Recently when talking about women in the church, I find myself talking more about the men. But probably not the men you are thinking of.
It is no surprise to anyone who knows me that I am a proponent of basing job assignments within the church—really, within any structure—on giftings instead of gender. I love working with gifted people. Ever been around someone who can wax poetic on excel sheets? That, my friends, is an example of gifting, one I do not have. There are Christians I respect who prefer for their excel sheets made by men, regardless of gifting.
I have come to picture gender, giftings, and the church like this:
It’s not an accurate representation because it will vary church-to-church how many men and women there are. In addition, the nature of leadership is that there are fewer leaders than followers. So, even though the four areas are divided fairly evenly, in reality, they vary.
Many churches and Christian organizations serve two of the quadrants well. If you are a man gifted in leadership, you will not need to fight for a place to be heard or use your gifts. If you are a woman gifted in other areas than leadership, you too will have a natural outlet for your gifts.
Let’s pause and be grateful that a significant part of the church is being used.
I need this reminder because I can become so annoyed over what isn’t working, that I can forget to acknowledge what is.
Here is where I have had a paradigm shift in the last few months as I have looked at my own journey. Women gifted in leadership are going to lead. They just are. We just are. I just am.
We want to lead within systems we are a part of, but if doors do not open, we will look for a window, crawl out of it, and start leading something. If you are gifted in leadership, you will find ways to lead. Just as if you are gifted with excel sheets, you will find ways to make spread sheets for almost any situation. This is the nature of gifting. You are good at something, it is fun for you, and because you are interested and motivated, you become better at it.
So, as much as I wish the church, in general, would make for space to utilize women in leadership, if women aren’t used, they will find a way to use their gifts outside of the church. Yes, they will be frustrated and disappointed, but they will find ways to use their skills for kingdom good. They will find places to preach, teach, baptize, cast vision, equip, and mobilize.
The shift within me became complete when I stopped talking about women gifted in leadership and started talking extensively about the oft-overlooked quadrant: men gifted in areas other than leadership. This is why I no longer talk about the “women’s issue.” To me, it is the human issue.
Even though it was never blatantly said, growing up I got the message that men are elders because elders lead and women are deacons because deacons care for people. On rare occasions there was a woman elder or a couple of men deacons, but I almost always felt shame for the men who were deacons.
I have never said this out loud because if I did, I can hear the pushback, “No, no, you’re wrong Amy, anyone can have any role.” Even in the pushback I hear whispers to keep family secrets. Anyone can have any job. There is no discrimination here.
I am starting to give more space when I sense shame. Why do I sense it?
Many Sundays, as I sit in a service, I wonder how it is forming the girls and boys around me who will become the young women and young men serving the church in the future. What indirect messages are they getting?
We have one woman elder right now and another member of our church said to me, “She’s not bad. For a woman.” He caught himself and corrected what he said. “I mean, she’s a good elder.”
I do not want my nieces to believe as they step into their giftings that they are “not bad, for a girl.” But I know my nieces. I see the environment they are being raised in and they are going to be fine. They are going to shine because they already do.
So even more, I think about the boys I know. I think about the messages they are receiving and I want their lights to shine as brightly as my nieces.
For those who are gifted in areas other than leadership, I want them to shine in the church and not have to look outside because we have too narrowly defined what they “should” do.
Men, both budding and fully formed, we need you. We don’t need you just to lead us; we need you to be with us. We need you, because without you, we are missing a vital limb. We are not ourselves.
We don’t need you to be shamed in to being other than who God made you. Jesus never, never, motivated through shame or indirect scolding. Instead, he spoke directly about what needed to change and invited people to be engaged in the life of the body.
I can hear him say, “Go and do likewise.”
Thank you, Amy, for saying this so well. Yes and yes.
Solidarity, sister! :)
Leslie Verner says
Amen to all of this. Just reading it is empowering. Well done;-)
Thank you, Leslie :)
Very well said, Amy. Hard to get our minds around real leadership (“Are you prepared to drink the cup I drink?”) What if we trained our children to ‘take up a towel and wash the feet of others’ rather than determine their gifting and then struggle to be recognized for it? To push their sense of ‘Self’ out of the middle so that they simply learn to discern the heart and actions of Jesus in their midst and do what He does? Perhaps we have made too much of our structures and positions and have missed the Life of Christ moving and ministering one to another in our midst….
Hi Corky, I’m so glad you commented :). I don’t think it is mutually exclusive to take up a towel (serve) and have a sense of self. After I read this, I was gardening and thought about the sense of self a daffodil has, or the bleeding heart plant, or the tulips. It is there very sense of self that added to the beauty of the garden. Their beauty is the way that they work together to make a garden.
Also, I think there is a difference between desiring to have a place to use gifting and being recognized for it.
Hi Amy. This is SO good. You are so right. A woman with leadership giftings or any other gifting can find so many places to practice that outside of the church, if she can’t practice it there. The internet especially has opened up ways for women to find their own place and shine. It’s the route I’ve decided to take for myself for now, and there’s lots of excitement in that. To all women out there, what God’s put in you can burn and shine…if you’re not sure how or where…just ask him. Let’s think outside the ‘boundaries’ of the ‘church’. Have you heard of this book on the subject: ‘The Black Swan Effect’ by Felicity Dale? It’s great.
Me too Joanna :). The internet has been a game changer in a lot of ways. I have read “The Black Swan Effect” — I’m pretty sure from your recommendation at VA :)! Have you read The Resignation Of Eve: What If Adam’s Rib Is No Longer Willing To Be The Church’s Backbone?
by Jim Henderson and George Barna? The interviewed a lot of women and found that some are making peace within the church by seeking roles outside of it, some are advocating for women within, and sadly — some are leaving the church.
Shine! Yes :). That is a good word to us all!