What Women Need From the Church

Recently a blog I follow offered that space for women to write as guest bloggers and say what they want from the church. It piqued my interest, and I sent off a post. It was returned and refused because it didn’t affirm the women who were wanting to hear that the church needs to them to be pastors and conference speakers. It made me a little mad that in a place that ostensibly gave women a safe hearing, it wasn’t a safe place for this woman to say that on the basis of the Bible, God doesn’t want women to be pastors.

I know that my blog readership is mostly Mennonite women, and that women pastors isn’t something we talk about very much. It’s generally a non-issue. (Or am I out of the loop?) But we do need some things from the church, so I revamped the original post to suit a more Mennonite audience, and here it is.

What Women Want from the Church: Eden’s Design

My faith tradition is conservative Mennonite, and I choose to live my faith in this sub/counter-cultural church. This is where I’ve experienced that God’s design for men and women is one that works and allows both to thrive and come closer to Eden’s perfection. It’s a creaking, groaning globe we live on, far from Eden, but God’s still in charge, and He’s still a good designer.

In my culture, the average young woman is married by age 23 or 24, and she is usually a mother in another year or two, with more babies coming later. Conservative Mennonite women spend large amounts of their energy doing what women do better than men: have babies, nurture children, and love and support their husband in a million creative, amazing ways.

However, being single and childless at nearly forty, I’m an aberration. Being average is over-rated, but what’s a single girl to do in church when most of her friends have wonderful husbands and several children?

But singlehood is another subject for another day. Back to women and the church.

I have time and gifts and abilities that could make me a good preacher or public speaker. I know how to wing words, and how to organize them to do what they need to. But for heaven’s sake—for the Kingdom of God’s sake—this is not a woman’s greatest or noblest or most needed accomplishment.

Although being a pastor is not an option in my church—and I’m glad of it—my gifts haven’t been squelched.  I’ve been given safe places in which to use my gifts, with the support and encouragement of many good men.

Jesus’ treatment of women in Palestine gave them dignity and significance that no one else had ever given them.  He was counter-cultural then, and He still is. He is tender with our weaknesses, and affirms our strengths.

What women need the church to do is to be as Christ to her women: to give the protection that allows them to bloom fully into Eden’s design. What women need from the church is a restoration of our design as nurturers and helpers and supporters. This includes affirming women’s gifts and protecting their vulnerability. It includes believing their sorrowful stories and defending their tears. It means acknowledging their beauty and affirming their modesty, not objectifying them.

When women are objects, everything goes crazy. When men want a model to dangle on their arms, and a pretty face to look at, or a body to admire, or a person to control, women become something they were never created to be. Women were designed for relationship and heart connection. We are most alive, useful, and true to Eden’s design in these capacities. Objectifying women starts the crazy cycle of proving ourselves, hating ourselves, then screaming about rights and equality.

A woman is most useful, alive, and close to Eden’s design when she’s being a counselor and comfort, a sounding board and giver of hugs.   When God called men to be pastors, He was saving women from themselves and their own innate power.

A woman has power but the greatest power is that which relinquishes itself as Jesus did when He washed feet and served breakfast. There is no limit to ministry when one is intentional about being a servant.

I know this is true, but I sometimes stumble and forget and demand honor that is ill-suited for a servant. I resent lowliness and hiddenness. I want to rest instead of work.

But more servant and less princess is how I really want to live, however poorly I remember it.

In Christ’s body, no one is the greatest. Every part has their own role. Their own glorious, unique contribution that God dreamed up for them. Women can find enormous satisfaction in doing things that men can’t do. Isn’t there a place for everyone to be useful and alive? Isn’t that how He designed us to be?

God’s ways are wonderful and infinite but I am mystified as to how a woman can extrapolate a calling from God to pastor a church, even while she claims to be a student of and guided by the Word. I maintain that if Jesus and Paul could meet any of us this evening in any town on the globe, they’d greet us warmly and laugh with us and tell us stories, but they wouldn’t rescind anything they said 2,000 years ago.  Why should they? The original design of Eden still works.

What would happen if men and women started looking for lower, more hidden places of service? What if we would stop name-dropping and ogling the most popular blogger or speaker or writer, and look instead at the homely, common person beside us and recognized the gold that’s hidden in them?

Seems like that’s what Jesus did.

Seems like that’s what He’d like the church to do.

30 thoughts on “What Women Need From the Church

  1. I just want/need an Anabaptist church, that’s all. Forget the public speaking- that was required for my MA course and I dreaded it.

      • I understand that Anita, but Hebrews 10:24- 25 speaks of the need for believers to meet together often. Weekly fellowship and shared prayers helps spiritual growth and aids faith.

  2. This subject is close to my heart and i have often pondered it. A non-Mennonite friend told she thought that Mennonite woman were squelched because they didn’t have the freedom to do what they wanted and didn’t have opportunity for ministry. i didn’t agree with her because i have never felt that way. However, as another single woman pushing forty, i have wondered what God’s place for us is in His Kingdom. Speaking for myself, for years i felt that i had a ministry where i could be a friend to those outside my faith and show them the love of Christ and that i was a regular person just like they were. I am in a different environment now and now it seems like i am to be an “auntie” to my friends children. As a single woman i feel like i am very vulnerable and i would say one of my greatest needs is protection and guidance for my life. i feel the church i am with has been a supportive, spiritual family to me for which i am thankful.

    Years ago i had a non-Mennonite friend who claimed that she was called to be a pastor. I felt uncomfortable with this and circumstances happened and we went our separate ways. One thing i have taken note of is woman pastors often have very short hair and i think of the scriptures regarding a woman’s prayer covering and if her head isn’t covered she may as well be shorn. Obviously it is not a shame to them as the Bible would indicate. I have often puzzled (?) that avid Bible scholars would miss the clear teaching of the head covering. I can understand a misinterpretation of a woman’s ministry but not the head covering.

    Anyway, I believe that God has a ministry, which is just another word for servant, for all of us. Whether male or female we all have equal value in His Kingdom.Each one of us are unique so we all have a special place to fill that no one else can. I believe we are all blessed when we fill that special place God has for us and not try to fill a role that was not meant for us. We can work in harmony as a complete unit.

  3. Good words, Anita! I’m glad to be able to see what you wrote, although I’m disappointed for you that it wasn’t accepted by the blog.
    These words grabbed my attention: “I have time and gifts and abilities that could make me a good preacher or public speaker. I know how to wing words, and how to organize them to do what they need to. But for heaven’s sake—for the Kingdom of God’s sake—this is not a woman’s greatest or noblest or most needed accomplishment.” I think I know you well enough to say that if you were in a position of prominence, such as that of pastor or successful public speaker, you would not display the same grace you do now. It means a lot that you live your words; your gifts are blooming in the not-as-prominent kingdom places.

    I think that when the church is what she is supposed to be we men feel the call to be genuine leaders: passionate but not reckless, caring without being weak. There certainly have been times when I’ve been frustrated with how my tradition deals with gender roles, i.e., not giving women a voice in the church, but I hope that this will cause us not to be bitter, but to consider what it means to be men and women uniquely displaying qualities of God’s image.

  4. I do not totally disagree with you but I do find it significant heirarchy was a part of the curse.
    I also would be curious what you think of Bob Edwards new book entitled “Let my people go”. I have not read it in entirety but have read pieces of it. As well, I know his heart and have much respect for him.

    • I don’t know that book or author. Sounds interesting!
      My understanding is that after the fall, woman’s desire became devouring, demanding, and controlling of men and life in general. The fall brought on our can’t-live-with-them-can’t-live-without-them dichotomy with men. Before the fall, there was order, beauty, and safety. That’s what women need now. It’s not always happening, which is a grief, but it’s what I’m asking for.

      • I’m commenting to a woman about women, Lucy. Both men and women are fallen and broken badly. Both hurt each other terribly. We could talk all day about annoying habits of both men and women!
        But bitterness and anger and blame will do nothing to mend that rift or bring the healing that we need so desperately.

  5. I love the kingdom call to love God supremely in the character of being a servant. I recall reading about a young man who walked away from Jesus greatly disappointed because the cost of following Him was too great. Fame as a public speaker and possessions will never fill the emptiness in one’s heart. A woman is never more powerful than when she aligns with the intended purpose for which she was created. Good words, Anita, and powerful insight.

  6. Well I for one loved your article. I agree. It draws me and encourages me. As godly women, we applaud and say that we desire to be like Jesus, but in all reality, the being like Him is a hard path of death, hidden servant-hood and loneliness. Do I still wish to follow then? If we follow long enough we discover how it all leads to life and fullness, because we are living in His design and we find Him! Anita…..we shall meet over coffee ‘ere too long……

  7. Yes! The thought of us “being a counselor and comfort, a sounding board and giver of hugs” makes it practical. We were created to help, not lead. We really are blessed when we choose to live as such. Thank you for the encouragement!

  8. Recognizing the gold in the common person beside me. . . yes, yes, yes. Thank you, Anita! I found your blog a while ago–and think I know you. Weren’t we in a Creative Writing class together in a little Bible School twenty years ago? 🙂 I don’t remember seeing you since. Blessings to you! I enjoy your blog and hope to read your book one of these times.

  9. This is begging to be published somewhere, Anita. Calvary Messenger? 😀

    I agree with your excellent arguments. The part about searching for MORE hidden places to serve hit me hard. Thanks for sharing.

  10. I can’t remember if I ever commented on your blog, but we have mutual friends, which is how I found it. This post is really beautifully written. Sometimes I stumble to explain our ancient/outmoded view on women’s gifts and callings. You have a very articulate style and I, for one, think it is good to hear you on your blog. 🙂

    • Thanks for your kind words!
      Our view may be ancient, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work or shouldn’t be upheld. The ways of God’s Kingdom aren’t going to be popular, but popularity was never one of Jesus’ goals.
      Very often we are called to replace something we really LIKE with something that’s better–in this case, replace up-dated life-style choices with humble Bible principles.

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