“Jesus always showed the greatest esteem and the greatest respect for woman, for every woman, and in particular He was sensitive to female suffering. Going beyond the religious and social barriers of the time, Jesus re-established woman in her full dignity as a human person before God and before men.” ~ Pope John Paul II
For centuries, the debate has gone on concerning women’s role and status in church. Woman’s identity, status, position and authority has constantly been questioned and argued about for ages, especially concerning women in leadership. While the secular world is making room for women, giving them the right to vote, education, equal opportunities in employment, etc, the Church of Jesus Christ continues to struggle and sometimes fight over the ‘women issue!’
Many Christian leaders find the issue uncomfortable to deal with and would do anything to avoid it. Women who rise up to address the subject and to advocate for change are often described as Christian feminist. Thus Christian women who are using their qualifications, gifts, talents and abilities effectively and efficiently in the secular world, find themselves in church just warming the pews. Many have no desire or ambition to serve the Lord, apart from the ‘usual’ tasks often assigned to women, e.g., hospitality, stewarding/ushering, Sunday School and crèche. It is a real challenge to get women to rise up beyond those assigned tasks, to engage more effectively in true service to Christ. Those who, indeed, rise up are challenged by the limitations imposed on them or the level of control they encounter.
A Typical Experience
The leadership of the women’s department of a particular church approached me to support them in developing their ministry. For so long, the ministry had confined themselves to cooking, baking, knitting, pampering, etc. Even their retreats had given more priority to some of these things than spiritual growth and development. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with women incorporating these activities in their agenda. There is everything wrong, when these activities are constantly or deliberately given priority over spiritual growth and development!
Anyway, I explained to the leaders who approached me, that as a ministry their focus should extend beyond themselves and the walls of their church. I challenged them to help the women grow in the things of God and to stir up a desire in them to know and serve Him better. Of course, they were very pleased and excited and came up with a quarterly agenda that included spiritual growth, evangelism/outreach (targeting the area around the church) and fun (including pampering, massages, etc). We all thought it was a great plan and the women’s leadership team began to work to bring it to fruition.
Unfortunately, the Church leadership, which consisted only of men, felt very ‘uncomfortable’ with the agenda and decided to scrap it. To them the women were getting out of line and working outside the remit of the women’s ministry! Eventually that particular women’s ministry leadership team was removed from office, and replaced by a more ‘comfortable’ one.
The sad truth is that there are still leaders out there who would rather control and make every effort to keep women ‘in their place,’ than disciple, empower and release them to serve the Lord. This has resulted in many women being self and church focused rather than God’s kingdom focused and bearing very little fruit for the kingdom.
Again, the sad truth is that by limiting and under-utilizing the gifts and talents of women, the Church has operated under-capacity and not been fully effective. Unfortunately, this is one of the major setbacks to the Church’s fulfilment of Christ’s Great Commission (Matt 28:16-20). For far too long, more than half of God’s workforce has been made redundant, whilst the other half has struggled to get the work done. This too IS NOT GOOD…!!!
Two Types of Women in Church
The above incident is not an isolated one. Wherever I go, I meet two types of women in church:
- Those who have settled and cannot see beyond the walls of their churches. Some are indifferent, apathetic and self-focused. Many come because of a need they hope will be met by the church. Some of these women come to church on Sundays as part as their social life. There are others who, like the biblical Martha, get very busy in church, but are very religious and have no real personal experience of Jesus Christ and no revelation of His kingdom and their place in it!
- Then there are those who are hungry and want more from God. There is a frustration in their hearts, as the feel there must be much more for them to do for the Lord. These women are often labelled as rebellious or troublemakers.
The Issue at Stake
However, a careful look at the issue at stake highlights a fundamental problem in the definition of our status as Christian women. The debate that has raged for centuries and has hindered many women has been about women’s status in Church. However, upon closer scrutiny it is very obvious that the issue is not just about the status of women in church. Underlining this debate must be a far higher and more crucial concern, that is, the status and identity of women in Christ.
The following points will explain what I mean…
- The argument about a woman’s place and position in God’s kingdom has, so far, been determined by the status and identity of women in Church. This has been based on specific instructions, seemingly given by the Apostle Paul, regarding the behaviour of some women in church, 1 Timothy Chapter 2. It appears these instructions, and a few others, have been the determining factor in how far women can go in pursuing the work of the kingdom.
- For so long, women have been told “You can only come so far in church because you are a woman. You can only do so much because of your gender. God has set the protocol and status quo, and you have to accept that”. Many have been vigilant in enforcing, what to them, are God’s boundaries and limitations set for women within the Church.
- God-given gifts, abilities, talents, grace, callings and anointing are non-consequential. What matters is that women stay and remain in their ‘place’ in church.
The question is this: must this continue to be the predominant factor in defining the role of women in the Body of Christ, whilst the Gospel remains hindered and un-preached and the world is perishing? I do not think so! I believe there is a far more vital and conclusive determining factor in the argument about women’s place and role, that is, THE STATUS AND IDENTITY OF WOMEN IN CHRIST!
You Must Remember You Are Baptist First
I had another experience which, though a bit funny, is still very sad. A few years ago, we travelled to a country in Africa to run our Free to Serve Discipleship Course. I will not tell you which country because this is not to expose them, but just to use the experience as reference. Over 200 women attended the training and we had a terrific week, looking at the things that hinder them as women, and teaching them about Jesus and the women of His time, how to overcome fear, submission, redemption, and the freedom Christ has given them to serve Him. Many of the women had travelled down from the villages and slept on the church floor all week in order to attend all the sessions. Many were delivered from strongholds, mindsets that had kept them bound and hindered. We all rejoiced and praised God for the freedom only Jesus gives.
On the last day of the conference, one of the leaders of the church was asked to come and give the closing remarks. He first asked me and my fellow ministers, “Which church do you attend?” He then turned to address the women and his next words shocked us!
“You see, none of these speakers are Baptist! I would like to caution you, whatever you have been taught this week, you MUST remember that you are Baptist first before anything else!”
As the bible says, SELAH!!!
To be continued
By Apostle Jennifer Abigail Wallace
THIS ARTICLE CAN BE USED BY PERMISSION BUT WITH REFERENCE TO AUTHOR