Wednesday, January 24, 2018

How to Discourage Women Leaders in the Church

This is a satirical re-write of this post from The Gospel Coalition. As I re-read the original post today, I was struck by how applicable it is to the discussion about women in leadership in the church. I began this re-write by simply replacing all instances of the word “artist” in the article with the words “women leaders.” I made a few other modifications and omitted some sections, but the bulk of the article is taken from the original, word-for-word. Please note that all of the quotations below have been modified from their original, and should not be attributed as written to the individuals quoted. 

Many Christian women leaders live between two strange worlds. Their faith in Christ seems odd to many of their friends in the leadership community—almost as odd as their calling as women leaders seems to some of their friends at church. Yet Christian women called to write, teach, preach, lead, and disciple have extraordinary opportunities to honor God in their daily work and to bear witness to the grace, beauty, and truth of the gospel. How can pastors (and churches) encourage Christian women with leadership gifts in their dual calling as Christian women leaders?

As a pastor and college president, I have made a sad discovery: women are not always affirmed in the life of the local church. We need a general rediscovery of the role of women in the context of the church. This is badly needed because gender issues are in focus at the leading edge of culture.

In this article, I am taking a fresh and somewhat contrarian approach by seeking to answer the question, “How do you discourage women leaders in the church?”

In preparation, I asked some friends for their answers to my question: an actor, a sculptor, a jazz singer, a photographer. They are not whiners, but they gave me an earful (and said that it was kind of fun).

Here is my non-exhaustive list of ways that churches can discourage their women leaders (and some quotes from my friends).

Treat women as a window dressing for the truth rather than a window into God’s character. See the role of women as merely decorative or entertaining, not serious and life-changing. “'Humor' Women leaders by 'allowing' them to work in less visible ministry areas, or some forgotten, invisible corner with no influence over the direction of the church, where it can be 'decoration,'” David Hooker told me.

Embrace mistreatment of women. Tolerate low standards of honor toward all women. Only value women that are totally accessible, not difficult or challenging. Value input from women that is sentimental, that doesn't take risks, that doesn't give offense, that people immediately “get.”

Value women leaders only for their traditionally feminine gifts, not for the other contributions they can make to the life of the church. See them in one dimension, not as whole persons. Specifically, discount women leaders for leadership roles because they are too female, are not male, do not have a Y chromosome.

Demand women leaders to unquestioningly submit to male leadership in their work, and never raise questions or challenge the positions of that authority.

Never pay women leaders for their work. Expect that they will volunteer their service, without recognizing their calling or believing that they are workers worthy of their hire. (Or, pay them disproportionately lower wages than their male counterparts.)

When you ask them to serve, tell them what to do and also how to do it. Don't leave room for the creative process. Discourage improvisation; give women leaders a AAA road map.

Idolize family success. Add to the burden women leaders already feel by only validating the calling of women leaders who are wives and mothers.

I could go on. Here are some more ways to discourage women leaders in the church:
Not setting reasonable boundaries.
Not allowing women leaders to experience creative freedom.
Asking the input of women leaders and deciding not to use it without an explanation.
Not giving women leaders the gift of real listening.
Not preaching and teaching the unadulterated gospel of Jesus Christ.

But the last item on my list is, in general, make women leaders not feel fully at home in the church. Most of the items on my list reflect a failure to understand women and to let women be women as a creative expression of the diversity of God's creation. This is a crushing burden because women leaders already know that as Christians they will not be fully at home in the world of women's rights advocacy —they don't worship its idols or believe its lies. N. T. Wright comments:

In my experience the Christian woman is regularly regarded as something of a curiosity, to be tolerated, humoured even, maybe even allowed to put on a show once in a while. But the idea that they are, or could be, anything more than that—that they have a vocation to re-imagine and re-express the beauty of God, to lift our sights and change our vision of reality—is often not even considered.

So will you make a home for Christians called to be women leaders?

Please do what you can to accommodate them, because they are pointing us toward eternity.

See note about source material above.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Ladies, if you are considering fasting during Lent (the season before Easter, starting this week on the day known as Ash Wednesday) but you haven’t yet decided what to fast, I have a suggestion for your consideration: Fast from makeup.
This isn’t the right choice for everyone, but for some of you maybe? Hear me out (especially if the thought of going without makeup for 6 weeks makes you nervous, or you think it would be too hard. If that’s your reaction, this may be for you…)
I bring it up because the very first time I fasted for Lent, I gave up makeup and the experience transformed my life, no exaggeration.
Before I gave up makeup for those 6 weeks, I was bound to the habit of wearing makeup daily. My self-worth and sense of belonging were tied up in my appearance (sadly, so common in our culture.) I wanted to be thought of as attractive, and I didn’t think I was pretty without makeup. I liked the way that makeup made me look, but I didn’t like my face much without it and I was pretty sure that no one else did either. Since I thought makeup made me look better, it made me feel better about myself too. Unfortunately, that had the negative effect of eroding my confidence and acceptance of my natural, unenhanced face. In college I would not leave my dorm room without makeup – at minimum I wore foundation, mascara, and lipstick daily, no matter what.
I was challenged one day when I heard/felt God “whisper” in my heart, “I like your face. I made it just for you. Who gets to decide that you’re beautiful? Doesn’t my vote count more than a stranger’s?” I knew that deep down, I really didn’t care if God called me beautiful. I wanted to know what other people thought, and I wanted to do whatever was necessary in order to see something appealing when I looked in the mirror. If that is where you’re at, I want to encourage you to consider making room to embrace a different perspective for a season.
Throughout the 6 weeks that I went without makeup, I learned a lot about myself, and I learned even more about God’s heart for me. It was a spiritual fast not just because I stopped doing/using/eating something, but because I intentionally used the tension of that change as fuel for prayer.
When I felt self-conscious, I would pray and ask God to show me how He sees me. When I found myself worrying excessively about my appearance, I prayed that I would know who God created me to be from the inside out, and I’d read scriptures about my identity as one who has been created for a purpose. When I looked in the mirror, I declared the truth of bible verses like “Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.” And “The Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” During the morning when I normally would spend time doing my makeup, I did spirit-nourishing things instead, like reading my bible, praying, singing, or other things that filled me up and helped me connect with God. I have never been the same.
I’m certainly not saying that there’s anything wrong with makeup. I still wear it when I have time and feel like it. It’s fun. I still like the way I look with makeup on. But I don’t fight against my face anymore. I’m not obsessed with looking my best all the time. (I also no longer define “looking my best” according to external beauty norms.) If I don’t have time for makeup or don’t feel like wearing it, I just don’t. And it’s totally fine. You might like my face better with makeup, but you know what? All due respect, I really don’t care what you think about the physical attractiveness of my face or lack thereof (though I hope my face reflects to you kindness, gentleness, and compassion).
If you want to know more about my journey with all this, I’m happy to share. I just wanted to put it out there as food for thought. I know my perspective is different than a lot of people. Maybe some of you never struggled with the issues that I did, and you can wear makeup with none of the unhealthy thought patterns that I described. That’s awesome! Be free! But if someone out there is in the place where I once was, I just want to reach out a tender hand and gently say “Come out here in the light. We want to see you. The real you. You are beautiful!”

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Snake skin: an unexpected spiritual metaphor

While on my run on Monday, I found this snake skin lying in the grass alongside the trail. I was impressed by its size (4 feet long), and I had never seen a snake skin so fresh. It was soft & pliable, and even still a little wet even though it was lying in the sun. Though the snake must have been there just minutes before, I didn’t see the snake anywhere nearby so I lingered a bit to investigate.

It was remarkable how, at first glance, an empty shell looked like it was the actual snake that the skin had come from. (At that time it was not yet dry and wrinkly, so still held the form of the intact snake.) And yet, though it still looked like a snake and was at one time the most visible part of the snake, although it still had many of the external features of a snake, the skin itself was definitely not an actual snake. (Thank God! I don’t want to meet a 4-foot snake on the trail, thankyouverymuch.)

As I continued on my run, I meditated on this idea of empty shells and true life. I see the Christian life in that snake. The phrase “put off the former things” reverberated in my mind.
22 … in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. Ephesians 4:22-24
I “lay aside the old self” like the snake sheds its skin. There are ways of life, habits of behavior, and patterns of thinking that I once identified as central and essential to my identity. This old self is visible in the “skin”, the way I externally present myself in the world, but it comes from within. The skin grows out of who I am on the inside.

But, like a snake, the skin I once wore it doesn’t fit me anymore. A snake molts because its skin cannot grow.1 New growth requires that the snake “lay aside the old self”. If the old skin is not removed, blood flow is constricted and growth is hindered.

Are you constricted by the skin you’re in? Are you letting the old self of who you once were set limits on your growth? Do you look to the “skin” of what people see when they look at you to determine your sense of identity? What do you need to put off in order to allow for growth?

Next post (tomorrow?) I want to talk about more parallels to spiritual growth that I see in this snakeskin. It’s weird, I know. Snakes are not something I normally think of as a spiritual metaphor for anything other than temptation. But it’s amazing how God created the world in such a way that as we look around in nature, we can see glimpses of His character and the ways of His Kingdom reflected all around us. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Why I'm writing for #dosummer2015

My friend, Trena, invited me to join her in the #dosummer2015 challenge. 
15 minutes a day, for 100 days, I'm going to write something and share it.

For years I’ve talked about wanting to write more often, to improve my writing skills and find what I’m meant to say. But the go-go-go busy pace of life that I’ve fallen into has made it difficult to find the time and make it happen.

Oh, who am I kidding? We’re all busy. None of us have extra time. If I’m honest with myself, and with you, the real reason I haven’t written consistently is because it’s easier to hide behind “busy” than to risk failing.

What if I have nothing to say?

What if I have too much to say

What if I hurt people?

What if it’s meaningless

Those questions sit here with me, scratching and tapping at the back of my head as I scratch and tap at the keyboard. “stop. Stop. STOP!” they say, “What if you waste your time? What if you waste your life?”

Well, fear, what if?

What if I waste my life listening to you, stuffing down that thing inside me that says “write. Write. WRITE! You have something important to say!” What if I spend so much energy trying to avoid the pain of failure that I end up missing the very reason that I am made

It feels scary to say “I’m going to write at least 15 minutes a day, and I’m going to just put it out there in the world and let anyone read it.” (Ya’ll be gentle, ok?) I know that somehow writing is a part of the way God wired me to engage with the world, to find what’s real and true and right and good and share it. To wrestle reality into words and put them on the page…it helps me to see, it helps me to hear, it helps me to speak. I have a story to tell, I have a song to sing. God’s given me a voice, so I’m going to learn to use it. 


It’s risky, this business of sharing life with each other and being our real selves, not just some made-up fa├žade. When we hoard the things that we hold most valuable, when we resist being vulnerable, we think we are protecting ourselves from loss. Avoiding risk feels safe. But as a good friend once said, “Life is risk. Better make the risk count.”

I hope and pray that this writing counts; that by the end of the summer I will have spent 1500 minutes learning, practicing, and growing in a way that matters. If nothing else, I will learn something.

So, what is the risk you need to take? What’s that thing you keep saying you want to do “someday”, but you’ve been too busy, too afraid, too distracted to actually start doing? Want to jump in and #dosummer2015 with us? It's not just for writing. It's for anything. What do you need to do?

Thursday, March 05, 2015


Took the long way home from work today. The drive only adds about 7 more minutes to my commute, but it's significantly more beautiful than my usual route.
As I drove, unhurried, I wondered momentarily why I don't do this more often - why I don't take the longer way, even when I know I enjoy it so much more. The question was answered as soon as I wondered it.
I usually don't have 7 minutes to spare.
Not even just a 7 minute margin, for beauty's sake.
Margins on a page give space for a story to come to life, to take shape, to be comprehensible.
Margins in a life give space for our story to come to life, to take shape, to be comprehensible.
Without space it's too easy to lose what gives meaning to our lives.
Margins are for beauty. I'm carving out space for more.

Monday, January 28, 2013

This Little Mommy Went to Market, This Little Mommy Stayed Home...

After spending the last 7+ years as a stay-at-home mom, I recently returned to work on a full-time temporary basis while my husband stays home with our kids. I have learned a few surprising things during this time, and I hope these lessons stick with me. Here are a few:

  • I have a new appreciation for the value of the hard work that my husband does outside the home to provide for and sustain our family.

When I’ve spent the whole day at home with the kids, I am typically counting down the minutes until my husband walks in the door. It’s not at all uncommon for me to have one thing on my mind in that moment – “I want a break!” Caring for children is hard work, emotionally taxing, and physically exhausting. But I have not appreciated as I should the blessing of a hard working husband. My husband’s job is physically demanding, and he carries the weight of responsibility to not only do his job well, but also to provide for our family’s needs. He lays down his life for us every day, and one expression of that is his devotion to work hard. I don’t want to take that for granted anymore. I don’t want to consider my role at home as the important one, and his work outside the home as an interference. Yes, the work of a husband and father goes far beyond earning a living, but the work he does matters more than I have shown. 

  • Until now, I have underestimated the impact that can be made simply by trying to have the kids calm and dinner ready when my husband gets home from work.

Please don’t throw anything at your computer screen. I know I’ve heard this kind of thing before and thought “Yeah, right! Why don’t YOU come to my house and try to make dinner with 5 kids underfoot. And give your best shot at trying to get them to stop fighting before Daddy walks in the door. Good Luck!” I’m not saying that I will, or even should, have everything perfect every day when he gets home from work. But I am confident that I haven’t given this the effort that it deserves. When I come home from work to find the kids at the table and a delicious hot meal waiting for me, I feel incredibly grateful, and incredibly humbled. After a full day at work, I am tired and hungry. (Much more tired and hungry than it seems I should be after just sitting at a computer and talking on the phone all day.) I know that he’s tired too, and yet I walk in the door and find our kids’ needs being met, and my needs anticipated. In that moment, food and happy kids are my love language. After the first few days of working, I thought silently “Why don’t I do this for you? Why don’t I work harder to make your homecoming a good one?” 

  • Work is invigorating, and that doesn't diminish the value of motherhood.

As much as I am learning about things that will directly impact my mothering, I’m also gaining perspective that it’s ok that there is more to me than simply being a mother, even in this season when my kids are little. I am surprised by how much I like my job. I get to learn new things every day. I talk to many people, and almost all of them have the ability to speak in full sentences and comprehend what I say. I get up early and get dressed every morning, and even do my hair and makeup. I really enjoy going to work. I enjoy the intellectual stimulation and sense of accomplishment. I like that I can complete a task from start to finish in one sitting. I enjoy work in a way that doesn't have a counterpart in my mothering experience. But my enjoyment of work does not diminish my enjoyment of motherhood, and it certainly doesn't diminish my value as a mother. 

  • Being present in my kids’ lives is necessary. Being omnipresent in my kids’ lives is impossible, and attempting to be so is inadvisable.

  • When he’s out of the home all day, I need to talk with my husband more about what’s going on with our kids…and that’s ok.

  • There are other people who love my kids besides me, and it’s good to make space for some of them to have a place of influence.

  • When he’s out of the home all day, I need to talk with my husband more about what’s going on with me…and that’s ok.

  • A mother's discipleship is not only for her children – there is a world full of people that need us to shine the light, speak the truth, and walk with them as we follow Jesus.

I was offered the opportunity to keep my job on a permanent basis, with an increase in pay. I turned down the offer. As much as I love my job, I know that once my husband returns to work, the place I am most needed in my family will be at home. When my temporary position ends, I will return home to be a full-time mom. I will not for a moment regret my decision to walk away from work and back to my kids. But I’ll be a different person when I go back. Hopefully less self-centered and self-righteous. I will appreciate the time a little more. I will appreciate my husband more. I will judge working moms less. I will appreciate working moms more. I will work a little harder. I will pray a little harder, and play a little harder, and hopefully laugh more. I am thankful for the gift of this season, and I look forward to the next one with great anticipation.

Friday, April 29, 2011

How will they know Him?

       When my oldest daughter, Abigail, was less than a year old, I felt overwhelmed by the task of raising this little girl to know and love Jesus. It was my most earnest desire as a mother, but I felt a bit daunted by the weight of significance.

       At that time, we had a young man named Caleb living with us. I felt the Lord ask me “How does Abigail know Caleb?” She, of course, knew Caleb because he lived in our house. She saw him every day, she heard our conversations with him, she observed our interaction with him, she talked with him and played with him. His mere presence in our home meant that it would be pretty difficult for her not to know him. Of course, her knowledge of him and relationship with him differed from ours, since in her youth she lacked understanding in some of the things that we adults could know about one another. But nonetheless, she knew him, as well as she could know anyone, simply by living with him.

       I felt the Lord encouraging me that what I am longing to see in my children in terms of knowing and loving God will not be primarily a matter of “teaching” her to know the Lord, but mostly the result of simply living in His presence. If His Spirit is truly filling our hearts, if we talk with Him daily, if we tell the stories of all the things He’s done throughout history (even before we were born), if we reminisce about special times we’ve shared with Him…then He will be as real to her, and as knowable, as any other person who resides in our home.

       I was simultaneously encouraged and challenged by that invitation, and I think I’m feeling that same kind of longing right now. I’ve been thinking about the humanity and divinity of Jesus a lot lately. I am hungry to know Him – to really, really know Him. “From Patmos” (learn about it here; or watch it here) gave such a tangible picture of Jesus in the flesh – a man who was knowable, just like I know any other friend. I want that longing for the Messiah to come (again), and that awe and joy and confidence that the Messiah is my friend. Is He really as tangible to me as the people I can reach out and touch with my hands? I know He is a person, not a collection of ideas, but am I really engaging with Him on that level on a moment by moment basis?