Is the church, meaning the people of God, leading the culture or is culture leading the church? This is a vital question that gauges whether we are on-mission in proactively building God’s Kingdom or merely basing our efforts on catching up with what is culturally happening around us. Any amount of verbal response is not nearly as important as how we are practically living out our mission.
A secondary point to ponder is whether all Christians understand their universal call to lead in the first place. At various points in life, we can all have a lack of knowledge or theological understanding concerning our cultural calling. It is paramount, however, that the church collectively embraces its responsibilities to lead the world. There are two major hindrances that prevent us from embracing this calling: first, whether we care to admit it or not, we are often too busy following the ways of the world and second, we are too distracted with inward fighting and divisions.
There are at least three divisions within the church which hinder our effectiveness to lead the world: 1.) Women and Leadership, 2.) Racial and Ethnic Reconciliation (which often includes layers of socioeconomic injustice), and 3.) Generational Conflict. Christ died for the whole church—which includes women and diverse people groups—to impact all nations and all creation for all time. So what would it mean for a collective “us” to honor the power of his death and resurrection in the ways that we lead?
To get our spiritual house in order, we must faithfully live as reconciled people within the body of Christ. For Christ communicated the importance of unity in his High Priestly Prayer of John 17:20-23. There, he interceded for his disciples concerning their ministry and message of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18). Today, we confront the challenge of reconciling our conclusions about women and their leadership.
I recall listening intensely to the 2014 Justice Conference simulcast where a pastor whom I respect made the statement, “There is no older injustice in this world than the injustices against women.” That statement hit me in the chest, and shortly thereafter, he directed his comments to the men in the room and said, “Let women lead!”
“That’s interesting,” I thought because my mind does not recall a time when I—a woman—did not lead. My peers in middle and high school thought I was a leader when they voted for me to represent them as Student Body President. Those formative years of dreaming, vision casting, setting goals, following through, and asking others to join in lay the foundation for my becoming an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. Leadership was a gift and skill that was affirmed and nurtured long before my personal relationship with Christ was cultivated. I did not come to the church for permission to lead.
As I sat in the chair, I thought about this speaker and all those who have a heart for the Bible, the church, reconciliation and justice. We care and have concern for all women, including those who have the gift of leadership, and yet, I came away from this talk both encouraged and perplexed. This pastor knows, as well as I do, that in almost every arena all over the world, women are already leading—everywhere that is, except in major segments of the church, which as a whole, is not benefiting from regular and consistent use of the gifts and talents of female image bearers of God.
How is the church losing ground by allowing the world to reap all of the benefits of these called and capable women who lead? I am not suggesting that simply because women are leading in secular arenas, they should be allowed to lead in the church. Nor am I suggesting that the work women do outside of the church is in any way less important than the work being done on behalf of the church. I am acknowledging, however, that when mature, Christian women have the gift of leadership and are locked out or limited in the opportunities they have to exercise those gifts in the church, they wisely take advantage of the many opportunities they have to lead elsewhere. Whether they want to or not, they end up investing time, gifts, and talents in the places where they are welcomed. By default, women who are financial geniuses and executive experts end up making corporations a lot of money when they could use those same skills to get our congregations out of debt or increase their financial giving to the poor or missional work if they were reasonable opportunities for them to do so.
Along similar lines, I have watched several women graduate from seminary with Master of Divinity degrees and no job offers to serve on church staffs. While they walk in the legacies of Bible heroes like Deborah, Miriam, Priscilla, and Huldah (whom we acknowledge), and others like Nympha (who led a home church, Col. 4:15), Junia (who is listed among the apostles, Rom. 16:7), or the countless women prophets (a spiritual gift that includes proclamation and teaching) whom some seem to ignore, these women are called and qualified, yet the church is not benefiting from their contributions.
Regardless of where you stand on the “egalitarian or complementarian” or “women and ordination” debates, I am suggesting that if the church is going to lead the world, we must acknowledge that there are opportunities to welcome and affirm the gift of leadership when revealed in the life of a woman. These can include:
- Intentionally seeking to hire women to staff leadership positions in the church. A quick internet search reveals that corporations that embrace gender and cultural diversity at their conference tables increase innovation, make better decisions, and enjoy growth, which thereby leads to their success.
Additionally, women are oppressed all across the world through domestic and sexual violence. These women are sitting in our pews and who better to counsel, minister, and disciple them than another compassionate and trained sister in Christ.
- If a congregation does not allow for women elders, appoint a counsel of women to advise the elders. When areas of personal conflict are being discussed and voted upon, especially those issues that concern marriages, sexuality, and domestic violence, it is wise to include a woman’s voice and perspective.
Before The Fall, God was clear that it was not good for man to be alone. Even though Adam stood in the garden perfect and in the presence and fellowship of God, God knew that Adam needed another physical being that was like himself and yet different.
I get weary with all the debates, fighting, and politics that polarize evangelical circles. I suspect that the casual observer feels the same way and that’s why the past few years have revealed troubling reports of women and millennials leaving the church. Nobody wants to become a part of family that is always fighting or live in a house that is built on shaky ground. If the church wants to lead the world, then we must embrace the various gifts and callings that God himself has placed on all of his children, and that includes women.
As reconciled leaders of the future, we must acknowledge in every situation and for all time that it is good for Adams and Eves to commune and lead together and to fulfill the work of God’s kingdom. Can the church lead by embracing the many ways that women are called to lead for the glory of God?
I suggest that like me, fewer women are coming to the Church for permission to lead. Yet, when women are valued, encouraged and provided opportunities to share all of their spiritual gifts, imagine how the Church might lead better, reflecting the reconciling work of Christ, and acknowledging the agency of all of God’s image-bearers to be co-labors in the Kingdom of God.
[Image by thisisbossi, CC via Flickr]