She needs you to stop fudging the issue

“Employees who experience role clarity are 53% more efficient and 27% more effective at work than employees who have role ambiguity”

Recent research shows that clarity in the workplace is essential for workers. I’ve been wondering if the same is true for the church?

For decades I’ve seen women sent by their church to work abroad, they end up leading, pioneering & teaching in churches. Yet when back at their home church they are barely allowed to do more than give an interview. Am I alone in observing this?

Maybe you’ve experienced this yourself? Within a parachurch organization you’re free to lead and yet within your own church these opportunities don’t present. Or perhaps you’re invited to teach at the church plant but not at the main church. Or maybe its inconsistency in another area.

In this blog I’m not talking about how much women are asked to do when they’re home on furlow, I’m also not addressing specific theological positions on women in ministry. What I’m questioning here is inconsistency within a theological framework. I want to honour and respect different view points of the role of women in the church. But I want to question inconsistency on the role of women in church and I want to communicate what it feels like.

Theological inconsistency

I’m interested in looking at inconsistency in women’s roles within the church. Here are a few examples from friends that shows a level of inconsistency…

I was encouraged to go on a summer team, be involved in public evangelism yet when I returned home, I wasn’t even allowed to give a report in the church service, a male youth leader read it on my behalf”

“I’m financially supported by my church to help church plant in Europe, as part of this I lead, teach and train others, back in my sending church this just simply wouldn’t be allowed”

“My church regularly invites me to speak at the plant church, they haven’t once invited me to speak at the main church”

This isn’t a new problem. By 1900 there were two missionary women in China for every male missionary. These Western women found themselves gifted for work in teaching and evangelism in ways which would have been impossible in their churches at home. Valerie Griffiths writes “In the 1900s If the call of God came to women in Britain, it had to be lived out in a Western culture cluttered with centuries of history and traditions that sometimes had little to do with the Christian faith, but constrained them as Christian women. In China away from all that, they were set free to  take up opportunities of service unknown in most of their home churches today”. Not less than everything. So the problem isn’t new, its been around for awhile.

Because women couldn’t serve in churches they went overseas. If women can’t serve in their home church, then let them serve abroad this was the ethos of church leaders and missionary’s from the 1800s. I’m sure the church outside of the UK has benefited from many gifted and Godly women. But for me there are many problems with this. As Eddie Arthur in a recent tweet replied “This says so much about how we view both women and Christians outside of the west.”

But to keep focused, I want to concentrate on the impact inconsistency has on women in the church. How does this inconsistency and lack of clarity effect women?

How inconsistency makes me feel

Here is what some women have said about this lack of clarity and how it impacts them…

“Its extremely demoralizing for a teenager. I’m sure its even more frustrating for grown women who only want to tell everyone about the work they are doing for God

I’ve seen this a lot and have been really confused by it. If a church holds the view that it is not for women to lead and stand by this in their church in the UK, why is is ok for them to send a woman out to lead a church often in a less affluent and more dangerous part of the world? It leads me to wonder if there is a very concerning view that people of other countries and cultures are ‘less than’ adult men and women in the west and therefore it’s ok for a woman to teach them”

When a church is inconsistent I find it frustrating. It can definitely leave women in a position where they have uncertainty about what they are ‘allowed’ to do in a church, meaning they won’t volunteer for fear of that being met with suspicion because what they have volunteered for turns out not to be for women…”

So this lack of clarity rather than being generous is actually a problem.

Sitting on the fence about the role of women in the church may appear generous, but from the ground it is demoralizing, frustrating & confusing

But what about you, how does it make you feel? Take some time out to think it through, journal write down your experience.

Getting clear

Kadi Cole has written a book called – developing female leaders. She says the most important thing you can do as a leader is to get clear on what you believe. She talks about the gap of untapped potential. To discover this you need to do some reflecting. Have a look at the graph below. Firstly there is your line of what you think theologically, under that is the line of what women think they should be doing, and under that is the line of what women are comfy doing. Kadi talks about the importance of being clear both in your theology and aligning your practise with your theology. This picture taken from Kadi Coles book is very helpful.

But what about you? These blogs are not meant to air the churches dirty laundry. They are meant to be helpful. Have a look at this image above and fill in the table below with your own examples.

Untapped potential or a gift you would like to explore usingYour churches
theological line
Where are these gifts currently used in the churchWhere you think
the line is
Where you feel
comfy leading
Where is there untapped potential with your gifts?

Teaching the Bible
You can teach kids, youth, women & in home groupKids, youthYou can teach kids, youth, women & in home groupKids, youth & womenI’d like to lead small group but feel too nervous. There are no opportunities to speak to women, but I would if I could.

From the table above
Where is there inconsistency?
What lies behind this inconsistency?
What are the short term and long term changes that could be made? What surprises you?

This topic can be painful it can be demoralising, frustrating and confusing. Lets pause before we finish and remember one of the stories where Jesus is found interacting with women.

Luke 10 38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

I love this passage. There are three things I notice…

1. Jesus is clear but not arbitrary – few things are needed, indeed only one. Mary chose to sit and listen to Jesus the Rabbi, Martha was still serving herself, thinking that Jesus wanted her works rather than her ears and her heart. I’m not suggesting you need to write long essays of what your church does and doesn’t believe. Sometimes long lists of what women can and can’t do just become so arbitrary. I’d encourage you to see the simplicity of what Jesus is doing here.

2. Jesus bucked cultural norms – when the culture was screaming that women should be in the kitchen preparing food for their guests, Jesus did the opposite, he invited Martha to stop worrying and working and instead to listen and learn from him.

3. Jesus valued women as disciples – There are two unusual things here. Firstly that women were viewed as disciples at all. At that time women would not have been allowed to come and learn. Secondly a disciple would have chosen their Rabbi to learn from not the other way round. Here, very unusually, the Rabbi himself chooses Mary to be his disciple. This would have been outrageous. But what an affirmation to Mary, you too are called to steward the earth and go and make disciples in my name.

As I reflect on inconsistency in the church and listen to the stories of friends, I find it speaks of a lack of care and lack of consistency to the Bible. Not just that its demoralizing, frustrating and confusing. For centuries we’ve sent women to make disciples across the world, but for some reason, doing that on our own doorstep is not allowed.

Most of all I would love for churches and women to sit together and read this. Take time to evaluate where you’re at with inconsistency with women’s roles in your church, listen to how that makes women feel. Pray hard, study the scriptures and work out how to take that untapped potential and use it to build up your church.

Read more in this series

She needs you to fix the leaky pipe

She needs brothers for her to speak in your church

She doesn’t feel good enough to serve in your church

She needs help failing in order to serve in your church

Suggested reading

Worthy by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Eric Schumacher – Beginning from Genesis and working all the way through the storyline of the Bible, Worthy demonstrates the significant and yes, even surprising, ways that God has used women to accomplish His kingdom goals. Because, like men, they are created in His image, their lives reflect and declare His worth. Worthy will enable and encourage both men and women to embrace this true and lofty vision of God’s creation, plan, and their value in His eyes.

Developing Female leaders by Kadi Cole – How to More Effectively Leverage the Leadership Gifts and Abilities of Women in Your Church. What would your church look like in the future if it were to maximize the dormant gifts of the women God has brought there? In Developing Female Leaders, Kadi Cole, twenty-year veteran in leadership and people development, offers a practical strategy to help church and organizational leaders craft cultures that facilitate the development of women as volunteer and staff leaders.

Published by Nay Dawson

Hello and thank you for reading my blog. I'm married to Jon and live in Southampton with our two girls. I work with IFES Europe as their Regional Training Co-ordinator, training staff and students across Europe. In 2019 I set up Passion for Evangelism a network of creative, public female speakers. I'm a Trustee for the Cowrie Scholarship Foundation raising essential funds for disadvantaged Black British Students. I'm also a Trustee for Friends International helping welcome International students to the UK. In response to the war in Ukraine I helped set up Ukraine Connect matching refugees and hosts across Europe

One thought on “She needs you to stop fudging the issue

  1. Nay, really good article. The inconsistencies you point out are glaring and I’m not sure those who impose them are even comfortable articulating why they draw the arbitrary line where they do. i could add a few more stories of inconsistencies- but I think you have enough! It was interesting that most of what you address here has to do with the restrictions placed on women speaking, teaching or being ‘up front’. That is where it is most obvious, but of course it has implications elsewhere also.

    In terms of the complementarian/egalitarian debate you (maybe deliberately) didn’t address the one area where I think the complementation position is the strongest and that is in the area, not of preaching or teaching, but of eldership / local church governance. IF (and it is a big IF, ) church elderships adopted a biblical rather than worldly view of power and saw their role not as control or gate-keeping, but as servanthood and equipping; and if they thought it was integral to their position to ensure that all members, women and men, flourished in their roles (a little like the analogous relationship between husband and wife) then I think there would be less disagreement about male elderships.

    Too often when I have heard male eldership being critiqued it has been a case of “you have the power and we want it” rather than “you are exercising your power wrongly, how about you start taking responsibility for what this role demands of you and equip the women of the church to exercise their God-given gifts (including in other areas of leadership)!

    In my last pastorate I had no difficulty trying to recruit women for the eldership because I thought our polity was so far removed from the biblical model that there was no biblical reason not to include men and women. However, what I found frustrating was that in at least 3 cases amazingly gifted women turned it down ‘on biblical grounds’. I had to respect that and these are women who would make brilliant mentors for your network and who teach the bible at women’s events. I’ll be interested to see how those differences and dynamics play out in a context like Passion for Evangelism because I wouldn’t want to see either side be impoverished by the absence of the other.

    In terms of your title, I agree that inconsistencies need to be called out, but I’m not sure this is the same as “sitting on the fence”. In an earlier blog of mine I tried to show how, regardless of your position, if you are true to the spirit of the NT and the primary doctrines of Scripture you should still be finding ways of affirming and encouraging women’s ministry. But when it comes to what the NT actually teaches about church polity I probably am on the fence, and I am not going to go to the stake over something I may change my mind on tomorrow. What I am passionate about, however, and what I would go to the stake for is ensuring that the women you mention in your article – and all others- are given the opportunity to flush where they are called.

    Keep it up sister


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: