Wrote this in response to a prompt about women in ministry recently, thought I’d share here…
The concept of “women in ministry” is so much more than just an abstract idea or secondary doctrine that to me. It’s about my actual life, to the very core of my being, as I am not only a follower of Christ who is convinced that my days on earth are to be spent serving Him and His people, I am also a woman. It’s been a deeply painful journey as a female to remain in the church for the last 12+ years of my life and receive messages, comments, and whispers from church members, including leadership, about how they limit my value and leadership ability, based solely on my gender. This path of “biblical womanhood” has many obstacles along the way, and to me, it’s been easiest to view this path through the lens of Scripture, and the different women that, while often unnoticed, do inhabit its pages. There is, within me, a deep resonance with two particular stories, and the distinct difference between these two women gives depth and meaning to how much I find connection with them to myself.
The first is the sinful woman from Luke 7:36-50. In this passage, Jesus is eating at the house of a Pharisee, and a sinful woman comes in, wets Jesus’ feet with her tears, wipes it with her hair, and anoints him with perfume. The Pharisee comments on her actions, noting that if Jesus really were a prophet, he would know what sort of woman was touching him, that she is a sinner. To that, Jesus reminds the Pharisees, and everyone, through a parable, about the truth he who is forgiven little, loves little, and she who has been forgiven much, loves much. To me, and to everyone who reads this story, there is no doubt about the sinfulness of this woman. Nowhere in the story does Jesus proclaim that she has not sinned, or that her faith outweighed her sins. In the same way, there is no place in my heart where I can convince myself that I’m sinless, or that I’ve ever done enough to counteract the weight of my sins. However, the message of Jesus’ grace is so beautiful here – it is in this sinful woman, marginalized by society, that Jesus redeems value and beauty and faith through Him. It is in me, a sinful woman, that Jesus is able to redeem my value, save my soul, and proclaim that I belong in His family, adopted and fully grafted in. As a part of His body, I read in Scripture that certain gifts have been apportioned to each of us, and nowhere in the passages about spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, 1 Peter 4, Ephesians 4) do I find gender specifications. My desire is to fully live out the gifts that I have been given – those that have been written into every fiber of my being in leadership, wisdom and teaching, and have been affirmed and recognized by leaders and mentors and friends in the body around me – just as that sinful woman, forgiven much, walked away from Simon the Pharisee’s house with a purpose and a vision to live a life of love in faith, as she had been commended.
The other end of the spectrum story that I’ve started to look to is of Deborah in Judges 4:4-10. Deborah is a prophetess and a judge of Israel, arguably one of the most powerful leaders in the nation at that time. There are no excuses or qualifiers given about her power, prestige, and authority. However, while she embodies her gifts and wisdom with a beautiful strength, she didn’t ignore it or pretend that gender wasn’t an issue. In the passage, she sends Barak to lead an army into battle, and he refuses to go unless she goes with him. In one of my favorite biblical responses, Deborah replies, “I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the LORD will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” She isn’t going to sugarcoat anything, nor is she going to avoid the spotlight – she is going to lead in exactly the way that God has created her to, despite some unfavorable responses that she will surely receive. I love this story, and find it so inspiring. I find encouragement in this, remembering that while God has surely been faithful to women all throughout time as He worked in and through them and their gifts, He never promises that gender isn’t going to be an issue. More specifically, it seems, is that gender isn’t an issue to Him, though it certainly is to others. It’s a task set before all women who find themselves in congregations where there is opposition to leadership in this way, to continue to trust in God’s faithfulness.
As Rachel Held Evans would describe, accepting my identity as “eshet chayil”, a “woman of valor”, is integral in my understanding of the value I have as a child of God. To me, it is clear that God values women, and I see no hierarchy of value between men and women. So, to me, women’s value, gifts, and identity within our Christian body is not, and cannot, be a mere secondary doctrinal issue – it’s a foundational concept for my life, for the kingdom purposes of the church, and for the lives of everyone in it.