Today, I was challenged in a sermon by one of the best preachers I get to hear on a regular basis. That preacher happened to be a woman. Rachel crafted a fantastic message that was funny at the right moments, insightful, vulnerable and challenging at the same time, which is not easy to do. I had sat in the sermon prep meetings and knew most of the examples she was going to use, I knew what she was going to do to wrap up the message and some of the ways that she would get there, but even knowing all of that, she put it together in a way that regardless of knowing what she was going to say, it still provoked and challenged me. That’s something only a skilled, gifted communicator is capable of doing.
If our church did not allow her to preach, we would be missing out on that gift. If she was relegated to only teaching children or women, I would have missed the challenge that I received today from her teaching, and so would the 50% of our congregation that happens to be the same gender as me.
The church that I grew up in didn’t have space for women to lead and teach in that kind of way. In fact, I don’t remember a woman ever even doing something such as serving communion. I don’t know if it was an official policy or a stated theological position, but it was just known that didn’t happen. They could teach my Sunday School class, but heaven forbid that they were allowed to pass out the elements of communion to the congregation, much less explain those elements or ever teach the congregation.
Several years ago, I remember bringing in a woman who taught at our church. In the packet she sent before she came, she asked if she was allowed to quote the Bible while she taught, if she could stand behind the podium or needed to be in front of the stage, and if what she was doing was allowed to be called teaching or if we needed to simply call it her “sharing” instead. Apparently those are all things she’s been asked to do at churches that she has been invited to speak at before, so as to not appear to be teaching.
A friend told me once about a marriage series that the Pastor at his church was preaching. He had asked his wife to share one of the messages with him, in order to give a perspective from a wife on marriage. Sounded great since that is not always done in churches, where men typically dominate the preaching conversation about marriage (as well as everything else). When it came time for his wife to teach, however, he introduced her by saying, “Now men, my wife is coming up here to teach the women. You are welcome to listen in as she does, but you need to know that she is here to speak to the women.”
This has been on my mind this week. I don’t know if it’s because of what happened with The Nines Conference last week where there was only 4 women out of 112 speakers to church leaders. Or maybe I’m a bit more mindful of it as I read Sarah Bessey’s thoughtful and well-written book, Jesus Feminist.It could be because of what happened to a lament that April Diaz wrote about women in leadership in the church, which was stripped from a book before publication. Maybe it’s because I have a daughter, and I’ve been thinking about the kind of church environment that I want her to be able to grow up in and what it looks like as she grows to be able to be empowered to use the gifts that God has uniquely given her in the same way that I’ve been empowered to use mine.
Whatever the reason, this has been on my mind. As as I think about it, I am incredibly grateful for the church that I have the privilege to be a part of. I’m grateful for the honest wrestling with Scripture that has led us to recognize the contribution that women have in all places in the church. I’m grateful to get to sit under the teaching of a gifted communicator like Rachel. I’m grateful for the wisdom of all of our Elders, including two women. I am grateful for the ability for women to lead and serve based on their gifts and not their gender.
Yet, at the same time, I am grieved that in many places in the church, that is not reality. I’m grieved that not only are there incredibly gifted women who have no place to use their gifts in the church, but I’m grieved by what those churches are missing out on. The women in our churches have much more to contribute than just a perspective on “female specific topics”, and many churches are missing that. I’m grieved as I read the stories of women who feel silenced, oppressed and not valued in the churches that they love.
So, to my friends who lead churches where there are incredibly gifted women who don’t fit into the narrow roles that you have defined as acceptable for them. As you find yourself in battles as they try use their gifts, and you don’t have a place for them…Send them my way. We have a church full of strong, capable women serving and using their gifts, but I could always use even more role models for my daughter. I don’t know that I have a better answer than that. I can’t change your church, but I can keep making sure that there is space in the one I lead for people to serve with the gifts God has given them, regardless of gender.