There’s a verse in the book Jeremiah, part lament/part declaration/part confession. It’s these words:
his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.
I read about the comments from John MacArthur regarding responding to the setup “Beth Moore” with “go home.” with a mix of dread, frustration and disappointment. (I will spare you the details and if it’s going to trigger you don’t watch it. a comment: “the feminists have won” followed by laughter and applause. Just know that it’s condescending and gross and maligns any movement toward unity and diversity, including a strange comment that pits any minority group as against the gospel because it’s choosing “empowerment” over the gospel.) Ironically, this all happened at a conference called “Truth Matters.” Yes, it certainly does.
Here’s the truth. Mr. MacArthur, I don’t know what feminist means to you. I am not a feminist, I am an advocate for people. I am a woman called to preach, with a fire in my bones that I cannot shut out. I follow in a long line of women, including Deborah, the woman at the well, Priscilla, and Junia–(and that’s just in the Bible.) My deep concern is not just because of how these comments–and the men around him who set up those comments–and those in the audience who snickered at his comments–not just because of how that appears to the world when those called to be spiritual leaders show up with condescension and superiority rather than humility and grace–but because it’s another nail in the coffin of white male superiority, another representation that tempts everyone outside of that category to see “them” as the problem.
And then the Enemy has succeeded, because divisiveness as won, and anyone on the outside of that group who have become used to being marginalized and opposed–well, the temptation is to flip that same anger onto another people group–and the vicious cycle of blame, condemnation and divisiveness continues.
And my heart breaks for women, for men and women of color, for everyone who has a reason to believe that they aren’t good enough, aren’t white enough, aren’t male enough to claim the spiritual authority that God has given them, to bring grace and love and truth to a whole world dying to hear the good news of Jesus.
I am a female teaching elder in a conservative, evangelical denomination. My denomination is full of both egalitarians and complementarians. There are multiple regions within my denomination who will not ordain female elders or pastors. But yet, we remain united as one body.
I believe that a person’s stance on women in leadership is not a salvation issue. But personally–to stay within a body, to stand shoulder to shoulder with men who do not agree with my calling or ordination–it’s a challenge. It’s uncomfortable. It makes me insecure. It challenges me to ask what really matters. Also–I imagine it’s uncomfortable for them too. It imagine it challenges them to respect and appreciate me. And they do it. And I love them and stand with them. Differences challenge all of us to face what it means when we choose not to tribalize and segment ourselves, parsing and dividing into smaller and smaller groups where I can surround myself with people who look like me, vote like me, read the Bible like me, worship like me, believe in everything I believe in and do it exactly the same way, from invocation to benediction.
Tribalizing is easier. It is more comfortable. I can hold on to my own sacred cows and petty grievances, and everyone around me will uphold them with me. I can major in even the most minor of issues and ignore a world that is violent, dark, and in pain. It allows me to ignore the high, holy and painful calling to sacrifice myself and my own self-driven interests for the greater good of the Gospel.
This week I was at a church planter’s retreat (PSA: I am not planting a church) and I stood side by side with male pastors who are complementarian in their theology. I was asked multiple times for my feedback on the retreat, and when I gently (and with great trepidation) pointed out that there was a bias toward language about “pastor’s wives” and “us guys”…these men graciously apologized, humbly submitted to my feedback and pledged to do better next time. These men, who do not agree theologically, chose the higher calling to love, mutual submission in the Lord, and the belief that God is the one who calls us, and we can disagree on things and still remain unified. I will always stand by that. In a world fueled by YouTube clips and Twitter arguments, it may seem rare. But I am here to bear witness to the fact that it can happen.
Church, we can do this. But it’s going to take mutual submission and love from all of us.
If you are a woman ministry leader reading this who is tired, discouraged, and tempted to believe the whole world is against you: it is time to return to the feet of Jesus. Remember that your calling is not affirmed (or denied) by any leadership structures of this world, including the structures of the earthly church. Our ordination is decreed by God and given by Him alone. If God has put the fire of His word in your heart, it cannot be denied. You do not need a position, a paycheck, or a platform to be the woman God has called you to be. Jesus opens doors that no man can shut. If you are in a complementarian church and the gospel is being preached and you are using your gifts, then be a part of your community with all of your heart. But do not allow an earthly structure to stand in the way of your calling. If you, like Jeremiah, have a fire in your bones that cannot be denied–you must submit to it. And God will make a way. Stay humble, stay soft. Confess your anger and your insecurity. Stay with Jesus, who is well-acquainted with being misunderstood, misinterpreted, maligned and denied by earthly power authorities and yet He still loved and showed up with spiritual power and authority, in the form of humility and grace. It didn’t stop your Savior and it needn’t stop you.
If you are a male ministry leader or pastor, may I share a word with you? You are already surrounded by powerful women. Most likely, a significant part of your journey to faith involves a woman of spiritual authority, in the form of a mother, sister, youth leader or boss. Please understand that she may seem strong, but she needs you to advocate for her, especially in the rooms and circles where she is not welcome. Do not let the power and confidence of the women around you make you insecure. This is not a zero-sum game. When you crucify your own ego and face your own insecurities, you will become softer and stronger.
Jesus said the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Do you have eyes to see the workers around you, the women with leadership and teaching gifts? Will you be strong enough to advocate for them, respect them, mentor them, open doors for them? Will you lay down your own comfort and security in surrounding yourself with those like you to actually pursue and advance the gospel of Jesus Christ? This is not a game. We are in a battle for the souls of those in our homes, schools and communities who are desperate to see people love one another well. You do not have to agree to be respectful, loving and kind. Our love is our currency. You are not defined by attendance records, giving, or how you exegete the Word. You are defined by love. “by this all will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Love is not conditional on the nuances of your theology about anyone. When’s the last time you affirmed a woman in your church or leadership influence for her gifts–and even more so, coached her, advocated for her, provided actual opportunities for her to grow?
And please, don’t tell her she’s beautiful, unless you are in the habit of saying the same thing to her male counterparts. She already knows and she doesn’t need to hear it from you. She wants someone to advocate for her, open doors, provide opportunities, and tell her that God has called her to her work.
Let us press on with grace and dignity. Let us remember that there are people all around us who are not only missing the opportunity to hear the gospel preached, but are also receiving a very clear message from Christians that we are just like the world–petty, divisive, power-hungry and insecure. Jesus called us to love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. Let us lead with our love, not with our pride, anger, insecurity or fear. God’s Word is a fire, and let’s make sure we are burning in love, not in hate or disdain.
We can, we should, we must.