She asked if we could meet. As we sat across the table for lunch, she asked, “What does the Bible have to say about women in leadership?” I could tell by her body language this was not a theoretical question, but rather something that was causing her angst.
She continued to share what had happened at work and how she was confused by the mixed messages she’d received. She didn’t realize it, but I knew that she had encountered two different views on the role of women – what it means to be a Biblical woman. Worse yet, both people sending the messages were Christian business leaders whom she deeply respected.
Here’s the deal. She loves her job and her bosses and was excited about the new opportunity to train other women to become effective leaders. But she’s hit a wall of confusion – exactly what did that mean? To be a woman of faith and a woman leader?
On the one hand she’s hearing from her female friend who is a CEO of a fortune 500 company and married with children. Her friend is passionate about helping other women in the workforce learn how intergrade their faith, family, and work. On the other hand, her boss believes it’s best for women to stay home once they’ve had children. And he had set ideas of what a woman leader “looked like.” Upon her new job opportunity he said,
“We’re not interested in any ‘hear me roar – beat your chest’ women. We want women to learn to lead as women – women are more nurturing and gentle, etc.”
It was obvious this young woman across my table desperately wanted to “get it right.” Alas, why she came to me saying, “I don’t know any woman who knows the Scriptures as well as you do. What does the Bible say?” (I know she meant it as a compliment, but to be honest, I was deeply saddened by the statement. She should know many women to turn to!)
We didn’t have much time. I started with Genesis. That man and woman were made to be co-rulers over God’s kingdom. I moved to the Gospel – what Jesus accomplished on the cross and at the tomb. But ultimately my focus went to Jesus. I reminded her that the Bible doesn’t address what it means to be a Biblical woman. The Bible calls us to be “Christ followers.” That’s our call. And that means “eyes on Jesus.” He’s the best leader I know, so if I were she, I wouldn’t try to figure out “how a woman leads” but rather “how Jesus leads.” And I’d do that.
Follow him around. Then do what he did.
I walked away a bit disheartened. I could see how easy it could be for women like her, at such a young, impressionable age, to allow themselves to be put in a box – a box God never intended they live in.
My heart cries out for women to think more deeply when handed these kinds of messages. Is this really what Jesus says? Where is that in Scripture? Does that statement embrace the whole of God’s story or just a part?
In Half the Church, Carolyn Custis James writes about the plight confronting millions of women and girls around the world. The brutality, oppression and exploitation. She reminds the American Church that these women must be taken into consideration as we set out to understand what God has to say to us women:
“In our culture, the church has tended to concentrate on a tiny segment of the female population- a narrow, prosperous, protected, well-educated female demographic located in the comfortable midsection of human society. The prosperity we enjoy shapes both the questions we ask and the answers we embrace. And we – both the women who are asking and the Christian leaders who are defining the answers – are clueless that this is happening. We can ask questions like, ‘Do I plan to use my college degree or set it aside?’ and ‘Should I be a stay-at-home mom or work outside the home?’ But for the rest of the world, these questions are unimaginable luxuries.” (James, 36)
A week later I’m in a conversation with a woman around my age – middle age. She’s divorced with grown children and she’s run her own company most of her adult life. As we started to discuss church she said, “I attend Sunday worship but really I don’t fit into the Church.” She sees herself as “different from church women.” That’s an interesting statement in light of the fact that over 71% work and 51% of women live without a significant male in their life. Meaning? Most women work and many women aren’t married! If those are the numbers, how does she “not see herself” in the Church? She continued to say that men in her business tell her she’s more male than female, at which I almost came out of my skin. Those kinds of messages drive me crazy!
She’s assertive. She’s an owner of a large company. That doesn’t fit with what we Christians communicate about “womanhood.” But is this thinking Jesus thinking or is it cultural thinking?
Where does Jesus say men are assertive and women are not? In other words, why is that considered a male characteristic but not a human characteristic?
I told her, “You are not more male than female. You are fully female. You have a female body, a female mind, and a female soul. You can’t do anything other than be ‘female.’ So if you are assertive, it means women can be assertive. “
Here’s how I explained it in a bible study I taught in Dallas.
My heart breaks for the messages we receive (both men and women). Many of them actually promote bondage rather than what Jesus paid for on the cross. It’s time we become aware of those messages, take note of what’s being said, and become better thinkers by asking: are they really true? Is this really what Jesus meant for our lives?