“Your husband is a brooder. And brooders brood.” – Bates (Downton Abbey)
For years I have been working through what I believe about women and power (I call it processing, but really, like Bates, it’s brooding). Because there are two extremes in our culture, and I disagree with both. There is the world’s definition of female power, distorted by our enemy until somehow women choose to do things that are absolutely terrible for us to demonstrate we have the right, and then the church’s definition of female power, which in many places is no power at all, or worse, no voice (although certainly not everywhere). Both extremes make me very uncomfortable.
I’ve not always thought about women and power in a righteous way – in fact most often probably the opposite. The rebellious contrarian nature in me (that aged my parents like my rebellious contrarian child ages me) rises up when someone addresses this issue, and I struggle to understand and work through what I believe about rights, submission, surrender, and the power that is mine as a child of the King. I’ll search the Bible for answers, and feel my spirit lift and fall as I read things that encourage or confuse me when it comes to women and power. Paul, for example, writes some pretty strict limitations on women’s leadership, but shortly after praises a female apostle and writes greetings to several women leaders in the early church, and after that says there is no male and female in the Kingdom. It is confusing, and anyone who tells you it isn’t apparently possesses some secret Bible decoder ring that I’d love to borrow for a month or two or forever. And again I’m a contrarian, so I want to know the truth, but I won’t believe something just because you say it is true.
I’ve always been this way. As a child, in my Christian school, I submitted a science fair project on my attempt to determine the point where life begins, studying it both in the Bible and from a scientific viewpoint, trying to work through what I believed. And let me tell you – the entire project didn’t go over well in the school I attended, despite my genuinely pro-life viewpoint (I think I got a 72). Sometimes questions, even asked innocently, make people uncomfortable.
And that discomfort certainly exists when you start discussing women and power in today’s church. We all have a point of view, often shaped by our experiences. For years I served in churches where women on staff were the absolute minority and relegated to non-ministerial “director” roles. On one staff, I was the only woman on the executive staff (terrifying, right?), and I felt like I had to represent all women at a table full of men, all of the time. It exhausted me. So I left ministry, aside from serving beside my minister husband, because I couldn’t figure out how to be me in those environments.
But in the meantime, I kept being drawn to these women who were both powerful and righteous – and I loved watching them be all God had made them to be. I longed to see more of that from the Church that I love.
So this position comes up at Community of Faith for me to serve full-time on a church staff again. Honestly, I’ve never cried or agonized over a decision more in my life. I actually said no several times. And then I visited here and saw that this church is defined by so many things that move my heart: mission, Prayer, restoring the broken, redeeming the lost. This place is real and simple and powerful. There is freedom here. Beauty. Vulnerability. God’s presence so thick you can feel it. Prayer like I’ve never experienced. I wanted to be here but I was not sold on my role on the staff until I met a woman who demonstrated quiet graceful strength. She is our Pastor’s wife – but we also call her our Pastor. She doesn’t claim that title or call herself that as if it were her right – but she started COF with her husband and her wisdom saturates this place and she completely fills that role in the right way, so that is what we call her, because we honor her. On the drive back to Dallas, after seeing the church and meeting the Shooks, Justin and I talked and wrestled and prayed and processed like our life was on the line – because it was. During that talk, I cried when I told him that meeting her, I finally saw myself here. I knew if I came on staff I would never have to represent all women, because they are very beautifully represented in the women on staff here already. But more than that, I felt like I had seen the right kind of power displayed and honored, and it felt like coming home.
(There are some who will shut down as you read the last paragraph, and I get it. I hope my heart is coming across correctly, but I also know we all have entirely too much baggage when it comes to the issue of women and the church. We have seen abuses and been taught rules and boundaries quite forcefully, so I get the complexity and discomfort).
So we decide to move here after the Lord confirms our decision about eleven different ways, and I return to full-time ministry. We are at this church, this church of our dreams, serving with people who are fully alive to the world of the Spirit and fully on-mission to reach the world. Last weekend I filmed sixteen people as they were baptized, and our Pastor stood at the top of the steps of the baptistry and said “I’m proud of you” to each one as they timidly stepped into the water and into the new life of obedience to Christ. This place is not perfect, I know, but it is special and the Lord’s hand is here and we are moved by it week after week after week. So many times since we moved here Justin and I have said to each other, “This is worth giving up our lives.”
But even still, it hasn’t been easy for me. I brood. I feel unsettled. Awkward. Striving. Inadequate. Insecure. Too tall. Too loud. Too much. Not enough. I am fighting to process all of this because it is all so new. This new culture. This new paradigm. Even the new roles Justin and I are filling at home and my role at work. In every area of our life there are massive changes, and I am stuck in my head working through them. Most of all, I’m working through how to walk through this door the Lord so clearly opened for our family. Because it’s amazing and refreshing to meet a woman walking in the right kind of power, but it’s hard to be a woman walking in the right kind of power. I feel a little bit like I’m learning to walk again, wobbling between extremes, trying to find my way. Too fearful one moment, too bold the next. Too confident in my own wisdom, then plagued with self-doubt, all the time not relying enough on the wisdom of my Father. My feelings are all over the map, and although rationally I know my feelings aren’t truth – still I feel so many feelings and it makes me uncomfortable.
Finally I come to tonight – and the reason I am writing. There has been some serious violence in our new area in the past months, and the women on our staff were invited to a prayer meeting to stand together against the forces of evil in our town. So I go with some female staff members and staff wives, and we walk into a room with about 16 people total, where we are led in prayer. And it was powerful. All-caps POWERFUL. We are praying in unison, quiet at first, but with more and more boldness as we go. We are humbling ourselves, begging the Lord to intercede and move and change hearts and rescue. We have been afraid, but we aren’t going to live in fear anymore. Instead we are laying down our requests before the God who controls armies of angels. We are also stepping into the power that is ours to fight against the enemy. The leader of the prayer time says, “We don’t have to take this – we don’t have to be subject to this violence and the schemes of the enemy. We have power in Christ to push back this darkness” and my spirit felt free to walk in that power. It was glorious… and I’m not a person who uses the word “glorious.” We are women, praying in power, as if we have the right to claim this victory and take back this land for the glory of the Lord. Because we do. And I just kept thinking as I left – this is the right kind of power. This is the undefinable thing that moves me about this place.
(As a sidenote, in that room praying with us was one of the most powerful and influential women in the entire Christian world – a name every single one of you would know without question, crying out to the Lord alongside us, revealing the Source of her very formidable strength. When the Lord shows me something, He often has to repeat Himself until even I can’t miss the lesson).
Tonight these conflicted ideas stopped being conflicted for me. The power is not in me, and yet is in me. I am a simple girl. A mess more often than I admit. I know better than anyone how utterly unqualified I am on my own strength to lead anyone or represent the Lord in ministry to a hurting world. And yet I am a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, so His power is in me. He uses me despite my weakness. He empowers me with His strength. And when I walk in that power, there are no limits to what I can or should do for the Lord and His Kingdom. The difference between power out-of-control and beautiful righteous power is the Spirit in which I am walking. Am I walking in surrender to Christ, filled with the Spirit? Then I am powerful and I have no reason to fear or limit myself.
Pray for me, sweet friends, and I’ll pray for you, that we will walk in the power of Christ in the way we were intended, without fear and without a desire to glorify ourselves. And may we progress from infants struggling to walk in this power to daughters dancing and running, pushing back the darkness and bringing glory to the God who created us male and female, for His glory.
For consider your calling, brothers (and sisters): not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God,righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” I Cor 1:26 – 31.
I think this is appropriate given the subject matter. 🙂
Absolutely beautiful, sister. I don’t know when our internal struggle between feeling too powerful and not powerful enough will end….but until then, there’s grace. Love you!
Jen, your article, “The Powerful Woman” touched me. I’m 67 and grew up in conservative holiness churches. I know first hand the damages women sustain in the Church. I struggled with them most of my life. I remember when I learned that the average woman has a higher IQ than the average man, I asked God why He made us smarter and then asked us to submit and play dumb. When I was eight years old I was saved in a very powerful and real way, and I felt the call to preach. But then I learned that the Bible forbade women to preach, and I was confused. I must have misheard God.
It wasn’t until I was 60 years old that I became a Methodist, and was called by the pastor to be a Lay Speaker. In the Methodist Church, Certified Lay Speakers take the service when the pastor cannot. Today I preach in two small East Texas churches, and am on rotation for little churches that cannot afford a pastor.
When I became a lay speaker, I began to study Biblical Hebrew again. I wanted to be sure that I understood what the Bible was trying to say. I had taken Hebrew 101 in my twenties, and forgotten much of it.
One of the first things I learned is that, like Spanish and French, Hebrew is a language with masculine and feminine articles. The rare word that is both masculine and feminine is God, Elohim. Some of the names and attributes of God are masculine, the others are feminine.
And to my shock and awe, the Holy Spirit is referred to in the feminine and embodies the feminine attributes of God. Most Christians believe that God created femininity when He created Eve. But the feminine of God first appears in Genesis 1: 2, when the Spirit (f.) of God was hovering (f.) or brooding (f.) over the face of the waters. The Jewish people today still recognize and celebrate the feminine of God in The Shekinah (f.), and the first century church referred to The Holy Spirit as Eme Elohim, Mother God, or God the Mother. In Hebrew and Aramaic, the Holy Spirit is feminine. It wasn’t until the Bible was translated into Greek and Latin that the Holy Spirit became masculine.
God created mankind in His own image, male and female. Adam was male and female. So that when God created Eve, He removed the feminine from Adam and created a creature that embodies the feminine of God. I was astonished to learn that I was made in the image and likeness of God, not a secondary creature made from Adam, but a creature who possesses the feminine attributes of God.
The words to describe Eve in Genesis 1:18, “help mete”, have been misquoted as help mate, and Eve has been relegated to something of a sous chef or assistant. The word used there for help is ezar neged. Neged impies equality, while ezar is accurately translated helper. But what is not known is that ezar is a powerful Hebrew military word, denoting a soldier surrounded in battle by the enemy, and a fellow soldier breaks through enemy lines to come to the aid of the first soldier, to rescue him and to fight the enemy with and for him. The second soldier is the ezar. He is neither above or below the first soldier in rank. This word appears only seven times in the Bible, and it is used five times for God Himself and twice for Eve. Our culture portrays women as damsels in distress. But God sees the opposite for Eve.
Eve wasn’t put under submission to her husband until after the fall. But when Christ comes, the curse is lifted for Adam, but no one ever wonders why Eve must still bear the curse of the Fall. Could it be that “there is now no male or female” and “submit yourselves to one another” is how God intends for Christian marriage to be? That both are to be submitted to God and to each other in mutual submission?
You mentioned Paul putting strict limitations on women’s leadership. I’m assuming you are referring to 1 Corinthians 14: 34 & 35. This verse is not in the earliest surviving manuscripts. It doesn’t appear until the third century as a note in the margin made by a Greek scribe. It remained as such until a long time later when someone saw fit to put it into the manuscript. So Paul does not forbid women to speak, rather applauds them for their leadership.
I truly believe that if men and women were taught what the original language says about femininity, women would finally see themselves as God sees them, and violence toward women would be challenged.
I also believe that the Church’s attitude toward women has curtailed the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church and grieved Her.