Why I Need Female Leaders | And You Do Too
It was third grade, and I was running late to the bus stop. Snow had been falling by the inches, and I had spent most of my morning around the TV, hoping to hear that our school had given us a snow day. I dreaded lacing up my shoes because I would have to face Mrs. Greene, my elementary schoolteacher, and explain to her why I hadn’t finished an assignment that was due that day when I arrived to class.
The walk from the glossy yellow school bus to the front door of North Elementary was excruciating, and I felt as if time stood still to torture me.
What would she do? How much damage would this do to my grades?
Entering the classroom was a blur, and I remember little of what I did, other than try to avoid the homework conversation with Mrs. Greene. But then the big moment came!
“Please turn in your assignments up front and return to your seat!” she demanded.
I began the walk of shame to her desk and approached her prepared for the worst. But what happened next changed me forever because of her leadership.
Instead of failing me or making an example of me in front of the whole class, Mrs. Greene took me aside and spoke life into my circumstances. She listened to the real story of why I hadn’t finished my assignment and offered me more time to finish the task. But she didn’t stop there. She planted seeds of encouragement that would enrich the formation of my character, and she offered a voice that opened my mind to another perspective. Among the truths she instilled in me: Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength, carrying two days at once. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow; it empties today of its strength.
Why was this so significant at that time in my life?
The world I was living in, my church and family traditions, tried to convince me that men were the only gender qualified to lead and women should follow with a quiet, submissive voice.
But how could I reconcile this belief with my now life-changing experience with Mrs. Greene. To add to it, she was a lover of Jesus and clearly an amazing practitioner of the gospel.
You see, the church I grew up in would not allow women to preach or serve as pastors. For some reason, women were allowed to testify in church and teach Sunday school, but they could not preach or even stand on the platform where the pulpit rested.
As I continued to grow up in the world of American Evangelicalism, I continued to be taught that women could not serve as church leaders and offer their voices as deacons and elders. People would defend their stance with a couple of restrictive texts written by the apostle Paul, namely 1 Timothy 2:11-12, which says, “Women should learn quietly and submissively. I do not let women teach men or have authority over them,” and 1 Corinthians 14:34, which says, “Women should be silent during the church meetings. It is not proper for them to speak” (NLT).
But the more I read and the more I noticed the image of God in all people, the more I found that this restriction was exercised inconsistently over and over again and failed to consider the metanarrative of the many gospel stories including women as well as Paul’s own life example.
Paul frequently worked alongside women serving in leadership roles. There were Euodia and Syntyche, Lydia, Phoebe (who likely was the courier of the Roman epistle and the first to interpret it to her listeners), Priscilla, Chloe and Junia, to mention a few. These women were leaders, preachers, apostles and deacons. And we can’t forget those from the Old Testament, such as Deborah, Miriam and Huldah.
Now, I’m not in third grade anymore, but my 8-year-old daughter almost is. Just last night she shared her voice and taught me about Ruby Bridges, a then 6-year-old African-American girl who desegregated an all-white school in 1960. My daughter told me that Ruby’s father was reluctant and scared to send his daughter because it would be unsafe, but her mother felt strongly that the move was needed not only to give Ruby a better education but to take a step forward for all African-American children. Ruby and her mother led a movement that later compelled a 34-year-old white male minister to follow their lead and walk his 5-year-old daughter through the angry crowds so she could go to school as well.
Imagine if Ruby’s father hadn’t listened and had written off his wife’s plead. Imagine if Ruby’s mother hadn’t shared her voice. Now imagine me having to tell my daughter, Ella Jay, that she can’t lead and that her voice has no significance.
What world would we continue to live in? What kingdom would be advanced?
I need female leaders in my life. You need female leaders in your life. The church needs female leaders in its life.
Culture and churches might limit female leaders, but Jesus’ Kingdom is not of this world — and in Jesus’ Kingdom, women lead too. Jesus’ very purpose was to redeem, restore and renew what was lost in the Fall.
To the men and women willing to hear: It’s time for a fundamental change in how we interpret what the Bible says regarding women leading and participating fully in Jesus’ Kingdom.
*Much love to Mrs. Greene, my mother, my wife, my daughters, and the many other women who lead me every day!
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