists to people who know them well. Do they believe that these lists accurately reflect what they see in them? Involving one’s community in the discernment process is an important step.

Sometimes the list will show a gift the person has never before used. These are often referred to as “latent gifts.” If someone else in the community says that they see this gift in a woman’s life, perhaps it is one she was simply unaware she had and fits in the category of latent gifts. These gifts are ones that someone has not had an opportunity to use or to develop yet. A common example among college students is that of generous giving. Someone with this gift on a near-zero budget will give in small ways but not in a way that seems consequential to them. While their gift and desires are real, they have not been able to see their full use just yet.

During the process of gift discovery, it’s also important to encourage people to try out new areas of ministry. For example, they could volunteer for a new area of service, even if it doesn’t seem completely comfortable. People are often surprised by what they discover about themselves and the way God wants to use them. It is not uncommon for them to discover a spiritual gift that they wouldn’t have otherwise. Women’s ministry leaders need to encourage women to step out of their comfort zone and try new things. We also need to put people in ministry positions where they can gain experience using their gifts. This is important not only from a practical standpoint but also so that these gifts can be affirmed by others. Affirmation of gifts by others is an important step in a woman’s gift discovery since it helps them accept and recognize them, especially if she is having to answer additional questions about if and how she plans to use her gifts.[3]

“We need to put people in ministry positions where they can gain experience using their gifts.”

Spiritual Gifts and Staffing Decisions

All too often when developing a women’s ministry, those in charge have a list of needs in mind and then they rush to find people to fill the needs. Then whoever is easiest to find gets asked to fill a position in the women’s ministry. Often this person is someone who is already close to the women’s ministry leaders or someone who frequently says “yes.” It takes time, advance planning, and patience to notice people who are not yet actively involved in the congregation.

When staffing or leadership decisions are rushed, the leaders often make the most expedient choice. Again, all too often this is someone already in the leaders’ friendship circle, a choice which can unintentionally make the group seem exclusive or cliquish. However, if we would like a ministry that is inclusive and helps the greatest number of women grow, then the leadership needs to keep their eyes open for women who are growing and have a desire to be involved. While not all areas of ministry may be appropriate for open sign-ups, it’s a good idea to advertise and open up as many areas as possible for new volunteers. Involvement in the women’s ministry can be an important part of helping women get involved at church, which is especially important for new members.

“Involvement in the women’s ministry can be an important part of helping women get involved at church.”

When the leaders of the women’s ministry are considering where to encourage people to serve, it’s important for the leaders to really listen to people’s desires and watch for their areas of giftedness. Often, when people feel drawn to a particular ministry, it is because of a burden they feel. A great example of this was Nehemiah’s burden for the condition of Jerusalem. Nehemiah 1:4 says he wept when he heard about it and then immediately began praying about it before taking action. When God has broken a woman’s heart for a particular ministry, cause, or people group, we need to take note of that and encourage her to pray, then find a way to play an active role.

Another huge advantage to watching and listening for areas of giftedness and calling comes in the form of effectiveness. God has created each one of us, gifting us with natural talents at our physical birth and then with spiritual gifts upon our new birth. Each person has her own individual gift mix. In 1 Peter 2:5, Christians are referred to as “living stones” that are being built into a “spiritual house.” I don’t think it’s an accident that God chose to use stones as a metaphor instead of bricks. Bricks were certainly used in both the Old and New Testament times. But stones have individual characteristics, and when natural stones are used in a building project, the individual characteristics of each stone have to be carefully considered before they are placed.

“When natural stones are used in a building project the individual characteristics of each stone have to be carefully considered before they are placed.”

People who are serving in areas of giftedness are not only more effective because they are working in the areas in which God has chosen to bless them, but they are also able to serve longer because it just “feels right.” This fittedness is an obvious and incredible advantage to the ministry and congregation. But, because the use of one’s spiritual gifts also brings the person joy, when we help people find a place of service that is a fit, it helps give them longevity in ministry and allows them to see how God’s using them in their labors.

Finally, 1 Corinthians 3:6-9 shows that any success in ministry stems from God.

“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.” (1 Cor. 3:6-9, NIV)

When we are following God’s leading in the lives of individuals it can allow success in our women’s ministries, but it can also put limitations on growth. An important concept that needs to be considered is waiting on God. We can make plans for new areas and ministries, but we must be willing to wait on God to provide the people necessary to staff it. When we do not, then we are at risk of falling into the pattern of choosing people who are expedient but not called or gifted for that area of service.

“We can make plans for new areas and ministries, but we must be willing to wait on God to provide the people necessary to staff it.”


If you are in a position of leadership, make sure that you have done a thorough study of spiritual gifts and have a grasp of your own. If this is a new concept to you, it might be good to gather up a group of other women who are active in the women’s ministry, or perhaps who hold the promise of becoming leaders from within it, to get together with you for a study. It may seem daunting to be able to identify gifts in others, but it gets easier with time. There is truly nothing more rewarding than helping people find a way to use their gifts in meaningful ways. When women use their gifts, they often experience spiritual growth and increased commitment to both their church and their faith. Effective use of one’s spiritual gifts is a blessing not only to the individual, but also to the church community.

[1] teaches a “soft complementarian” view according to which the elder and senior pastor/minister ought to be qualified men. See a summary article of this position here.

[2] Online options:,,, and

[3] Elizabeth Loutrel Glanville, “Leadership Development for Women in Christian Ministry” (diss., Fuller Theological Seminary, 2000), 259-260.