This is an exciting post for us to publish! Finding strategic ways to support, equip, and help advance Christian women, especially female church leaders, has been a priority since the very inception of Missio Alliance. This dimension of our work was greatly energized when the Synergy Women's Network was grafted into Missio Alliance last year and through several public conversations that took place at the #TrulyHuman gathering this past May (if you weren't there this workshop would definitely be worth checking out!), we began to more fully discern where the heartbeat of Missio Alliance and the needs of Christian women most meaningfully intersect. If you've been following our blog recently you'll have noticed an enormous amount of interest and engagement around issues of women in ministry and male-female relationships in general – including our most viewed post ever, here. These are crucial conversations for so many people – both women and men! In this post, Kris Beckert is opening up an invitation to women involved in church planting to begin to connect with one another for conversation and co-learning as an identifiable community of leaders. What the life of this group will entail will be primarily shaped by those who become a part of it so I encourage you to connect with Kris and invite others who you think would be interested and benefit from being involved as well. Much more is on the horizon for us in seeking to connect, resource, and help equip women in ministry, but we're so very excited about this as an initial expression of that work!
Sincerely, JR Rozko – Missio Alliance Co-Director
As Alexandria was slowly awakening from a night’s sleep, the smells of coffee wafting through the city streets and a few runners and dog walkers emerging from their residences, a group of women leaders was already gathered in the fellowship hall of Downtown Baptist Church for a breakfast and discussion on that super-early Saturday morning. Most of us had already been a part of the ongoing Missio Alliance National Gathering that had stirred our hearts and minds over the last two days, but that morning was especially inspiring because of its uniqueness – evangelical women involved in both pastoral and lay leadership of local churches, academia, and non-profits. As we discussed possibilities about how the newly formed partnership between Synergy Women’s Network and Missio Alliance could function, each of us had the opportunity to voice felt-needs and ideas.
It was then that I had the chance to share what was on my heart – actually, it was more of a blurting than a calm sharing. Feeling alone in my ministry at times, I opened up and told the group that I was hoping we could form relationships with other women who were doing what I was doing.
I exclaimed, “I’d just love to connect with other female church planters.”
Little did I know that suddenly, I was not alone anymore. Nobody’s name was Lydia, but I was actually immersed within a roomful of Lydias:
On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us. – Acts 16:13-15
In the middle of Acts 16, we find this kind of whirlwind story about how Paul goes searching for a bunch of female God-fearers involved in a religious prayer meeting down by the river and then leads a woman named Lydia, most likely the leader of the group, to the saving truth of Jesus Christ. Upon entering Philippi, Paul had probably discovered the nonexistence of a synagogue, signifying the fact that there must be less than ten Jewish men in the town. He took this occurrence as an opportunity to seek out a group who would be a receptive audience to his message – Gentile adherents to the biblical faith who happened to be of the female persuasion.
But the story doesn’t end there. We read that this interaction has explosive results beyond the prayer meeting, into Lydia’s whole household, her community, and beyond. The Orthodox Church has even given her the title of “An Equal to the Apostles,” signifying her apostolic impact. It’s because of this one woman and a gathering on the riverbank that the gospel entered Europe and transformed multitudes of lives.
A gathering of missional female leaders is a mighty spiritual force to be tapped.
Following sharing at the Synergy breakfast, I was approached by a number of women involved in different aspects of church planting whose heads had been nodding as I spoke of a need for women with this gifting and leadership to connect. I have to admit, I was surprised; without a network that branches beyond the ministry right in front of you, it’s easy to begin to believe you are alone. But as I spoke with these women and heard their passions for reaching out to skeptics and seekers and forming new church communities with them, I couldn’t help but realize that God has uniquely designed us, as women, to expand his Kingdom and mission.
From Acts 16, we can learn a number of things about how women can play a key role in church planting and missional leadership:
1. Women are well equipped and positioned to lead new churches.
Because of her interactions with Paul, Lydia shared her newfound faith in Christ with her entire household, and all of them were baptized. She was a woman of action and influence whose gift of hospitality impacted her new friends. As a businesswoman, she was accepted by the people around her, and we may surmise that the gospel made inroads in the region as God used her marketplace skills. In the same way, women in our day are uniquely positioned in today’s marketplace, family, and neighborhood and are gifted in leadership – a perfect combination to start church where they are, with the gifts they have.
2. Women have access to and involvement in many sub-groups of society.
Lydia was not only a prominent member, probably the leaders of the women’s riverbank prayer group but she also would have been part of the city’s textile dyer’s guild. She had relationships with different people than her male counterparts and was uniquely positioned within these relationships. Today, there are many different groups of people in our cities, towns, or communities in which women have unique access or may be uniquely influential: moms groups, school groups, sports fields and coed teams, the chamber of commerce, community organizations, etc.
3. Women value communication and relationship-building.
We’re told that even though there was no synagogue in Philippi, the women still gathered together. Lydia came to faith through words. She spent much of her time talking in social groups, including a prayer group that expressed interest in the God of the Jews. Her relationships were probably deeper both emotionally and spiritually than those of her male counterparts – which then would have allowed the gospel to spread more rapidly both in Philippi and, we can imagine, later in her home of Thyatira. Without sounding stereotypical, I, as a woman, find that communication – as well as forming bonds – occurs quicker and more often around and among women than men. Studies show that women speak almost 3x’s more words per day (20,000) than men, making verbal communication and relationships more of a natural component of daily life. In the process of starting and serving in new churches, relationships are key.
4. Women face fewer barriers to leadership in church plants than in traditional religious settings.
In scripture, we find no women in leadership of the synagogue, yet numerous women with Gentile names are identified as leading, supporting, and working with new churches as they are planted. While the Jerusalem church was based on the model of the synagogue, these new communities knew of fewer restrictions on women as leaders and instead saw their gifts and evidence of the Holy Spirit. As in Lydia’s case, Gentiles were more open to women being able to serve in religious functions. Today, the greatest opposition to gifted women serving in leadership comes from within the established church; those outside the church respond to the gospel, not to whether it is brought to them by a man or a woman.
5. Women are part of the blessed alliance God is using to redeem the world
As initiated and illustrated in Genesis during God’s creation of male and female “in our image” (Gen 1:26), men and women are to advance God’s Kingdom as they serve him together. While sin set man and woman in a battle toward one another, Christ restored God’s intended purpose of both male and female fighting the battle of evil and brokenness in the world, side by side. The means of doing this also includes starting new churches to reach new people. Paul saw value in sharing the gospel with women, and Lydia shared her newfound faith with her entire household—female and male members. When men and women follow the Spirit, they participate in a dance that does not dictate gender roles in kingdom-building but rather fosters a powerful partnership—a blessed alliance.
Over the last few months as I’ve been thinking and praying about God’s leading, I have realized there are a lot of Lydias. There are women who are called to start churches and be in community with those outside the established church. There are women who have the unique gifting of leading worship among non-Christians and new disciples. There are women who have been called to carry the gospel to new settings – to local restaurants, neighborhoods, ballfields, or AA meetings. There are women distinctively skilled to serve as second pastors of church plants and missional communities and to disciple those they have gathered.
Gals like Lydia show us that church plants can be natural ways for women to share the new life of Christ with their friends, families, neighbors – and the world.
Are you interested in joining together with a network of women involved in church planting? Do you know a female planter, pastor, worship leader, or disciple-maker who needs to know she is not alone in her ministry? Contact [email protected] to be part of the start of a new movement of Women in Church Planting here at Missio Alliance.
[Photo: D'Arte Photographie]