Q: “How do you stay faithful to Christ and His Church when it seems like your voice or presence isn’t respected, protected, or cared about?”
A: The Church has garnered a great deal of wisdom in recent years from revelations of sexual abuse and the writing of conservative female theologians like Nancy Guthrie, Jen Wilkin, and countless others. Still, it may seem like your church leadership hasn’t gotten the message that women’s voices are valuable. Perhaps your pastor and elders are agonizing over whether you can lead a mercy ministry. Maybe you’re walking with a woman in an abusive marriage, and the all-male church leadership doesn’t get why she wouldn’t share her concerns with two male elders. You seek to speak into circumstances like these to no avail. Perhaps your church leadership has even rebuked you for “rebellion” or simply ignored you. So much seems at stake. Your emotions run the gamut from infuriated to defeated.
So you sit sulking on your couch thinking, Sorry, not sorry.
How do you stay faithful? Barriers for women in the local church are many, and the path to helping your church grow into a safe place for women to flourish is not an easy one, no matter where you worship. So where do you start when you feel ten steps behind already?
- Keep in mind that this is Christ’s Church, and He values both your voice and presence. A caveat here: I am speaking in the context of a church that faithfully teaches and preaches the Word of God. If God’s Word is faithfully preached, then it will not return void (Isa. 55:11). That should be a reason to give you hope. While great strides have been made in making certain women’s voices are heard and cared about, there is still much to do. Steady your mind on the fact you ultimately serve and desire to please Christ. He can accomplish far more than we dare think or ask if we pray in accordance with His will (Eph. 3:20). The Lord treasures you, so keep a tender heart and a thick skin. These will give you wisdom to know when to speak and the courage to do so in love.
- Focus on becoming qualified to speak and being a woman worthy of respect. Do you long to have a greater opportunity to serve in mercy ministry? Then pursue as much training in that area as you can garner. Want to lead a Bible study? Pursue a seminary course. Locate godly women who can mentor you in these endeavors, even if it means looking outside your current church. A mentor can help you persevere in times of discouragement and redirect you if you get off track. We require our male leadership to be qualified and have accountability, so should it not also be the case with us? Remember that any church leader is held to a higher standard.
- Lean into your relational capital. As women, we are wired for relationships—meaning we ought to be experts at handling difficult ones. Don’t walk away. Don’t quit. It may not have occurred to your male leadership to find a way to include women in the care and feeding of God’s flock. Pray for your leaders, and ask God for an opportunity to build healthy relationships with them as brothers and fellow heirs in Christ. Ask the Lord to help you find male leaders who might advocate for you. This is a journey of faith, and you must trust that the Lord will raise you up at the proper time to the proper place.
If you feel your leaders’ action or inaction has caused you harm:
- Be sure it’s your leaders who are wrong and not you. Spend some time in prayer and the Word. Pray with David,
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Ps. 139:23–24)Ask God to enable you to see any blind spots, despite any mistreatment you feel you endured. If we draw close to the Savior, He can keep us from bitterness, hubris, and a host of other traps that await someone who has been sinned against. This is essential, continual work that I cannot stress enough.
- If you still feel you’ve been wronged, go see the leader in question. I would advise taking a friend as well, not your best friend, but the one who isn’t afraid to tell you the truth. I have been in this kind of meeting many times—yes, I’ve been in the “principal’s office” often—and I found that it is helpful to start the meeting by asking some open-ended questions and being prepared to listen as well as speak. Something like, “Help me understand,” is more likely to garner fruitful conversation. Sometimes, we followers aren’t privy to all that went into a decision or behavior. This meeting should be approached with a willingness to see things differently on your part as well as his.
- Trust God if you leave a meeting unsatisfied. News flash: At some point you will. I don’t wish to infer you will leave that way every single time, or even most of the time, but you may leave that way often, so do not be surprised when you do. Ask any woman who has served Christ’s Church for fifteen minutes, and they will tell you of a moment they left a meeting feeling worse than before. Most likely your best option is to allow love to cover a multitude of sins, continue to pray, remember that Christ is sovereign, and wait on His timing. But I would be remiss if I didn’t address the rare times when you have genuinely, clearly been sinned against to such a degree that it cannot be ignored. That is where your wise friend who came with you might offer you counsel. The two of you might pray together as to whether you ought to escalate this to other leaders in the church as Matthew 18:15–20 directs.
Remember that waiting on the Lord is not doing nothing or ignoring the problem. It is acknowledging that you are helpless to change the circumstances and your eyes are on the Lord alone to work. Often, we want change to happen on our timetable. But the kind of change many of us long for will perhaps take longer in some corners of the Church than others. I have seen the Lord work mightily to change many of the male leaders I have served with, but I rarely saw that happen quickly.
When a pastor with whom I had a particularly difficult relationship recently asked me for advice, you might imagine my shock. I gently pointed to the elephant in the room. “Sir, you must know I am surprised that you called me for counsel.”
He agreed. “I do, but honestly, you’ve grown a lot in the past few years.”
I raised an eyebrow and chuckled. “You know, I was going to say the same thing about you, Pastor.”