Every March 8, organisations around the world join together to partake in the conversation about what it would take to make society one where women are given an equal opportunity. This year, IWD is prompting us to individually think about our contribution to collective gender equality.
The church has not always been perceived as being at the forefront of the gender equality movement – as was evident by the conversations we had around our 2018 series Got Questions, where we answered the question asked of us Why isn’t there gender equality in the church? In fact, the church is perceived as so far behind the ball in this conversation, that McCrindle identified gender inequality as the fifth largest blocker preventing people coming to church…
SO WHAT MAKES A CHRISTIAN QUALIFIED TO SPEAK INTO THIS CONVERSATION?
While the church hasn’t been known for its forward thinking in the space of gender equality, the bible shows us the model for how God designed men and women – both in his image (Genesis 1:26-28), both being equal in value, both being worthy of sending his son to die on a cross for (2 Corinthians 5:15). And while the fall happens, and the sinful heart of humans plays out in people treating others badly (which is the essence of the problem behind gender inequality), we do see women, not only treated equally, but exalted, by Jesus.
WOMEN VALUED IN THE BIBLE
Throughout the gospels we are shown a picture of how Jesus loved women as equals – The Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, healing a woman from her affliction in Luke 8:47, just to name a few. It is, in fact, the women who had been following and caring for Jesus that were the first to discover the resurrection, and were given the role of taking this good news to Jesus’ disciples (Luke 24:1-12).
Later in the New Testament, we see church leaders like Priscilla and Aquilla, who were co-workers with the apostle Paul. We are told in the book of Acts (18:26) that they were instrumental in teaching Apollos “more adequately” in the way of God, and that one of the early churches of Ephesus met in their house – women stepping up and using their gifts and resources to serve the church.
OUR MISSION TOGETHER
At the end of Matthew, Jesus gives the command to “go and make disciples of all nations… to the very end of the ages”. There is no specification that the mission is for men, or for women… it is a command to everyone. We are all – men and women – entrusted with the mission to take the good news to the ends of the earth. Jesus so values men and women equally, that he tasks us all with the mission to spread his good news.
WHAT DOES THIS LOOK LIKE?
A member of our congregation, Danae Woodward, wrote a paper “Permission or Pursuing” in which she examined the role of women in God’s creation, and what that means for the role of women in our church. She writes:
“Leading is not always done from the front of the room. Theologically trained women contribute as co-image-bearers in filling the earth with disciples, acting as allies to their male counterparts in their God-ordained leadership roles. They contribute their different perspectives on matters of governance, care for the body, and their nature fosters deeper and richer relationships on a leadership team. Women as well as men are gifted by God’s Spirit to lead ministries and people.”
So for the women amongst us, we need to remember that we have equal value in God’s eyes as his co-image bearers. We were created just as much in God’s image as men were (Genesis 1:26). We need to know that, believe it, let it shape our hearts, and live it.
For the men reading, remember that God tasked both men and women (humanity) with the same task – to “be fruitful”. That doesn’t mean we need to have identical roles, but it does mean women need to be respected and valued equally as God does.
LEADING IS NOT ALWAYS DONE FROM THE FRONT OF THE ROOM
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul likens the different parts of the body to the different roles people play in church. He points out that the less prominent parts are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable and unpresentable we treat with special honour and modesty. In raising the less honourable, we see a reflection of the wisdom of the cross – upon which Jesus became weak in order to be raised up.
Paul’s model of leadership — where he understands what should be honoured, imitated, and duplicated — is the example of Jesus, his crucified king. He says that his leadership isn’t based on his position or his authority, instead, he calls the Corinthians to ‘imitate him as he imitates Christ’ (1 Corinthians 11:1). We are all called to lead one another – whether that be a formal or informal role – in the body of Christ, as we imitate Christ and look to, honour, and celebrate those who do, male and female.
In this counter-cultural view of leadership, where the world strives to raise up self, we are shown a picture of what it looks like to humble self and raise up others.
So what does this mean for a balanced gender model? If we all look to humble self and see others with the worth and value with which God views us all – not the earthly role or value that man has placed – only then do we find true gender balance; the balance that God intended when we were God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule.
This year the theme of International Women’s day is #EachForEqual – encouraging people to own their part in gender equality – for some it may be standing up to gender stereotypes made about men and women, for others it might be in the day to day choices to speak or act..
I heard a podcast in which the speaker said “corporate renewal comes from personal renewal”. His point was that great moments of renewal start with one person’s desire for change. In order for us to start changing our corporate society, we need to start with ourselves. We need to know ourselves that men and women are valued equally in God’s eyes, and let that shape our hearts as we work alongside each other in our great mission.