Here’s How You Can Guide Your Church through Gender Role Conversations

The SheLeads Summit in October not only opened up new conversations, it set a new tone for the conversation (download video from conference here). But it can’t end with one weekend. Our prayer is that those conversations continue in congregations around the country. Here are a few next steps as churches ask how to move ahead in the ways we partner as men and women working together in ministry.

As a female lead pastor, I’m often approached by church leaders who are thinking in new ways about the role of women in the church. While these leaders are ready to think in new ways, they’re also very aware of the positions and hesitations of folks in their congregations.

It can be painful for church leaders to be in this place—longing to see something new for women in their church but also wanting to honor (and kindly challenge) the people they love.

So they often ask: How do I walk my congregation through these questions?

Here’s what I usually tell them.

Four Keys to Guiding Your Congregation Through Gender Role Conversations

1. Focus more on the stories of the bible than the “hard” passages.

Scot McKnight, in his brief but brilliant work, Junia is Not Alone, encourages us that in addition to studying the usual passages on women’s roles, we must spend at least as much time reading the stories of what women in scripture actually did.

Tell stories of “Miriam, the prophetic national music director, or Esther, the dancing queen, or Phoebe, the benefactor of Paul’s missions, or Priscilla, the teacher.”1 Don't just study passages about women's roles; study what women in the Bible actually did. Click To Tweet

The same God at work in those women’s lives is the God at work in passages like 1 Timothy 2 and at work in our own hearts and churches—and sisters. If it’s all the same God in all these people and passages and places, there must be some way to live out his will in our own place.

2. Make it about real people, not “women” in general.

While it’s important to talk about “issues,” it’s better to talk about people with names and faces. So even before you begin any official congregational study or conversations, listen to the women in your congregation. What do they feel called to? How are they trying to figure out their gifting? What would it look like to invite them to step into those callings and to walk alongside them as they experiment?

As conversations emerge about what women can or can’t do, it will feel more real if you’re talking about “Tara who is a gifted teacher” or “Christy who has a pastoral calling,” and not about “women who want to lead.”

Our culture has an unkind stereotype of the ambitious or self-promoting woman leader. But usually Christian women are just asking, “How can I follow God?”

Their movement forward usually looks more like obedience and submission to God than any kind of ambition.

Of course, bear in mind that this process can be hard for the women involved, so ask how you can support them through this process. Be sensitive to how much you use them as an example. It may be the people closest to them, those with a front row seat to their hope and longing, who are most transformed and who can lead the conversation.

I’ve watched how a big part of this work is about stretching people’s imaginations and assuaging fears. Often people are responding to fears of stereotypical female leaders and when they can watch actual women using their gifts in new ways, it creates new mental categories—a renewing of our minds.

3. Share your own longing and joy

As leaders, we often wrestle with how to move folks in a particular direction. It’s tempting to say “I think this! I care about this! You should think this and care about this too!”

That posture rarely motivates people to consider new approaches.

The more meaningful (and more risky) way to invite change is to share our own longing.

If you long to figure this out because you want your daughter to be encouraged to use her gifts, let your longing be heard. If you have caught a joyful vision of the whole, healed Bride of Christ, led by both women and men, for the glory of God and for the healing of gender discord, paint that picture for your folks.

Often our greatest influence does not grow from our ideas and arguments, but from our congregation’s care for us.

4. Trust that God is at work.

Sadly, it’s a cliché to say “Trust God.” But if we, as leaders, feel called by God in a particular direction, we have to believe that if those callings are from God, the same God is at work in our congregation.

We are not alone in this prophetic work of calling out new directions.

How will we discern our part—when to speak and when to let God work?

How will we know when to push and when to give people time?

It’s painful to feel a call in new directions and to work with people who are resistant, but in those conflicts and conversations—that submission to one another and to the Lord—we are all transformed into His likeness. In conflict and conversation, we are being transformed into Christ's likeness. Click To Tweet

To hear the story of how husband and wife co-pastors, Tish Harrison Warren and Jonathan Warren have navigated these issues, check out this great Seminary Dropout podcast.

1McKnight, Scot, Junia Is Not Alone (Kindle Locations 25-26). Patheos Press. Kindle Edition.
Resources from SheLeads 2017 are now available!
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