For evangelical women who are discouraged (and the men who care)

"They have largely succeeded in keeping us from leadership," she said.  "And you must run into it on a regular basis. Why do you think it is bothering you now?"

My mentor's question came on the heels of me attending a church leadership event that was geared for white males. This event happened the day after the recent weekend the "Trump tape" hit the news media. I was still physically sick to my stomach over the degradation of women and others made in God's image that Trump espouses.

But I was soon to realize our first speaker at the church conference came from a tradition that does not allow women to be pastors.* I am a part-time female pastor, and our church was the only one with women in attendance. We have our lead pastor to thank for including us. There were five of us women, and about 60 or 70 males.

This, combined with the overt endorsement by many white male evangelical leaders of Donald Trump, even in the face of the radical devaluing of women, people of color, immigrants, and others, made something inside of me die.

In hindsight, something deep inside of me died while something else was set on fire.

As a female pastor and a person who deeply believes that so many of us are entrenched in this political season in a search for power—a thirst for power that Jesus warned us against—I am fighting an internal battle for sanity, hope, and the courage to face another day.

Pastor Abigail Gaines described her struggle and mine so well on The Junia Project blog this week: 

And is this not what a pastor does?
To sit in the tension between the dark moments of the human existence, while holding steadfastly to the wondrous light of resurrection? To wade in the pool of death while keeping hands firmly gripped onto the life-filled hope and joy of Christ? Is it not to say, I will be present there because God is present there? . . . The pastor is willing to die in the places where God comes alive as her cry becomes, “If death is what is necessary for resurrection, take me with you Jesus!”

I am also fighting another battle. Because I believe the message of the Kingdom of Jesus is good news for girls and women as we wrote in our book Reclaiming Eve, I can no longer stand by and participate in a script that is exclusive and privileged, white and male. 

Gaines' blog post went on to quote a woman in seminary who echoes my state of mind these days. When given clarity of what was pleasing to God through her journey and studies, "she was unable to return to former scripts and patterns not in alignment with the heart of God for her."

My mentor's question still haunts me: "Why do you think it is bothering you now?"

That was hard for me to say. Probably because I keep silent far too much. This woman who is mentoring me did me a great service in naming one of my most constant struggles. Where do I belong in this church Jesus came to build? And if I often wrestle with where I might belong, how can I winsomely make the case that other girls and women belong here, too? 

And now you know what Jesus and I wrestle with in our conversations; you have been given a window to my soul's cry. 

"We know this is not the way of Jesus," my mentor said.

And I sighed as I remembered this truth, as I remembered the truth of the Kingdom and how far away from it we wander.

In the past, I have sometimes been dismissed casually when I mention that I believe our treatment of—and subjection of—women in our churches contributes to the devaluation and abuse of women in homes, churches, and society. 

This is a biblical interpretation issue on which well-meaning people disagree, I'm often told. It's a secondary issue to the gospel

But not from where I sit. From where I sit, from the Bible I read, from the Kingdom I witness through the pronouncement of Jesus in which the oppressed are to be set free and the blind made to see, this is the gospel. This is part of the good news!

I was raised in a culture that designated women to a role and rules that would keep them secondary. For this reason, I am the first to believe there is room for growth and discovery, for a  new understanding befitting the ways of Jesus. I believe we are placed in male and female bodies for a reason, and that it can be a delight to discover how we can minister and live together, complementing each other in a mutuality only Jesus could have designed. 

And I know that change is still happening in white male evangelicalism, though it may be rare: my former pastor, one of my father's best friends, just changed his 50-year position on women in the home and in ministry, and you can hear his sermon here.

In a season when many evangelical women have been turned upside-down and inside-out by political candidates who have a stained record when it comes to the value and abuse of women, and when "good Christians" endorse and stand by them, I am not always sure how much longer women currently in the church pews will stay there.

"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood," Paul wrote, "But against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Ephesians 6:12 NIV)

I have never been more sure that we are engaged in a spiritual battle, and that what is at stake is not only the dignity of women but the effectiveness of the Kingdom when over half of its workers are crushed, sidelined, or dismissed.

One of the things I see happening when a woman's agency is stripped from her, that quality that is to define an image-bearer representative of the living God—is that she will struggle to give voice to the injustice she witnesses in a meaningful way. (Evangelical women are pushing past this barrier, thanks be to God, due to their voices being amplified via the Internet, as Beth Moore recently proved, and this HuffPost article reviews.)

But restore a girl's or a woman's voice, give her a platform to witness to God's power to set the oppressed free, and truth will ring out that will bring revival to our churches and homes, to our schools and our businesses.

Yes, give us a platform and we will prophesy: 

Girls and women are not objects for men's lust, but created to do good, representing God and his interests. We are created as "strong powers" or "ezers" as mentioned in Genesis 2:18. We are coworkers with our brothers in the Kingdom of righteousness and justice Jesus announced, sustains, and will bring to completion. We will stand against the sexual harassment, assault, and diminishment of all females in the name of Jesus. And in his name, we can pursue mutual leadership and relationship with our brothers that leads to healing, hope, and life not only for the U.S., but for the nations. 

May it be so!

* Clarification: I checked on the conference presenter and confirmed that on the pastoral staff of his megachurch there are no female pastors. They do not, however, have a formal statement about female pastors on their site, and so I apologize for not simply stating that they have no female pastors. My discouragement was with their practice and not any formal statement. Although not identified, I believe this church is doing some great work. I am hopeful for the day when both men and women will be working side-by-side on pastoral teams at this church and others. And I am blessed to be at a church where men and women faithfully partner together in leadership for the Kingdom's sake.

For further reflection:
Post and Podcast: "Locker Room Talk, the Power of Words, and the Hope of Revival, Theology on Mission
Word by Word: Creating and Destroying the World by Leslie Leyland Fields
"Reclaiming Eve" talk by Suzanne Burden at Taylor University

Your turn: Are you discouraged and why? How might the gospel of the Kingdom of Jesus restore your hope?
Divisive political comments will be deleted. Kind engagement encouraged.

 

The Brutally Honest Truth about Christmas

The Brutally Honest Truth about Christmas

I AM EXPERIENCING THAT BOUNCEBACK NOW. TODAY, SOMEONE TOLD ME I AM A PERSON WHO SEES THE GOOD IN THINGS, WHO IS HOPEFUL ABOUT LIFE. SMALL WONDER, I THOUGHT, AFTER REVIEWING THE LAST MANY YEAR'S CHRISTMAS NEWSLETTERS AND FINDING WE HAVEN'T BEEN FULL OF WHAT I WOULD DESCRIBE AS HAPPINESS SINCE 2010.

Read More

Speaking to students at Taylor University on #ReclaimingEve

There are some moments you never forget. Speaking to 1,000 Christian university students about why women matter to God is one of them.

If that wasn't enough, the morning started off with a bang: my nephew, who is a freshman at Taylor, read Genesis 1:26-27 and part of Genesis 2, reading of God's intentions for men and women in the Creation narrative. #proudauntmoment

My husband was sitting to the left, throwing all of his support my way. My sister-in-law showed up with my other nephew and her brother. And my new friend Char, someone who is becoming a mentor to me, sat close by, praying all the way. Campus Pastor Jon Cavanagh got up to introduce me and spoke of the importance of reclaiming Eve. And then...

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The chain my husband and my nephew and I began to form at the end, uniting with the praise band, symbolizes the essential and ideal team God desires to use—his daughters and his sons, side-by-side, building his Kingdom together.

After the talk, a young woman rushed from the bleachers, tears streaming down her face. I caught her hand, and I saw weight coming off her shoulders as she shared this was just what she needed that day, that God was doing something in her heart, that he was setting her free.

Things only got better from there as I engaged in honest conversation with students and faculty over lunch, mulling over the possibilities of God's ideal team of men and women working together everywhere.

Watch and imagine: what could God do if his church brought men and women together, leaning into the redeemed narrative in Christ? Then post your response below. I can't wait to read them.

On #ReclaimingEve: “I recommend this resource for every daughter of Eve!”
— Nancy Beach, leadership coach, speaker; author, Gifted to Lead: The Art of Leading as a Woman in the Church

Reclaiming Eve Small Group DVD sample here. Includes print Bible study piece; great for fall studies! Order here.

A spoken word tribute to women in ministry

Here's a pick-me-up, brought to my attention by my friends at  The Junia Project, in thankfulness to women serving Jesus everywhere:

Jeanelle Austin Spoken Word: Thank You: A Tribute to Women in Ministry from Gail Wallace on Vimeo.

"This is for the women who walk in their call—no matter their gender, their heart is to give their all."

Amen, sister.

Your turn: What emotions did Jeanette's tribute stir up in you? If you have a video clip of another spoken word performance on women in ministry, please paste it in the comments. Thank you.

On #ReclaimingEve: “I recommend this resource for every daughter of Eve!”

— Nancy Beach, leadership coach, speaker; author, Gifted to Lead: The Art of Leading as a Woman in the Church
Reclaiming Eve Small Group DVD sample here. Includes print Bible study piece; great for group studies! Order here.

An audio interview for the Church on Reclaiming Eve

slider2This week, I had the pleasure of talking about the value of girls and women on the GirlfriendIt radio show and podcast with cohost Patty Lynn Wyatt.

We talked about the two choices women face in the Church of Jesus when claiming their identity:

  • Eve and woman as defined by her sin: easily deceived, dangerous and inferior
  • Eve and woman as defined by God's intentions in Genesis 1 & 2: an ezer/strong power and image-bearer representative of the living God

Other topics included addressing gender-based violence and pornography, answering the question "Should women be elders?" and even my lunch of bacon-wrapped dates. It was nothing if not interesting—and freeing to talk about the value of every girl and woman being unleashed in the Kingdom of God. (28 minutes)

You can take a listen here:

Reclaiming Eve on the GirlfriendIt! Podcast

Your Turn: What's your take on where the Church is at in empowering girls and women in the Kingdom of God? What do you think it will take for us to move forward?

At SheLovesMagazine today: "A Woman Fully Alive"

Thrilled to join the chorus of voices at SheLovesMagazine today, as we talk about what it means to experience life as "the other." “A female pastor. How wonderful!” she said. “And I got to see it before I died.”

She approached me after a funeral service, her beautiful scarf framing her face, a woman who looked to be in her 70s. I was rendered completely speechless. And I confess her words mark my memory with a sadness I have a hard time articulating.

You see, I live in a world where gender both qualifies and disqualifies you. Where “othering” is often the language of the day and I regularly observe all-male elder boards or male-led denominations attempting to dictate who they want me to be, how I should use my gifts, and what they will allow me to do.

Read more at SheLovesMagazine.com

I will speak up for my sisters in the margins, even when it seems no one wants to hear

ReclaimingEveWallpaper2_2560I did it to myself. I chose to join with my coauthors to write a reflective, Jesus-centered message about why we believe the Bible and the Kingdom of God set women free. The whole thing started in a church Bible study, and women of all ages testified to their newfound freedom in Christ. It seemed like a timely message, joining a chorus of other voices who were encouraging God's people to step up and treat women with the dignity God has bestowed on them. To get all hands on deck in the building of God's Kingdom of love and justice. 

A number of people the evangelical world respects endorsed the book. People that love Jesus and value scripture and long to see God's women released alongside their brothers and to see women and girls around the world treated with the dignity God intends.

Even as I write, women are participating in Reclaiming Eve Bible studies and book groups. I hear from them regularly, usually via private message, about the way God is wrecking their hearts and knitting them back together again. They are eager to join with their brothers in God's Kingdom work. They want to say yes and not no to everything the Holy Spirit is stirring in them. They affirm that "God has a plan for each of his daughters, and that we are defined by his intentions and not by our current circumstances."

But a question an interviewer asked just as the book was about to be released still haunts my days and my nights: "Don't you think you're going to get a lot of flack for this?"

Oh, you have no idea. The personal cost has seemed nigh to unbearable at times.

I suppose I didn't realize how strongly our evangelical power structures can reject the idea that women not only have equal being in the sight of God, but that he designed them to be released fully to witness to His Kingdom work.

Even I was surprised at how "controversial" this idea can be, how tightly the Church can cling to the cultural instructions in 1 Timothy 2:12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, and how easy it is to ignore or minimize God's promise that men and women will prophesy, that there is no male or female in Christ Jesus, that the practice of Jesus himself set woman on a whole new trajectory of freedom—see Mary Magdalene, and Mary of Bethany, and the Unclean Woman. And all of this in opposition to the systems of the world.

I am particularly troubled at the way our views on gender in the Church and home contribute to the silencing of women who are being abused in the U.S. (1 in 4 by their significant other, according to the National Association for Domestic Violence)—and millions of women around the world through gendercide, and slavery, rape and abuse, genital cutting, and the sale of child brides. (If you're not sure what this looks like, I commend the book and documentary Half the Sky to you; the reality is chilling.)

And yes, I do believe there is a link between what we believe and teach about women and how we treat them and advocate for them. I believe we are so often still hung up on a false theology that says "Eve was solely responsible for  bringing sin into the world," therefore there is something inferior and dangerous about every woman. Believing this, we tarnish the essential nature, role and position of girls and women in our churches and our world. And I am not alone in noticing that women are not always treated as image-bearers of the living God, as Anne Graham Lotz notes in her article "Women Like Me are Abused Worldwide. Here's Why."

In some ways, I assumed the journeys and perspectives of others would follow my change of perspective as I tearfully and prayerfully searched the scriptures and the life and example of Jesus. (See When I Opposed Women in Ministry.)

But here is the truth from where I sit: the Church is still mostly silent on the issue and it is the people in the margins who are screaming:

"Yes! Jesus has freed me! I am his image-bearer! I didn't know it before, but I matter just as much to God as my brothers."

I cannot count the number of people who have whispered in my ear, What you have said is so important. Thank you for sharing it. I am tracking with you. But their voices never raise above a whisper; they may have power, but they aren't quite ready to use it on this issue; they see the need for the Church to change, but not right now. There is so much pressure to maintain the status quo.

So back to those beautiful people on the margins. They are a diverse bunch from all ethnicities and walks of life. And some of them are experiencing homelessness. I received this note today from my friend Veronica:

"I was originally introduced to Suzanne and the Reclaiming Eve book and Bible study through my work at Charis House in Fort Wayne, IN. As I sat through the groups and participated as if I was one of the residents here at the shelter, my eyes were opened to my own “Eve Issues." Suzanne presented the material in a way that enabled any woman, in any walk of life, with any kind of past; to really gain a sense of freedom and independence from whatever could be holding them back so they can truly and fully experience their placement in God’s kingdom.

...with [Suzanne's] help, we were able to create a curriculum that empowered and freed the woman in a way that was powerful, inspiring, and Spirit filled. At its completion, the women were asked to express how this book and Bible study has affected them. Some of the responses were:

“This book gave me goosebumps!”

“I always assumed I wasn’t an equal member in my own household, until now. Now I see that my work is just as valuable and my role in God’s kingdom is just as powerful.”

“I AM beautiful; I am God’s image-bearer!”

So for a minute or so I forgot that Jesus came from the margins (Nazareth), went to the margins (Samaria, etc.), and primarily uplifted those on the margins (tax collectors, prostitutes, those who needed healing, the captives to be set free). My bad. Please forgive me. Will you join me on my course correction?

With God's help, I'm determined to watch the smallest mustard seed grow to become a tall tree, sheltering birds in its branches.

And I'm now watching for just a little bit of leaven to work its way all through the dough. (Matthew 13:31-32)

I'm more sure than ever that Jesus has already set women free, and I believe it is those on the margins who have been appointed—first and foremost—to spread this good news. Will you join me in speaking up on behalf of girls and women around the world?

How do you see women and girls being set free in Christ in the margins? How might you feel called to join God in what he is doing there?

Resources: -Reclaiming Eve book and Small Group DVD (with print Bible study) and Reclaiming Eve sermon -8 Video Shorts on Women of the New Testament -"Women Like Me Are Abused Worldwide. Here's Why" by Anne Graham Lotz -"#WhyIStayed: Why Some Churches Support Spousal Abuse" by Boz Tchividjian -"Why Avoid Talking about Gender?" by Dorothy Greco

When men subvert gender hierarchy in the Church

"Tension is soaring among evangelicals over what it means to say God gave men and women different roles," wrote The Washington Post's Michelle Boorstein on Wednesday. The article is titled "U.S. evangelicals headed for showdown over gender roles."  A showdown?

The way I'm reading it, it feels more like a meltdown. I hear from and read stories from so many women who are not given a voice in our churches. Many struggle with and often leave congregations when it becomes clear male leadership are content to maintain existing power structures, many of which are exclusively male. (See the book Resignation of Eve: What if Adam's Rib is No Longer Willing to Be the Church's Backbone?)

As a woman who advocates for mobilizing every woman in God's Kingdom—no matter her circumstance—I'm always looking for ways to release women for God's Kingdom purposes. Doors often open when men (who currently hold most of the power in evangelical circles) find ways to include women, to make new spaces and places for their sisters through their words and actions. These are just a few examples. Please add more of your own in the comments below.

Example #1:

He stood up in front of the preaching class, all of 6-foot-something, his booming bass voice filling the classroom.

And he began to read his Scripture passage, all the while inserting feminine pronouns: She who dwells in the shelter of the Most High….

Actually, I don’t remember the actual passage he used. I just remember being the only female in a class of 20 males—most of whom likely didn’t agree with me preaching to them at all—and being unable to wipe that stupid grin off my face. 

She, her, sisters, females, women. Suddenly we were no longer faceless, but named. No longer on the periphery, but essential to the mission. And my new friend Todd didn’t have to preach a sermon on 1 Timothy 2:11-15 or even Genesis 1 and 2.

It was a small thing. A subversive thing. And everyone in the classroom knew it.

Example #2:

imagesWhen it comes to entering into contemporary issues in the Christian conversation, you don’t get much more subversive than Shane Claiborne. Rather than quietly throwing in feminine pronouns and illustrations in his sermons, Shane is known for asking that women be asked to speak instead of him. What an interesting example of “Ladies first...”

But when Shane’s first approach doesn’t work, and conferences don’t want to up their percentages of females on the stage, he has tried another tactic. At a large leadership conference for pastors, Shane got up to speak while wearing a shirt that reads “God loves women preachers.”

In the book Follow Me to Freedom, Shane admits, “I got in a little trouble for that one.”

I love this idea. I will not opt-out of your conference; instead, I will use my influence and voice (and chest) to advocate on behalf of those whose voices are not heard here.

In Follow Me to Freedom, Shane continues: “It’s certainly not that women or people of color are not good leaders or dynamic communicators when we see a conference brochure with all white guys talking. It’s that we haven’t been careful enough, and humble enough, and creative enough to make sure every voice is at the table.”

Shane drills down to the essence of good leadership on page 84: “Good leaders not only identify what’s wrong in the world, but also point toward what’s right.”

Thank goodness, it doesn’t take an act of Congress to advocate for women leading in the Kingdom of God. Sometimes the most prophetic acts start with ordering a one-of-a-kind t-shirt.

Example #3:

“We’ll take 50 books!” she exclaimed, wondering aloud if I had that many.

Oh, dear.

1661123_841372186927_160674762_nOne of my coauthors and I had just completed our book release party for Reclaiming Eve at The Rescue Mission of Fort Wayne. It was filled with hope and promise and a prophetic word for the Church: every woman is an ezer/ Hebrew word meaning “strong power” (Genesis 2:18); every woman is an image-bearer representative of the living God; and God’s glorious intentions are for women to fully partner with their brothers, advancing God’s Kingdom of love and justice around the world.

The employee requesting the books explained that the CEO of The Rescue Mission, who so kindly introduced us and hosted us, wanted 50 copies of Reclaiming Eve on the spot. The only thing I could think to ask was: Why??

The answer: Rev. Coley was about to make the book required reading for all 50 of the organization’s employees. Men and women. Brothers and sisters. Partners and allies. He caught the vision, and he wanted to make sure his team did, too.

That day I learned another important lesson about making room for women at the table. When you make room, you don’t always speak on behalf of your sisters. One of the best ways to advocate for Kingdom values is by saying “This is important! Pay attention!” And then you get out of the way, quite literally making room for others to speak for themselves, for their voices to be heard. (Case in point: buying books by a female author and then discussing them in male-only or preferably mixed-gender groups.)

Rev. Donovan Coley realized this before I did. And I thank God for him.

Your turn: In what ways have you noticed men subverting gender hierarchy in the Church or the Kingdom of God at large? What creative ideas do you have for additional ways in which to do so?

"As CEO of a growing Rescue Mission that provides ministry to women, we affirm the message and ministry of Reclaiming Eve.  The women at The Rescue Mission are devouring the book in their Bible study.  They are being empowered, lies about what it means to be a woman in the modern era is being refuted.  The book also presents a balanced view on how men and women can work together to build the Kingdom of God.  Suzanne, Jamie and Carla have rightly divided the word of truth for the people of God and the many Eves among us." -Rev. Donovan Coley, CEO, The Rescue Mission, Fort Wayne

Would you like to hear the message of Reclaiming Eve at your church service, retreat or event? Contact me today.

What we talk about when we talk about women in church: part four

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(Read parts one: "Does danger lurk in a woman near you?", two: "What is a biblical woman?" and three: "Do you know the women of the Bible?")

This is not a trick question.

But it presupposes another one.

QUESTION #1: Should every woman lead?

It's been a long five years of studying God's intentions for his daughters and releasing those thoughts out into the world through the book Reclaiming Eve. Through this process, and after poring over Scripture and hearing hundreds of insights from others who are studying it and living the gospel and seeking the truth, I have become convinced of this:

Every girl and woman was created to lead. I believe there truly are no exceptions. 

Here's why: God's unsullied plan, his #1 creative idea, was to create two human beings made in his image (Genesis 1:27-28). In the Creation narrative, this stunning act is followed by marching orders for the two beings made to reflect God, to remind us of him. 

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.

I believe we do injustice to the biblical text when we don't acknowledge the agency—the ability to act on behalf of another—God granted these two image-bearers:

  1. In the Ancient Near East, the only beings considered to be made in the image of deity were kings who ruled. In a stunning act of authority and relationship, God asserts his creative power in making two beings to represent him and his interests, than gives them the authority to do so. (Can you imagine the appeal of such an intimate, generous God?)
  2. But the wow factor doesn't end there. God would bless the pair with fruitfulness, and in an act of a personal nature, he would share this with them directly. "God blessed them and said to them..." He would multiply their numbers, he would grant them authority to creatively rule over and steward his awesome creation. Male and female.

A popular commentary on Genesis says, "In the economy of the family (and the church) . . . The woman is to respond, receive, be acted upon, bear, nurture, follow" (Boice, Genesis, Volume 1). It also says, "the man is to lead, protect, care for, cherish, act upon, and initiate."

But the receiving/acting upon language referring to the female  is impossible to find in the Genesis Creation account. Likewise, by saying a woman should "follow" it seems to preclude her leading at all.

Yet through and through, God weaves a story of mutuality, of giving and receiving, of partnering, shared leadership and strength in Genesis 1 and 2. Both humans are given agency to act on behalf of God's interests.

And the only thing that interrupts this wonderful state of affairs and freedom to serve?

Sin. (See Genesis 3.)

The Fall brought a sad prediction: Adam would rule over Eve. But as Christians who believe in God's original intentions, I stand with those who believe that Jesus' life, death and Resurrection turn our relationships right side up, setting things right again. As Scot McKnight has written in the book The Blue Parakeet, "The implications of the Fall are being undone for those who are in Christ." We are, quite literally—new creations in Christ—and we should live and lead like it.

QUESTION #2: Isn't a leadership gift only given to some individuals?

This is a common assumption, and some might even call it biblical. In Romans 12:8, Paul is writing about the many members of the body being given spiritual gifts, and in a passing mention he says, "if it [your gift] is to lead, do it diligently . . ." (NIV 2011). The Greek word used here, proistemi, and it means this in Strong's:

("diligent to take the lead") underlines the effectiveness of influencing people by having a respected reputation, i.e. one built on a solid "track-record. This happens by setting the example of excellence by living in faith (cf. Ro 12:3,8).

So certain people may be especially qualified and gifted to influence people through their faith and reputation. But every person with a spiritual gift (and there is no exhaustive list of these gifts in the Bible) also leads simply by being God's image-bearer and faithfully offering their gift: through service, encouragement, shepherding, pastoring, teaching, administrating, offering mercy, etc. (Partial gifts lists: Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, Ephesians 4:11-13)

Dr. Halee Gray Scott offers insight into the limits we tend to place on leadership by quoting several leadership gurus in her book Dare Mighty Things: Mapping the Challenges of Leadership for Christian Women. She notes on page 40 that Western white male leadership gurus often have the loudest voices. But as Scott asserts, when we add women and minorities into the leadership conversation, we might arrive at a more robust definition. Through her research, the author found that "influence" was the common denominator, or "the ability to have an effect on another person's character, behavior or actions." Think on that for a moment—simply affecting someone else in a variety of ways means leading them.

I submit to you the question becomes not "Does everyone lead?" but "In what ways am I leading today?" or "Am I leading well?"

Question #3: How should a woman lead?

The answer is simple.

1. A woman should lead just as a man should lead—by following Jesus first.

The Christian life is patterned after the God-man who emptied himself  (Philippians 2:1-11), taking on the form of a servant, a doulos—literally—a slave. We follow in his footsteps and lead by laying down our lives for his sake. We are called to lead from a posture of gratitude and humility.

2. A woman should lead through her unique personality, experiences and gifting.

Rather than being concerned that she speak more softly or more loudly, that she be authoritative or meek, that she appear this way or that way, a woman should lead as the unique person God created her to be, maximizing the spiritual gifts she has been given for the sake of the Body of Christ. She should seek to do so alongside her brothers and sisters, lifting them up as she leads, neither self-consciously or unconsciously, but as a fellow-follower of Jesus.

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God's grace in its various forms. (1 Peter 4:10)

Women, worry less about your hair and your makeup, the perfect dress or the perfect way to approach the pastor about using your gifts. Concern yourself, instead, with the Kingdom: seek first to offer up your gift and yourself, with the full backing of a heavenly Father who has created you for this. If you are rejected, keep looking for your spot to serve until you find a way to contribute, remembering your approval comes from God.

3. A woman should lead freely.

Throughout Church history, women like Phoebe and Priscilla and Deborah and Clare of Assisi, Henrietta Mears,  Kay Warren and Lynne Hybels, have found their way, though sometimes faltering, into the leadership God intended for them.

Women have led, though they haven't always led freely because of restrictions imposed on them. Not long ago I asked my husband, "Do you wish that I had never gone to seminary, that God had never given me the gifts of teaching and leadership?" In my mind, our lives would be infinitely less complicated and lonely, since many have openly shared with us they don't believe women should teach in church. To which my wise, faithful husband replied: "Not even for one minute!"

Our gifts are given at the pleasure of a generous Creator, and we deny his good work when we don't use and cultivate them freely.

In my personal journey, this meant going to seminary, serving as an interim pastor, leading a Bible study for women recovering from chemical addiction, writing a book, and serving as a part-time chaplain outside the Church. Sadly, many women with strong leadership gifts are primarily desired for positions outside of the Church.

And yet. I am encouraged that today many evangelicals are finding support in Scripture for women to lead as they are gifted and called, as we trace God's plans for his daughters all the way back to Genesis where God creates two leaders to rule together over his very good Creation.

It is easy to come to another conclusion, of course—and many churches have done just that. They do it by elevating a few select passages of Scripture that seemed to preclude women teaching or leading—and because of this, entire generations of women have often been left on the sidelines instead of the frontlines.

But the question remains: was the life, death and Resurrection of Christ powerful enough to reverse the effects of the Fall? Are we to live up to the effects of sin? Or subvert them? As we reclaim Adam and Eve, we empower men and women to discover God's first intentions, as Mimi Haddad recently wrote about in the post Different but Equal: Giving Words Their True Meaning.

Quoting Dr. Roger Nicole, a former president and founding member of the Evangelical Theological Society, she points out that he notes the main stream of the Scripture supports, rather than excludes, women in positions of leadership beside men. Nicole said:

I believe that most, if not all of the restrictions on women in society have no basis in Scripture; and that those maintained in the church are based on an inadequate interpretation of a few restrictive passages which put them in contradiction with the manifest special concern and love of God for women articulated from Genesis to Revelation. I do believe that in the eschaton all the redeemed will endorse biblical equality, since all of them will together constitute the bride of Christ.

Though all-male or all-female teams can function and accomplish tasks, I don't believe they function with the strength God built into the original team he created: a man and a woman placed in a garden, and commissioned to rule together over God's "very good" Creation. For this reason, I'm always eager to partner with both men and women, using their combined strength, giftedness and unique experiences to advance God's interests of love and justice.

There are enough hindrances to the gospel of Jesus being spread in word and deed around the world; let's not passively accept the notion that women are not leaders, but actively seek to restore God's image-bearers as full partners, ready  and equipped to build God's Kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.

For the reasons listed above, I conclude: every woman was built to lead and influence, and she should do so freely for the Kingdom's sake.

Suggested posts: When I Opposed Women in Ministry by Suzanne Burden Lean In: Women, Work and the Church by Carolyn Custis James The Consensus and Context of 1 Timothy 2:12 by Marg Mowczko (a scholarly, detailed look at this passage) Defusing the 1 Timothy 2:12 Bomb by Gail Wallace (an accessible look at this passage)

Take the message to your church: order the Reclaiming Eve Small Group DVD today to lead an eight-week Bible study in your group or congregation. 

On #ReclaimingEve: “Reclaiming Eve offers an insightful walk from the Garden of Eden to the Garden of Gethsemane. Sprinkled with personal stories from three authors of varying ages, women at every stage of life will gain valuable perspective and practical ways to reclaim their identity in Christ. Whether you’re looking for a book to read individually or one you can discuss with a group, Reclaiming Eve stirs up great food for reflection and discussion.” —Marian V. Liautaud, editor of Today’s Christian Woman and author of The War on Women: The World’s Worst Holocaust, and How Christians Are Saving One Girl at a Time

How to use the Reclaiming Eve Bible Study this Fall

*Congratulations, to Julie Ball, who won the copy of the new Reclaiming Eve Small Group DVD and is hoping to use it in her Sunday School class.

BqmS9HAIIAA9AoB“Pick up this book, throw off the ‘old’ and live out your influence!” — Elisa Morgan, speaker; author, The Beauty of Broken; Publisher, FullFill

“Reclaiming Eve stirs up great food for reflection and discussion.” — Marian V. Liautaud, editor, Today’s Christian Woman; author, The War on Women: The World’s Worst Holocaust

“I recommend this resource for every daughter of Eve!” — Nancy Beach, leadership coach, speaker; author, Gifted to Lead: The Art of Leading as a Woman in the Church

The Reclaiming Eve project started in our church, with a flimsy workbook Jamie, Carla and I had put together. Forty women showed up: and one by one, I watched them as so many were set free.

Women were set free to serve as a strong power/ezer  in their homes, in their workplaces, in the church, wherever God called them. Some of them were in their young 20s, some in their 70s or 80s and everything in between. I remember the buzz that floated above the group during small group discussion times, I remember women sharing things they had written, I remember testimonies like this one: "I was in the middle of the grocery store and everything seemed to be going wrong that day. So I broke out singing, 'I am an ezer, and I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.'" True that. She said she sang the refrain over and over again, regaining strength for the moment, just enough for the day.

And so it was that as females in our church were set free to serve Christ, we felt compelled to share the message with a wider audience. It took 4 1/2 years to craft our little Bible study into a book you can now read. And we are so thrilled that our publisher, Beacon Hill Press, had the vision to turn the book right back into a Bible study, as Jamie notes in the video for the Introduction. Watch it on youtube.

Now it's as simple as 1-2-3 to bring the 8-session Reclaiming Eve study to your church or group:

1. Have individuals buy the book by ordering it through a local retailer or purchasing it online. Each week, participants should read one section, starting with the Introduction for the first week.

2. Get your group together, open with an icebreaker question or two as provided in the print Bible study guide accompanying the DVD, then watch the week's 10-minute discussion between Jamie, Carla and me.

3. The video discussion will lead you right into a time of deeper Bible study, as laid out in the print piece you'll find inside the DVD cover (pictured here). Keep in mind there are also questions inside the book at the end of each chapter for discussion or reflection. photo-2

The most powerful part of your time together will likely be the spaces where women can share their stories of how they are interacting with the material, how Jesus is setting them free to serve him, and how they are dreaming new dreams about how they might build the Kingdom of God in their everyday lives.

And—don't miss this—come back and share these stories in my comment form, and we will hope to use them to inspire other women to dig into God's Word through the study as well. Finally, I'm giving away five free 20-minute Skype calls to the first discussion groups or Bible study groups to reach me through my contact form. If your group would like to interact with one of the coauthors of the book, this is your chance to ask questions and dig deeper. I'm also taking speaking requests for retreats, conferences, and church services.

For those leading the study this fall, a prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for places where we can open your Word, read about your intentions for your daughters, and be set free to serve you wherever you have placed us and however you have gifted us and called us. Guide each Bible study leader, giving him or her wisdom, discernment, and an ability to engage people with your truth. You are holy, wise, all-knowing, all-seeing, and you always work for the good of those who love you. Today we seek to make your Kingdom come on earth, in us and through us, as it is in heaven. Show us how to be vessels of your love and use this study to reflect your heart for each of us. In the strong name of Jesus we pray, Amen!