We are going to spend a little bit of time over the coming week on this thought. Exploring who were these women. Why is one good and the other is not, and how the tell the difference between the two. Then we are going to mosey on into the conversation of why all of this matters to us today. Throughout this conversation, we may also meet a few other women worth considering in the Scriptures when it comes to leadership.
Why go down this track? Because, these two names are the most thrown around when it comes to women in leadership… well outside of Paul and his letter to Timothy. Those who support women in leadership will refer to Deborah, the only female Judge in the Old Testament. Those who oppose women in leadership will refer to Jezebel, who was evil and up to no good.
We’ll begin tomorrow my meeting Deborah in the book of Judges, Chapter 4.
A friend of mine posed the question “what is a godly, Christian, ambitious woman?”. My answer:
“A woman, with Kingdom sized dreams even with mustard seed sized faith; who runs the race the Lord has laid. She endures the journey, even with a thorn in her side, as she pursues His Will; all the while giving the Glory to God.”
Ambition is not always talked about kindly, especially when it comes to women… and even more so in the church. However, there is a difference between “selfish ambition” and “godly ambition”.
What Does the Scripture Say:
In the Scriptures we learn of a business owner who makes goods and sells them to the merchants in the town. With the earnings from this business, a vineyard is purchased. As we read the description of this business owner, we learn that this is a person of very noble character, worthy of being praised, and valued more than rubies. We are reading about the Proverbs 31 Woman.
Ambition is not always bad, in fact in and of it’s self … what really is ambition but to get from one place to another. It is the heart that is really what determines the type of ambition.
Selfish Ambition in Rooted in Sin
Selfish ambition is all about me, what I can get, what I can achieve, and pretty much at any cost. Selfish ambition is rooted in sin. When my ambitions are motivated by pride, greed, jealousy, etc. then I know I am out of alignment with God’s will. I am doing this for myself and my own gains. Regardless of how successful I am in this pursuit, I will never get the full blessing and I will never find peace in what I have attained. In fact, most who have selfish ambition continue to push for more. Nothing is ever enough.
Selfish ambition is a usurping ambition, it takes what doesn’t belong to it (yet, or if ever). It relies on self. My achievements are done in my time, in my strength, in my way or the highway. Selfish ambition doesn’t care who gets hurt along the way, and sometimes causes pain intentionally. Selfish ambition puts my wants and desires above all else.
Godly Ambition is Rooted in My Father’s Business
Godly ambition is where our hearts are revealing the Fruit of the Spirit. What drives my ambitions is my Father’s business. The Proverbs 31 Woman wasn’t just selling her goods and buying a vineyard just so she could have more. No, this was a woman of character. She tended to her family and home, taking care of their needs. She was a woman who employed others to work for her, providing them income and possibly shelter and hot meals each day under her care. She was a good steward of the blessings the Lord gave her, and she opened her arms to the poor in spirit. She spoke with wisdom and reverence of the Lord.
Godly ambition is not usurping but life giving. It is not taking away from others, but giving more to the world. The Proverbs 31 Woman was a woman who was taking care of her Father’s business, she was a Kingdom worker. Her ambitions were not motivated by sin, but instead by God’s will.
How Do I Know the Difference?
If you are wondering if your ambitions are driven by “selfishness” or “godliness”, ask the following questions of yourself:
- Is any part of my dream or goal in direct conflict with the Scriptures?
- Does pursuing my dream or goal cause me to compromise myself, or cause my sister to stumble, in order to achieve that next step?
- Do I have trusted counsel to hold me accountable, and speak the Truth into my actions… even if it is hard to hear.
- Am I bathing my ambition in prayer, and do I have others praying for/with me to keep in God’s will as I pursue my calling?
- Do my ambitions produce good, lost lasting, beneficial fruit or is my fruit temporary and tainted with pride, greed, jealousy, etc.?
- Am I willing to walk away from this dream/goal should the Lord ask me to give it all up and follow Him on a new path?
How you answer these questions will reveal where your ambition has it’s foundation. At the root of a sinful heart, or at the base of a righteous cross.
A few months ago, and recently making the rounds again, was an article that specifically addressed Christian women in the blog universe. It questioned who was overseeing these women, who were they accountable to, and why this was important. The concerns, in a nutshell, were that many of these writers don’t have any theological training, no one who does have such training ensuring what they post is theologically correct, and no one to essentially keep them in line with what I’ll label as core Christian beliefs.
This meant these writers could (and some do) go rogue and no one is there to put them in check. Opponents of the piece questioned if what was good for the goose, was good for the gander? Do we hold men in the blog universe to the same standards? Do they have any theological training/education, is there someone who holds them accountable and keeps male writers from going rogue. And of course, me being me, we have to question if this is all just an assumption. Maybe these bloggers DO have someone overseeing their material?
This brought me to a recent conversation about serving in the church, where my friend Tracy Page asked: “Why do you need the church’s permission to start a Bible Study”. This put my mind on a course of considering a lot of different factors. As a person who coaches Women’s Ministry leaders, I often speak to the value of vetting our Small Group leaders and materials.
The Value & Responsibility of Oversight
There is value to oversight to ensure the materials we are presenting to our women are theological sound and in line with the doctrine of our church. I’ve also spoken to the fact that we need to be discipling our women to lead studies that are more in depth, and not having Small Group leaders that are merely there to press play on the DVD. I’ve even questioned blind allegiance to particular authors and publishers, assuming that just because the materials come from them they must be sound without first previewing the materials. Really, who hasn’t changed their thoughts on a particular topic over the last 5, 10, 20 years? It is possible that someone you once agreed with has changed course and may be going in a direction you can’t support.
And so the struggle begins. On the one hand, as a leader I represent my church. Thus, the things that I present to the women in the church and also in my life are in many ways under the umbrella of my church. Even if I don’t outright say it, many would assume that if it comes out of my mouth… and I’ve been a part of a church for any length of time… that my church probably shares that same view/opinion.
On the other hand, within the church we know that not all of us agree 100% across the board on every issue. Our political atmosphere gives us away. Democrats and Republicans share the pews. Pro-Life members are sharing the same space as Pro-Choice members. Members who affirm certain positions on any given controversies are serving along side those who condemn those positions. If a person wants to lead a Bible Study in their home, not in the church building, who is to say they can not?
Oversight, Obedience, and Authority
That is where it gets a bit tougher to navigate. If I sit under the authority of a Pastor, and I ask to lead a particular study in the church, and the Pastor refuses citing issues with the material… what if I move ahead with the study anyway? Is that respecting my Pastor? Is that disobedience to the one God has set to Shepherd our church? If I approach the Pastor wanting to start a ministry that serves a particular need in our community, and the Pastor declines the ministry because there isn’t funds/space… could I then go forward and start the ministry on my own? Can I lead a ministry in the community without oversight, accountability, and under only my own authority?
Is this any different than the blog universe? Especially for women…
Does the Blog Universe Need Accountability and Authority?
First and foremost, we know that anyone who is leading, teaching, or writing a blog is going to be held accountable to God for their words. So, let’s not pretend that accountability is off the table. There is always accountability at the Kingdom level.
Also, we have learned over the years that the blog universe… social media… whatever you want to call it is not free of oversight and criticism. Someone is going to read your words, and someone is going to hold you accountable for them. When you publish into this very public forum, the critics will surely correct you quickly. They won’t hold back their tongue. I’d also imagine that a connected Shepherd knows what his flock is up to, and if he sees something amiss on a blog it will be addressed. Right?
Who Has the Time?
Everyone and their grandmother is blogging now a days. In a church of 3,000 how can the Pastor vet every single Bible Study Leader, every single Bible Study curriculum, and read every single blog posted by his congregation? It’s impossible!
Yes, it is.
This is why, if you are going to have a strong Small Group/Bible Study platform you must have someone who oversees JUST THAT. This is not something to be added to your Worship Pastor’s job description either. A “Small Group Pastor” or “Discipleship Leader” is needed. Someone with good theology, who has the JOB of vetting the materials. Or, perhaps instead of allowing the body to choose whatever they want, this Pastor provides a menu of pre-approved options. Better yet, this Pastor or Leader has developed a strategic discipleship PLAN for the church. Which, by the way, also includes TRAINING our small group leaders.
As for the blog universe, we know that the majority of the bloggers are women. This is a great JOB for your Women’s Ministry Director, Pastor of Women, whatever you want to call this PAID staff position. She can either directly, or through appointments on her team, take the time to keep up with the women in the church who are blogging on faith issues. Better yet, she can harness in this creative energy and create a Women’s Blog for the church. Where these women are given a platform UNDER THE AUTHORITY and oversight of the church.
I bet that the majority of these women wanted to lead/teach/write under the authority of their church and were not given the platform to do so. Then in obedience to their calling, not in defiance of their church, they found a space where they could. I would bet that the majority of them would LOVE to be discipled by someone in their church as part of this platform, versus going it alone.
Create room. Create space.
If you want to kno why there is an arena of people leading, teaching, and speaking without any oversight, authority, or accountability; how could this happen… ask yourself:
Did I make space in our church/ministry for those gifted in this area to use their gifts here under our oversight?
When I think of my friend Tracy’s question, “why do we need permission to…”, I’ve come to the conclusion that we shouldn’t have to ask permission in the first place. We need to have an environment in our churches and ministries where those who have a gift/calling can bring it to our leadership. An environment where those gifts/callings are not discounted but embraced. An environment where we work together to find out how this fits into our existing vision or a willingness to see how that vision can be expanded.
If this is happening, I bet there are less people blogging about faith matters… because they are teaching it in their local church. I bet we don’t have to question if there is accountability or oversight, because it will be obvious as it is done under their umbrella of their church. And, with proper discipleship, the quality of what is out there in the blog universe will be top notch… so much so, that those who go rogue will be easy to spot.
I just want to take a moment to be perfectly clear about my intentions, as we travel this road together. I am not a woman who is afraid of conversation, nor do I expect everyone to agree with me. My intentions as I give examples, share experiences, and even my opinion is NOT to do anything more than to challenge thought.
There are some areas where I am still learning and developing my opinions, which you may watch me flesh out on these pages. I welcome respectful conversation, however challenging it may be. Not everyone will agree with me, or see things from my perspective. I am okay with that, after all who am I? I am no final authority. I’m willing to admit I am wrong, or see another well expressed perspective.
I only ask that if you are going to present that argument, do so with your evidence. Give me the scripture, quote the author/speaker/etc that you heard it from. Any talking down, accusations, etc are unwelcome because they are not helpful. Real discussion and learning comes from sharing information, and opinions coupled with the explanation of how we came to that opinion.
One thing that I see happen often when anyone talks about women in leadership, is this weird posse that shows up accusing her of being a pulpit stealing Jezebel. So let me set this fact in stone: I do not seek a pulpit. I do not feel called to be a Pastor, never have. Nothing about what the Lord has laid before me indicates that there is any chance of me heading in that direction either. Therefore, should I choose to delve into that specific topic it will be done from a neutral stance not a self serving one.
I’m going to explore a lot about leadership, past to present. I will probably dream a little about what leadership for women will look like in the future. This topic will cover leadership in the professional (secular) world and in the realm of ministry. I’ll discuss it in theory, as well as share the practical side of it too.
My purpose will not be to tear down anyone (or any gender), but instead to tear apart to topic and dissect to it’s core… in order to better understand it. How do we know how to keep a healthy body? Because we learn how the body works, what does it need to survive at an optimal way, what causes it harm, etc. Same goes for leadership, we need to understand it at the core in order to understand what works and what doesn’t. This includes really understand what the Bible says about leadership in general, as well as in regard to specific genders.
I hope you are not willing to just come along for this ride, but be a part of the conversation… genuinely. Reading to understand, not reading to build an argument. Sharing facts, scripture, quotes, etc to support your stand. Having conversations with those around you, outside of this blog to see it in real practical life experiences.
My hypothesis: things are not as black and white, one way or another, as they appear.
Leadership for women is a very weird space. The majority of our training as leaders come from men, our teachers have mostly been men, and most of the leadership books are written by men. How many leadership books (secular or ministry related) are written by women for leading women? Not many. Much of what is out there is outdated, and the newer books are not exactly being promoted to us. In fact, of the ones I personally know of… most I learned about at a national women’s conference and one was from an article on Huffington post. How many women do you know going to leadership conferences each year? Few.
This means that majority of our women who are leading in the world learned their skills from men who have led before them. Which is not a bad thing, please not that I’m not seeing this as a negative thing. I’ve learned many great things from men who were willing to invest in me as a leader. But, I want to share something that happened recently.
I was interviewing for a job in a ministry position that would oversee women, and I was asked by one of the Pastors to share what I saw as one of my weaknesses. I was very honest, and shared that my leadership style is more akin to men due to the influences I have had in my life. I tend to be more direct and don’t always meander around subjects like women are accustomed to. The Pastor asked me how I would respond to someone who questioned my aggressive leadership style.
I thought that was interesting, when I shared as a woman that I led more like a man… this was seen as aggressive. Whereas if a man shared the same attributes, would he be called aggressive? Or, as my friend Faith suggested would they have seen it as assertive.
This is the battle the women face in leadership, if we are too strong or direct, we are considered bossy or even called a Jezebel. They forget that Deborah was a strong leader. She wasn’t just a judge, but a military leader. We lift up the Proverbs 31 woman as a great wife and mother, and we often forget that she was also a business woman and investor… a woman of leadership and wisdom. Her hospitality and demeanor were of humility, and yet she laughed in the face of the days to come because she did not fear what ever would come. She feared only the Lord.
Yesterday, I watched a broadcast of an interview with two women who are leaders in their church. The interview was conducted by a gentleman who was part of the staff of a seminary, and at the end of the interview he invited members of the audience to ask questions. One of the audience members asked the panel about how men in church leadership could better encourage and support women in the church who felt called into leadership.
The first thing I noticed was the body language that changed. The majority of the audience was men who were or planned to be in church leadership. Until this point the women were very relaxed speaking about the roles, giving advice to women looking to a future in leadership, discussing their struggles and successes. Now, they were a bit more tense and their body language no longer implied ease but instead much more guarded.
The second thing I noticed was how they were suddenly more cautious about how they spoke, and what words they chose. They tip toed around the topic carefully. Their responses were far more crafted and nuanced, careful to filter every word and thought. You could tell that they were struggling between what they wanted to say and how to say it in a manner that would be better received.
Why must this be so?
What I appreciated, however, was that one of the women brought attention to it for the audience to notice. Essentially, she said that if the audience didn’t realize it… the women were being very cautious about what they said, and how they said it. She pointed out that they were filtering their responses and this was something women have been cultivated to do. And that being aware of this, was the first key. Create an environment where the women don’t need to do so. That would be a huge first step in building a good support system.
In the past, I think women were grateful to get leadership positions and thus were very careful to not rock the boat and lose what took so long to achieve. Now, I think women are looking for permission to lead to their fullest ability. No need to filter, no need to carefully craft words, and meander around subjects. Instead, to be treated with the same respect a male colleague would receive. Allow women to lead in the manner in which God gifted them. Some will have a gentler approach, as they guide others. Some will carry much more of an authoritative stance, as they build and lead organizations and ministries.
I believe that the Lord placed me in the pathway of the men who influenced my leadership skills because I needed to learn from them. The skills they have taught me have been invaluable to the ministry work that I am in now. I see their fingerprints in so much of what I do, and I know that the Lord orchestrated every step of my path for this calling.
We need not discount the gifts of women, but embrace them. The harvest is plenty, but the workers are few. Do we cut the workers in half? Do we cut our army in half? Or, do we come together and serve the Kingdom united in our cause?
Earlier this year, I attended a branding workshop. I went because I co-lead a growing ministry and with that growth we really needed to hone in our branding. What always amazes me about my journey with Faith James (yes, Faith… it’s a journey, you’re stuck with me for a bit) is that I learn just us much about myself and my own journey as I do for my ministry work.
About halfway through the workshop, Faith asked a question:
“What is your vision for the world and for your life?”
Faith James, Branding of Brunch Workshop
The answer I wrote in my workbook for the world was: “equipping women to lead and change the world we are in for the better”, and for my life: “be apart of the change”. I scrawled a few little notes about diversity and equality. Faith shared Proverbs 29:18… Where there is no vision, people perish. She challenged us to set our vision for the world, for our lives. At the time, I thought this was applicable to my ministry work. And so, the vision was set.
Then a few months later, I wrote a piece on here about a girl named Milange that I met many years ago (over 20 now) and how, even then, I had a heart for helping and equipping women. I recall how my heart hurt for her because she simply didn’t know that she could, because so many had told her she couldn’t. I think my heart for women goes back even further than that… to when I was a child. That is another story, for another day.
Just this past week my friend Laura Gabriele-Enriquez, who is a missionary in Guatamala, posed a question on her Facebook page:
When you were a kid, what injustice in the world upset you most?
I ask because I believe God sees the injustice and sends each of us to the world with a mission.
My answer: “As far back as I can remember it has been about empowering girls/women in general. As I got older, I became more keenly aware of the differences between the opportunities that white women had versus women of color. And so, it became even more important to me to be incredibly intentional about using my privilege to help lift those women up.”
If you know me, you know that I am not looking to hog the microphone or own the platform. I look for ways to give other women an opportunity to share their gifts with the world. I pass the mic as much as I can, because I am learning from the wisdom of others too. I want to hear voices outside of my own. I want to see women succeed in the endeavors whether it is business or ministry work.
As I reflected on these last 9 months, I realized that in the moment I attended Faith’s workshop… the vision was being set for ME (personally). This was just about my ministry work through the Women’s Ministry Council but about much more than that, my everyday since I can remember calling. The fire the Lord set in my heart. Equipping women brings me joy. So, the vision is set.
While I am going to continue with my #Chronicling40 series… you are going to notice a new bend which will be more about my views on leadership, equipping women, etc. Why is this important to me, what can we be doing, where are we making mistakes, etc. I hope you don’t mind that I am leaving the easy paved road of journaling my day to day thoughts and instead take the detour on to a bit of uneven pavement.
I pray, that the the rocky path with lead to fertile soil.