This is the first of five blog contest winning entries The Junia Project is showcasing. The category for this post is “Why Women in Church Leadership Isn’t a Secondary Issue”. Look for other winners over the next two weeks! We”ll also be posting entries written by the runners up, so stay tuned!
When a friend of mine asked me to screen sponsorship mail for a local non-profit, I was expecting to be deeply moved. But I wasn’t expecting a child to remind me of the importance of egalitarian theology.
“When I grow up, I want to be a pastor.”
These words were proudly written by a seven year old girl in a small village somewhere in southern Africa. Along with the many boys whose letters expressed the same desire, this little girl with a beaming smile realized that she, too, could be a leader and a preacher and a spiritual guide.
Her words surprised me with hope.
The presence or absence of same sex role models greatly influences the options we believe we have because we learn our acceptable roles through the stories and examples we are shown.
Some say the issue of women in leadership is important, but it’s not a primary issue. However, if the gospel is the primary issue, if the good news of Jesus is the primary issue, if the transformative power of God is the primary issue, then the flourishing of women and girls in their gifts is inextricably bound up with it.
About one year ago, I attended a women’s gathering where women shared personal stories. An older woman, a mother and grandmother, explained that she felt left out of her husband’s ministry. He was a pastor and frequently traveled and preached, while she remained home. She said, “I have a Bible school degree just like he does. Why shouldn’t I be out there doing it, too?” There was a tone of frustration and sadness in her voice. She seemed to be looking for her place.
How many women long to use their God-given gifts for building up the church—in addition to the important roles they already play in women’s meetings and Sunday school– in ways that acknowledge their value to the entire community?
Nowhere in scripture are gifts apportioned according to gender. But so often, women with teaching gifts are stunted and stifled.
An acquaintance of mine once said that he had never learned anything from hearing a woman speak in church. He had basically concluded that no woman, anywhere had wisdom or insight he hadn’t already gleaned himself. In some ways, it’s hard to blame him for thinking this way since so many churches and prominent leaders conclude that women should not teach men.
Recently, an influential Bible teacher suggested that merely having a female form in front of him is a temptation and prevents him from hearing her message.
Is it any wonder that Christian women often view themselves negatively, feel unworthy, and think they have nothing valuable to say?
The truth is that gifted women teachers and preachers have much to contribute. Women bring different life perspectives from their roles as daughters, sisters, mothers, grandmothers, and wives. They bring gendered insight and understanding to the study of Scripture. Excluding women from leadership roles is damaging to the church community as a whole because it means that women’s enriching voices and stories are not shared.
Exclusion also teaches women that they are lacking in some way, while giving men and boys the same message.
And this is why an egalitarian view is a primary issue. It has everything to do with the Gospel. How can we expect women to believe that they are received, loved, accepted, worthy, valued, and beloved by God, when exclusion teaches them they are second class?
In his slender volume, Finally Feminist, John Stackhouse writes:
“When society was patriarchal, as it was in the New Testament context and as it has been everywhere in the world except in modern society in our day, the church avoided scandal by going along with it – fundamentally evil as patriarchy was and is. Now, however, that modern society is at least officially egalitarian, the scandal is that the church is NOT going along with society, not rejoicing in the unprecedented freedom to let women and men serve according to gift and call without an arbitrary gender line. This scandal impedes both the evangelism of others and the edification – the retention and development of faith – of those already converted.”
Today, in our culture of increased equality, the barring of women from leadership roles in the church not only prevents their gifts from building up the church, it actually impedes people from seriously considering the Gospel message.
When I worked in a pastoral role in a small church in Nova Scotia, I was often asked by secular folks about my job. Interestingly, people were intrigued that a church had seen fit to hire a young woman in a pastoral role; this caused them to consider giving church a chance.
An egalitarian view is far more attractive to many spiritual seekers than prescribed and limited gender roles, and antiquated views about women are one reason many people write off exploring what the Gospel is really about.
Embracing women in church leadership matters.
It matters because it affects all layers of ministry, from the individual’s ability to express her God-given gifts and find a place within community, to the church’s ability to fulfill its mission.
It matters because it influences the way little girls think about themselves and dream about how they will use their gifts and impact their communities.
One day I hope little girls from many parts of the world will say, “When I grow up, I want to be a pastor.” May the church have ears to hear them and nurture their potential.
Click here for a Spanish translation of this post.
Photo Credit: World Vision International.