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Commentary Let Her Lead Life Ministry Theology

The Gift of Strong Women

Strong women aren’t a problem to be managed or eliminated. They are a gift to the church, especially its men.

My wife, Carly, is a strong woman. I knew this before we even started dating because we did ministry side-by-side as college students, especially with international students.

Sure, she was on the quieter side, but when she spoke, no one wondered where she stood on an issue.[1]

I was never threatened by Carly’s strength, her candor, her voice. At least I don’t think so. That all seemed quite normal to me because I’ve been surrounded by strong women my entire life.

My mom, my sister, both my grandmothers, my mom’s sister and sisters-in-law, my cousins (most of whom walk with Jesus). The women from our church in New York I mentioned in my last post.

All of them were strong.

Decisive. Fearless. Convicted. Dedicated.

Every single one of them.

So much for biblical womanhood.

This is Carly, too.

Throughout our marriage, Carly has been gracious and patient as I’ve learned to listen to her voice, understand her perspective, heed her warnings, take her advice, and yes, submit to her expertise or opinion often. (I’m still learning, of course. I wish I could say that I always do these things!)

Carly’s devoted to Jesus and incredibly gifted and capable. She’s passionate about serving the church and more than willing. We share similar interests, perspective on biblical issues, and even some spiritual gifts. But in terms of personality, style, demeanor, and how we process and act on information, we’re quite different. In fact, we’re pretty complementary in that way.

When it came to ministering as partners in a local church setting, however, it was somewhat of a mystery that plagued us both.

As a complementarian couple in a complementarian church, what does ministry look like together?

Or should that even be a thing?

We thought it should. Theologically, we were in a bind. What happens when the wife is strong and has spiritual gifts traditionally “reserved” for males?

So during the interim period when our local church was looking for its next lead pastor, Carly and I sensed that role was not for me. God seemed to be calling us to pursue a new ministry together.

As it turned out (terrible story telling, I know, but we have to keep this thing moving), God provided an opportunity for us to join the staff of the organization we were involved with in college–Cru.[2]

Cru, which is not a local church and exists outside the bounds of a particular church denomination, doesn’t take a theological stance on gender roles. Functionally, however, it does: women can lead in any capacity. Currently, the director of campus ministry in the U.S. is a woman.

Serving in a parachurch organization would not only give us both a chance to minister the gospel, but would allow Carly to exercise her gifts, teaching in particular, without violating our complementarian convictions in a local church (which, as I mentioned in my last post, were already crumbling).[3]

Strong women aren’t a problem to be managed or eliminated. They are a gift to the church, especially its men.

As we’ve navigated local church and parachurch ministry as a couple, I got glimpses of what Carly had seen and experienced in the male-dominated church world through her distinctive feminine eyes.

It was like Ben Stein showed up and gave me a drop of Clear Eyes to refresh my theological vision. Godly women aren’t simply called to be silent submitters to ego-fragile men. Seeing this led to thinking long and hard about how the gifts of women–especially leadership, wisdom, discernment, and teaching (those traditionally reserved for men!)–actually fit in most churches today.

As if all that wasn’t enough, God has given Carly and me two daughters who are nothing if not strong. One takes charge; the other will not back down. What’s more is that they love Jesus. They are increasing in their knowledge of the Bible and understanding of the gospel every single day.

I had to ask myself, What if they want to preach? teach? lead? What if they are mature, able, and willing to do so? What would I say to them?

Not only did these strong women prompt these important questions, they helped me see that their gifts, skills, maturity, and passions were necessary and essential in the church.

Strong women aren’t a problem to be managed or eliminated. They are a gift to the church, especially its men.

Having these strong women in my life–my wife being the foremost–opened my eyes to the major blind spots and inconsistencies in the complementarian framework I had failed to see for so long.

We’ll look at these in tomorrow’s post. Then (finally!), we’ll turn to the biblical text to see what it has to say about women in ministry and how we might consider making applications in our context today.


Notes

[1] I certainly didn’t wonder where she stood when she called me out for basically treating her like a girlfriend even though we weren’t officially dating. But that’s a story for another day.

[2] Cru is the ministry formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ.

[3] “Parachurch” is a term used for ministry organizations that are not a local church. Even a seminary or publishing company associated with a denomination would be considered a “parachurch.” The prefix “para” comes from the Greek word para meaning “alongside” or “beside.” A parachurch ministry, at least in theory, is designed to function alongside or in cooperation with local churches. Still, we continued to wonder: if women weren’t allowed to teach men in a church setting, why should they be able to in a parachurch/campus ministry setting? It’s interesting to note that this idea seems to be unique to Protestants, however. The Roman Catholic Church, it seems to me, considers their seminaries, schools, hospitals, humanitarian ministries, etc. part and parcel of their mission. Read more here and here.