Mandy Smith and I first connected through a series of Facebook comments about SheLeads. I don’t remember if she asked or I offered, but somehow our ten-month-old church plant in central Florida, The Crowded House, became a regional venue for the summit.
Our elders were excited about the potential for our small church to be part of something much bigger than ourselves. Not only this, our board and our house gatherings already included women as leaders and teachers, so it felt like SheLeads “fit” who we were and could help us move further down the path.
In the weeks leading up to the summit, we conversed and dreamed about what our small church could grow into as we welcomed women and men into ministry together. These conversations were fruitful, but let me be honest: they were sometimes difficult.
Here is what we learned.
Three Lessons We Learned from SheLeads
1. This will cost you something.
As soon as the regional venue registrations opened up, I went to our social media pages and began to promote the summit.
The day after posting about the summit on our Facebook page, I received a phone call from a church member.
“Jeremy, I have some concerns about something. Can I come over and talk?”
As my friend entered my home a while later, I noticed he had his Bible with him. I also noticed that it contained dozens of post-it notes. Immediately, I knew he was coming to speak about SheLeads. I also knew it was not going to be a casual, curious dialogue between friends.
This was going to be a conversation in which I was told that women shouldn’t lead. Having had plenty of hard conversations with church members in previous churches, I also knew this would be the conversation that—at least for the present time—ended this family’s connection to our church.
Our conversation was brief because it wasn’t really a conversation.
“If men would do their jobs, we wouldn’t need women to lead.”
After I picked up my jaw from the ground, I gave a simple and direct response, “I am fully committed to women leading in this church.”
And with that, we were at an impasse. I steered the conversation toward talking about how much our church loves his family, how his kid brings us all so much joy, and how I hoped we could talk about this again down the road.
But as he left our home, I knew he and his amazing family would be leaving our church.
Hosting SheLeads cost our church.
We lost a family that made up close to 10% of our congregation. We miss them. They brought unique insights and gifting. They faithfully gave of their resources to our young church. Their family brought great joy to the other families in our church.
There are still some relational connections, but it isn’t the same as having them present with us each week. And while new families begin to participate in our church, we cannot simply replace one family with another.
This was a real loss.
As churches begin to take steps into what God is doing in the world, we must be ready for the cost. There will be loss, and the loss will be real and painful.
We learned that faithfulness is not free from pain. The good news is that faithfulness costs, but it also leads us into God’s mission.
2. The whole church is needed to put this theology into practice.
To help bring unity and clarity to why were hosting SheLeads, the leaders of our church called all our people together so we could communicate our theology of gender and gifting.
About 30 people gathered into a living room where we opened space for questions. There was Scripture reading, prayer, and dialogue. At the end of that night, we left that room with a newfound unity in our theological commitment to the full gifting and calling of both men and women into leadership roles in the church.
While the leaders of our church had always assumed this position, we had never opened space for input from the whole church. Doing so helped us to move into practicing this theology together.
After this gathering, some incredible things began to unfold.
Women began to step into their gifting. Some began to teach, some opened homes for hospitality, others began shepherding and caring for the sick.
Because we made space for lay members of our church to be called up into theological discernment, the church began to step into their gifting and lead in new and exciting ways.
3. This is a way we are welcoming God’s future Kingdom into the present.
During the summit, someone asked me what I hoped the future would look like.
I thought immediately of my daughter. The reality is: I worry my daughter will one day look at me and say she cannot fulfill her calling or use her gifts because she is a woman.
The hope I dared to name at SheLeads was that the exact opposite would be true. I dream, for my daughter, that one day she will tell me it is because she is a woman that she can fulfill her calling and utilize her gifts within the mission of God in a way no one else can. I dream my daughter will one day tell me it is because she is a woman she can fulfill God's call. Click To Tweet
By entering into these conversations, by partnering with others who participate in SheLeads, and by creating space for women to use their gifts, we are stepping more fully into the reality of “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We are aligning ourselves with that future He is preparing. This is a reconciling moment between men and women in the church as we learn to honor the full humanity and gifting of all people.
Women and men in ministry together is not a compromise we are making for our surrounding culture. It is the way of the Kingdom. Women + men ministering together is not a compromise; it is the way of the Kingdom. Click To Tweet
SheLeads 2017 has passed, but the work is not done.
May we continue to invite women and men to the table to discern God’s gifting and call for our churches and people.
May we create space for women and men to lead us together into the future God is creating.
In doing this, may we recognize and honor the full humanity of all our brothers and sisters as they faithfully join what God is doing in the world.