Is the Church Treating Women Like People or Problems? by Emily Maust Wood
The rules about what women can and cannot do are dizzying.
As I’ve read up on the church’s opinion of women, I’ve started to get the sinking feeling that women in these discussions are no longer being treated fully as people, but have become a problem for the church. Think about it. How many times have you heard that someone – an actor, an organization, your church – has a “woman problem”?
The topic of women in ministry should instill a sense of excitement and promise; we should look forward to what God has in store for half the church. Instead, this topic is fraught with controversy. We delay other ministries while we debate what to do with women, and we often prevent them from growing and living fully within their calling because we’ve added layers of expectation for women that, frankly, aren’t always present in our expectations for men.
Despite what we say we believe about equality, the church tends to focus its (not always biblical) prescriptions for behavior on the female half of the congregation. Although we can hope that someday Christians worldwide will settle on one shared code of conduct (which, most conveniently, we hope will be the one we already align with), the truth is that we’re going to keep disagreeing. So while we continue to wrestle with the role of women, I don’t believe that we should ever disagree about the value of women.
Because we rarely face issues more honestly than when they’re in front of us, this starts in our local churches.
Here are some telltale signs that the women in your church are being undervalued.
1. Women are unwelcome or unheard at important church meetings.
If voting on the direction of the church with just half the church represented is your idea of a thorough decision making process, the unrepresented half will start to feel like subpar members. Including all members in these meetings doesn’t automatically guarantee fairness, however. Female friends of mine in male-centric church meetings have confessed to leaking their ideas to their husbands before meetings so that their husbands can share them instead. Unfortunately, the ideas that had been so easily dismissed when they came out of a woman’s mouth were more readily accepted when a man said them.
It pains me to think of all the women who’ve been shut down and ignored – and all their ideas lost. Besides being plainly unfair, we drastically limit ourselves when we tune women out.
2. You have no idea what strengths the women in your congregation have.
Women are too often informed of – not asked – what their gifts are. These “gifts” often have less to do with each woman being a uniquely equipped child of God and more to do with her leaders’ definition of classically feminine traits. While men might have more freedom to express their unique set of gifts (and that’s a wonderful thing), the list of service options for women in the church tends to be much shorter. The more that everyone is respected and known as an individual, the more vibrant and healthy a church can be.
3. There is no discipleship training, formal or informal, set in place for women.
Regardless of who’s on the payroll in your home church, everyone in the congregation should have the ability to serve and grow. If everyone can easily point out the male leaders (and their protégés) but can’t name the female leaders on the ground, this could be a sign that there’s a gross imbalance of influence within the church.
4. The only time you celebrate women are in their roles as wives and mothers.
To be clear, we should celebrate marriage and family and the superhuman abilities of parents to love, nurture, and function without sleep. I salute you. It’s a wonderful thing to find yourself safe and at home with people who love you, but this sense of belonging isn’t the exclusive territory of blood relatives.
Further, many people accomplish lots of amazing things besides getting married and raising babies, and we shouldn’t constantly remind them that, someday when they accomplish something that we decide is really significant, we’ll finally honor them. First homes and new apartments, cross country moves and coming home, artistic accomplishments and athletic feats, job promotions and acceptance into schools – our lives are full of cause for celebration.
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