Here’s the truth:
I am a woman, and I don’t know where I fit in the context of the church and ministry.
I have spent most of my life, not all but most, in fairly-to-very conservative evangelical churches. This is the dominant frame of reference I have to work with. And while my adult life has given me plenty of opportunities to see faith in new ways, wrestling through those kinds of big questions has not been a quick or easy process.
So this whole struggle is coming from a person who still identifies, in part, as a conservative evangelical. At 29 years old, I am a mutt when it comes to faith, but that world is my mama and her DNA is written into my genetic code. I don’t always agree with her, and I often wonder if I got switched with someone else at birth, but still. She’s my mama, and her words are heavy in my ears.
It’s a really easy thing to get mixed messages about where that limb of the Church places women, as far as leadership goes. For men, it feels very open-handed: whatever God calls you to do, do that. For women, it feels like there are a whole lot of conflicting distinctions as to what callings are acceptable, what leadership roles are okay for us.
Women can teach, but only other women and children. Women can teach mixed-gender groups, but only when a male co-teacher is present and active in the scenario. Women can write books and Bible studies, and men can read those books and Bible studies and learn from the women who wrote them, but her physical, real-life, verbal delivery of the exact same material isn’t okay. Women can teach mixed-gender groups in Bible studies, but not on Sundays and not from the pulpit, because that’s preaching, not teaching. Women cannot be pastors, under any circumstance. Women can go overseas and preach the gospel to anyone they come in contact with, but on American soil, it’s a different story.
See what I mean?
There are many parts of me that wrestle with this, and not from a place of wanting power or control or even to be perceived as “equal” to men. I think that’s one of the biggest misconceptions about women who struggle with the role of women in the church. While I know for sure that there are women who desire power and control, I can tell you from a very personal place that it’s not the case for all of us.
For some of us, Jesus is just All of the Big Things and we have All of the Big Feelings about him and we are literally ACHING to share it from every possible platform. With our words and with our actions and with our love. With everyone. Women, men, children, friends, strangers. And it feels so awkward and weird and hard that there seem to be so many limitations about how we can share all that stuff, and with whom. It is a truly disorienting disconnect. Like we’re exactly what we’re supposed to be, we’re truly mad about this man who flipped the entire world upside down with the biggest of all Loves. And at the same time, we’re not what we’re supposed to be because we don’t know how to manage it within the boundaries we’ve been told are acceptable. We’re not what we’re supposed to be because we’re not 100% sure that we buy into the boundaries at all. We’re not what we’re supposed to be because we want our voice and our Jesus-story to matter, to be heard. Because we believe someone else, maybe even a man, needs to hear it. Because we believe that we were made (as women) in God’s image, and we see His heart in a uniquely feminine way that’s real and true and valuable. Because we don’t know how to see God’s image in its entirety until we see it from all angles.
And I know this isn’t the case for all women. There are these astonishingly beautiful women in my life, women who are wives and mothers and lead women’s ministries and children’s church and support their husbands in their ministries, and they are absolutely stunning pictures of God’s image. They are in their niche, doing exactly what they were created to do, even when it’s not easy. Please don’t misunderstand me. I do not in any way think that women who fit easily into that profile are women who love Jesus any less than I do. Not for a second. They are some of the most inspiring, generous, courageous, passionate people I know and they are changing the world by being exactly who they are. They’re warriors. And I know that they are fighting battles of their own, insecurities of their own. Feeling like their gifts are insignificant or wrong or don’t matter much.
And that, I understand completely. Anytime we compare our gifts or callings to those of another, it can feel very much like we don’t belong. For women who don’t fit seamlessly into the shape of wife, mother, women’s ministry, children’s ministry, it can feel as though we’re prideful and selfish and engaged in a power struggle that’s really just indicative of our own sinful desires. When genuinely, even in our worst moments, at the bottom of our hearts, this is the issue: We. Freaking. Love. Jesus. He has messed us up, and put us together, and he is creating and recreating us. And we suck at boundaries, and we feel like if there’s one place they shouldn’t even exist, it should be in our love for and sharing of Jesus.
So what about you? Are there any places in your life where your passions and loves mean that you don’t really know where you fit?