In February of 2017, a group of staff from our partner churches gathered at New Denver Church to explore findings from DIFW’s Women & Vocation Initiative. Joanna Meyer, Director of Events & Sponsorships, and Haley Grey Scott, author of Dare Mighty Things: Mapping the Challenges of Leadership for Christian Women facilitated the discussion.
It’s important to note that the goal of this conversation was not to delve into complementarian or egalitarian perspectives in church leadership or marriage. Rather, we focused on key practices that churches representing a range of theological perspectives could use to disciple women vocationally.
To provide context, we examined quotes from women who have attended DIFW’s women and work events:
“I came was because I really just wanted to hear that the fact that I still want to work once I become a mom is okay.”
“It was a relief [to know it’s ok that a love my job]” (said by a single woman in a service-oriented profession)
“I hear so many skewed perspectives that people in the church have about working women (whether they have kids or not). People have asked me if I’m worried I’m not fulfilling God’s purpose for my life because I’m single and don’t have kids. I know this is wrong and not Biblical, so I’m looking forward to discussing a Biblical perspective on this topic.”
These comments aren’t unusual. Whether a woman is a stay-at-home mom, a single career woman, or a professional juggling responsibilities at work and at home, chances are she experiences some degree of “churn” regarding her relationship with her job.
Churches can ease this unrest—and help women confidently steward their gifts by teaching a theologically-rich perspective of women and work and by modeling relational/organizational dynamics that include and empower women.
During our discussion, we considered two key practices:
Teach a broad, biblically-based call for women to work:
- God calls both men and women to bear his image as they steward creation (Genesis 1-3). This is every believer’s work—regardless of age, role, or remuneration.
- While marriage and motherhood are a beautiful expression of this calling, they are not a “higher calling” than other forms of work women can do. Every woman is called to steward the fullness of her gifts across the scope of her life.
- Model the breadth of this calling in your teaching (i.e.: beware of letting programming and sermon illustrations revolve around marriage & family.) A lot of life happens outside the window of time when kids are at home.
- Anticipate the cultural biases/misconceptions that color a woman’s understanding of Scripture. Although the Cultural Mandate (Genesis 1-3) uses a wide range of words to describe God’s call, for many women the words that stick are “be fruitful and multiply.” You may not suggest that motherhood is a woman’s “highest calling,” but you never know how other influences shape women’s thinking.
- Affirm the “Blessed Alliance” – God’s design for men and women working together. Author Carolyn Custis James explores this concept in Lost Women of the Bible and Half the Church.
Encourage inclusive, collaborative interaction between men and women
- In an ideal world, the church would set the standard for healthy interaction between the sexes, yet sometimes it seems like our interaction isn’t life-giving. How does God’s restoration of all things extend to men and women’s relationships in the church?
- Know the risk of male/female collaboration but don’t let fear keep you from collaborating. Beware of consistently defaulting into gender exclusive groups because it seems safer/easier.
- Examine your personal or organizational culture. Do you interact with members of the opposite sex with a “daredevil” approach (bold, at times reckless, unbounded) or with “bubblewrap” (cautious to the point of avoidance, often known as the “Billy Graham” rule.) What might an appropriate middle ground look like?
- Create an environment where women have a seat at the table. Even if you have a conservative or view of women in leadership, there are myriad ways you can include them in visible, substantive ways.
- “What women bring to the table is not simply a feminine touch but half of humanity’s gifts, passions, and experiences.” (Katelyn Beaty, A Woman’s Place, p. 66)
- If women hesitate to lead or serve, find out why. Maybe they don’t feel that their perspectives are valued or heard. Maybe current leadership opportunities don’t suit mothers’ unique schedules. Maybe they’re worried about becoming isolated in leadership (“superwoman syndrome”).
The February gathering just scratched the surface of what promises to be an on-going conversation. We’d love to help the women of your church thrive in their work at church, at home, and in the world. If you’d like to schedule a consultation to discuss strategies for your congregation, email Joanna Meyer or Brian Gray for details.
Want to learn more? Check out our online course for "Beyond Leaning In."
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This post was published March 16, 2017
Joanna serves as Denver Institute’s Director of Public Engagement, hosts the Faith & Work Podcast, and oversees the Women & Vocation Initiative. Prior to coming to the Institute, Joanna worked in global telecom, nonprofit consulting, and campus ministry with Cru. She served as associate faculty at Denver Seminary and as a sewing instructor at Fancy Tiger Crafts. A third-generation Coloradan, Joanna appreciates both the state’s innovative culture and its cowboy roots. She has an MA in Social Entrepreneurship from Bakke Graduate University and graduated magna cum laude from the University of Colorado, Boulder. She also completed a certificate of Women in Leadership through Cornell University.