There’s a road near my house that I call a highway, but considering the expanse of my small town, it’s probably more accurately deemed a road. I live in a small town with many rivers that both surround and pass through our town. Thus, many destinations can only be traveled to by using one or two roads that go over the river, somewhat limiting the number of paths that can be taken when trying to get around town.
On my path home from work and the college where I minister, I take a road that goes behind the hospital and borders a levy which has recently been raised to prevent flooding with the high rise of the river. On this very busy road for our small town, road work has created even more traffic, removing an entire lane as they repair some damages. Despite the congestion in this area and the delay, I still find myself taking this route home from work. Every time I get there and a couple minutes, if not more, are added to my journey home I ask myself why I took this road. Why didn’t I choose to take another way over the river to get home? Why do I keep doing this and keep asking myself why?
But I think I travel taking the same turns and seeing the same sights because I leave work and head for home on autopilot, sometimes not even thinking, driving my car out of habit rather than mindfulness, muscle memory rather than striving to make the best decision. And I think the Church has responded to women in many of the same ways and I have seen businesses do the same. As the Church, these bodies of people of which I know and love, we have moved forward seeking to glorify God, make disciples, and steward what has been entrusted to us often waking up to face each day in muscle memory rather than mindfulness, charging forward in tradition and familiarity, unfortunately overlooking the important steps to make the best choice.
We have reached a time when more women work outside of the home than ever before, women are more educated than ever before, and women are taking positions of leadership and power in every sphere except in many of our churches. But we move forward in how we have always operated, forgetting to be sure sermon language accounts for women’s experiences, only using male pronouns in our sermons and prayers, and hosting entire worship experiences, in which, the only time a woman is invited on stage is to sing.
We charge forward in our churches, hosting weekly meetings where important decisions are made and under the table each and every decision maker’s shoes look the same. No women are invited to the table. One in three homes are fatherless, yet the best answer women are offered in many traditions I am more acquainted with, when pursuing leadership is that their homes are represented by the man in their home who can serve as a deacon or elder.
We consistently offer inadequate excuses as to why women are asked to serve in the discipleship of children and youth where they serve so faithfully, yet when an individual reaches 18 or older a woman no longer has the authority to teach or disciple them. I have been told women are too busy focusing on their families to help teach an adult discipleship group. I have been told “we wouldn’t want to get near the line of women discipling men” in groups of predominantly women that men fluctuate in and out of. I have been told the place for this is in women’s ministry, yet many churches still do not have a women’s ministry or if they do, their leader can only reach the “director” level rather than minister level both in compensation and authority. Furthermore, I have never experienced commentary on Biblical Manhood or discipleship of men to only be reserved for Men’s ministry.
I sit in your services every Sunday. I listen to your sermons and read your books. I am a woman in your seminary classes, pursuing equal education and reading the same textbooks. I attend the same conferences, taking notes under the same speakers. And on Sunday mornings I almost always wait in line to use the restroom, while at ministry conferences I have almost never waited in line for a women’s restroom.
Even in writing this I am hearing messages I have been told. I have been literally walked through how to “write an e-mail to a man” changing my complete thoughts into bullet points. I have been groomed on how to carry myself in meetings with men or simply in entering their offices as I walk an unnecessarily delicate line as a woman walking in obedience to God’s calling in my life.
So as I have been trained in these things, as I have been asked to teach on Sunday morning and stand to the side of the pulpit as to not take away from its sacredness due to my God-given gender, pastors would you do the work of mindfulness rather than traveling through your ministry on autopilot. Here are some bullet points of recommendations:
- Be mindful of pronouns.
Consider using phrases like “men and women”, “individuals”, or “people” rather than only masculine pronouns in your message and teaching.
- Include women in your leadership teams.
Hear their perspective on key decisions. Women comprise over half of Church population, yet are rarely brought to the conference room table. Look around at the shoes beneath your table and if they ever all look the same, be very concerned. Be sure that the woman who is best suited to contribute based on the matter at hand is brought to the table, not just someone’s wife to claim a woman was in the conversation.
- If you are going to talk about manhood, talk about womanhood.
I have heard countless messages on Biblical masculinity, yet every message I have heard solely on womanhood has taken place in a context of only women. And if you do preach on womanhood, be sure you run your exegesis of controversial passages by a woman whose theology you trust. If you do not know a woman whose theology you trust, be very concerned.
- Interact with women about your messages.
They may be able to offer insight, metaphors, and ideas you could have never come up with yourself. Be sure this does not only include married women. People are marrying later in life and if your only examples of women are mothers, again many women in your church context will feel underrepresented in your sermon. To stick to my guns, I shared this post with 5 men whose theology I trust to hear their feedback and perspective which reshaped key parts of my message.
- Invite women on stage.
As a discipler of girls, each Sunday when no woman is seen reading the Bible, teaching, praying, sharing her testimony, or meaningfully serving in any way, feels extremely defeating when I am charging them to step up and claim their faith with authority. Girls and newly believing women along with seasoned women of faith need examples of women walking in their faith and they need to see them serving meaningfully in worship experiences.
- Meet with women.
I remember the first time I really understood that Jesus talked with women and it absolutely transformed my theology. I have experienced ministers avoiding eye contact with me and creating countless boundaries with women; yet, Jesus creates a safe place to hear from and honor women. Do not be afraid to meet with women and minister to them. There is an important difference between protecting women with your boundaries and communicating that their presence threatens your reputation. Communicate value by working together to create a forum for connection which protects both of you.
Despite how many times I take the same convenient road to my house and get caught in the same traffic, this does not make me a bad driver. In the same way, emulating the examples you were given and obeying the instruction you were offered does not make you a bad pastor and minister. While there are incredible strides to be made in how the Church stewards women, this is not to negate your incredible commitment and duty to the church you shepherd, often making sacrifices so many will never see or know.
But there are steps of mindfulness and inclusion which as we work together can help us more effectively represent and disciple the entirety of the Kingdom.
So let’s get the conversation started and learn together. Please share your thoughts below!