Should Women Lead No Matter What?
In December of 1972 Helen Reddy's song "I Am Woman" grabbed the top spot on the Billboard charts. Fueled by the energy of the women's liberation movement, "I am woman, hear me roar," became a unifying slogan for a generation of women. Sometimes for good, sometimes for ill. Personally, I've been a devotee of Reddy's words for many years as I happen to be a self-confident, sometimes over-bearing sort of gal who believes God has gifted and called women to places of leadership in our culture. It also just so happens that I was also born in December of 1972.
Most women in ministry leadership will tell us that leading as a woman is an unspeakable blessing and phenomenally exhausting. Female leaders are held to both the traditional standards of job performance and to an unspoken second standard that involves gender. When people ask "can she lead," they often mean two things. First, "Is she qualified?" And second, "Should a woman lead here?" This skeptical second guess, based solely on gender, grates on the very fibers of my soul. It pushes up a voice from inside of me that wants to scream "injustice!" It makes me want to step in and roar.
This burgeoning sense of unfairness can lead me to minister from a place of spiteful anger rather than joy. "I am woman hear me roar" can become my subconscious philosophy of women in ministry if I do not guard my heart against this sort of overwhelming anger. Most female leaders that I know did not set out to create division when they answered their call to lead. They stepped forward when it appeared God clearly called them, only to discover their opinions were somehow less valuable than their male counterparts, their job titles were belittling, or they ended up either unpaid or underpaid when compared to men holding identical positions.
This, of course, can fuel an angry heart in even the most peaceable woman, and this is where we start let anger bubble up or begin to question our calling. "Maybe we heard God wrong?" "What do all these people know about my calling that I don't?" So how can women champion a peaceful partnership and also manage the understandable anger that wells up over the fact that both sides of the partnership do not always play fair.
We must constantly remember that God's role for a female in leadership is less about helping her get what she deserves, via Helen Reddy, and more about bringing insight and wisdom to the Body of Christ, via Jesus. It is about offering the understated and uniquely female experience of God to the conversation of faith. But if we are not careful, sometimes it can feel a little bit like getting even.
I know I am not the only over-aggressive girlfriend out there. I constantly meet women who have faced such a painful and exhausting battle to simply exercise their gifts that they are understandably angry. They struggle to stop the momentum they've generated out of frustration, sort of like a workaholic forced into a two-week vacation. Being devalued and hurt becomes the expectation, reacting with self-indignant anger becomes the norm.
But God set men and women as equal partners from the very beginning. Both need one another to survive (woman from Adam's rib, and forever after, man from Eve's womb). God's best looks like men and women partnering with grace and wisdom and truth. But in many settings an awareness of this truth will nosedive into a volatile debate over a woman's call to lead. This argument is so potent that it threatens to alienate congregants, split churches, and cause outsiders to question the rationality of the Christian faith. Who wants to worship with people who have such thick tension you can barely wade through it? Just because God gave a leader her voice does not mean she should exercise it loudly regardless of the cost.
There was a time I would have suggested women should lead no matter what. "Move over and let me teach them about equality in Christ," I demanded. But along with all the hurt and angry female leaders I know, I have met other strong, wildly gifted women who know beyond a doubt they are leaders. But in submission to their situation and to the people they pastor, they sit on the sideline until God raises them from the bench. Not because their job as a woman is to submit to men, but because their job as a Christian is to submit to one another. I've discovered that ministry is less being heard and more about helping people hear the Word of God. Which sounds so blatantly obvious and simple, but the politics of humanity are never as simple as they seem. On occasion, ministering from the sidelines is often what it takes to win a few games that ultimately point to the equality we find in our Creator.