Genesis 1:27 says: “So God created man in his own image…male and female created he them.”
When God created humankind, He did so by instilling His image in both genders. Since the dawn of time, God has not withheld power or entitlement, even to the extent of His very image, from the woman. This passage suggests—even proves—that since the beginning, He has endowed women with the same privileges granted to man. However, we should not assume that this means He made women as carbon copies of men. He took woman from the side of man and created an equal counterpart. She was equal, but she was also different.
Women and men often tease around about their differences, and it is no secret that the two sexes approach things from diverse angles. In an ideal relationship, this can be quite fun: Paula jokes about how many college degrees she could have earned while waiting for Stephen to pull over and ask for directions to their dinner party. Stephen grumbles that he could have built the Taj Mahal in the time it took Paula took to put on her makeup. When they arrive at the party, Stephen’s hilarious “Paula took an hour on her eyeshadow” story is met with, “Yes, but how lovely she looks tonight!” He beams with pride in the fact that her appearance relayed the message that she cared enough about the event to present herself accordingly. Paula’s “You wouldn’t believe how many times we turned around” story inspires, “Yeah, but these roads are insane, and only a brilliant mind like Stephen’s could have worked all that out without a map!” She likewise feels proud of his ingenuity.
If the innate differences between male and female can be seen for what they are, then neither is ever “better,” because both are proportionately resourceful and creative—their greatest weaknesses are often their greatest strengths—and the two genders complement and complete each other, just as God designed.
Up to this point in the book, we have reflected on the evidence that women are called to do anything a man can do within the Church by considering the original Greek and Hebrew texts. Passages like this one in Genesis go so far in confirming that, even beyond the scope of ministry, woman has been equal to man in every way since Creation.
Before we move on, let’s review a quick bullet list of those conclusions:
- Woman was created as kenegdo ezer, a powerful equal to man—not a weak “helper.” God created both man and woman in His image with the intent of holding a blessed communion with both genders even as early as the Garden of Eden. The promised Seed, the Christ Messiah, of Genesis 3:15 provided restoration of this relationship when He died and rose again.
- Women prophetesses (as well as Judge Deborah) in the Old Testament were chosen by God to fulfill spiritual leadership roles, not only over men, but over the entire nation of Israel.
- On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit fell upon both genders in the Upper Room, and women were sent by God to preach throughout the land.
- Women in the New Testament began churches in their homes and maintained leadership positions within these gatherings.
- Paul, the “silencer” of women in the Church, served alongside prominent women leaders in the early Church—several of whom he personally commissioned, all of whom he openly commended, and at least two of whom were considered “apostles” (three, if we count Photini) before the patriarchal hierarchy in the Church changed how these women would be known.
- Jesus Christ enlisted women in His own ministry, turned one woman into a preacher in Samaria, and entrusted the very first delivery of His post-resurrection Gospel message to a woman. A study of His radically countercultural and positive treatment of women shows His own view of leadership equality regarding them.
But it is here that we reach a conundrum: How does this all apply to women today? How does a woman practically utilize these liberties and channel them into effective ministry outlets such as teaching or preaching in a way that preserves her feminine strength as a woman, while preventing her from becoming a target of attack?
THEOLOGIAN: JESUS HIMSELF STARTED THE FIRST WOMEN’S LIBERATION MOVEMENT
Many women (myself included) who dare to step behind the pulpit can become associated with imbalanced and inaccurate terms such as “man-haters,” “feminists,” “martyrs of gender oppression,” and so on. There certainly must be a healthy middle ground where a woman is able to keep on track with her calling, following God’s promptings within her life, without those around her assuming she is the aggressor…isn’t there?
Sadly, the truth is, sincere servanthood often can be uncomfortable. Persecution lurks around many corners like a predator you can almost always detect but of whose assault you can’t always prevent. Anytime we follow God’s prompting, we have an enemy who retaliates. He doesn’t like God’s plan, and he can’t stand to see us willing to walk in that plan in the face of all odds. This is true for anyone—as television evangelist and Bible teacher Joyce Meyer always says, “New levels, new devils.” The minute we think we’ve been promoted to new enlightenment in God’s perfect will, a fresh layer of struggles comes to greet us. You don’t have to be a “woman behind a pulpit” to know this is simply the way it works. Christ, Himself, met incredible resistance from the very people He sought to save, and He is the ultimate example for us to follow while we “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12). The good news for women is that we do not have to suffer the way He did, we’re not expected to accomplish what He did (we couldn’t if we tried), and we have the tools that can help us see what our challenges will be beforehand. Preparing our radars to detect the incoming missiles will help us react calmly later on.
We can do some things to alleviate these attacks; we will discuss those later in this chapter. But for now, I wish to stick to the question at hand: How does a woman transition to firm and steady leadership while retaining her feminine gentility?
When I was putting the finishing touches on the book you now hold in your hand, I kept a tradition that I started early on in my writing: I met with SkyWatch administrator Allie Anderson, and we went through it from start to finish. I was confident about the finished product until I reached the beginning of this chapter. My work up to that point felt solid, and an occasional, “Amen!” or “Preach it!” from Allie reminded me that I was indeed on the right track. But as I delved into this chapter, I noticed that Allie began to write many notes. She so often furiously scribbled on the page that more than once I stopped reading to let her catch up. Obviously, she shared my opinion that this particular chapter was missing something. When the read-through was completed, I asked her thoughts. While she had taken down two full pages of reflections, she could only really tell me what I already knew: This chapter was “missing something.” She said she would give it more thought and call me later. I took her to lunch and then we went our separate ways.
As I arrived home and checked my mail, I pulled a piece of junk mail out of the mailbox that almost made me laugh out loud. Herein was my answer, as if God, Himself, had tucked it there where I could find it. Splashed with pink and black stripes and clad in various pictures of women’s wallets, coffee mugs, and other women-targeting paraphernalia for sale, here was a brochure that sported the phrase, “Act like a lady. Think like a boss.”
In a world where gender roles are confusing and women fight to be equal to men, we so often forget who we are inherently created to be: ladies. We have spent so much time shedding and burning feminine undergarments and fighting to accomplish all the roles that men so regularly complete that we forget that we are not actually men. When we do remember this fact, we chide ourselves for what we immediately own as a “weakness.”
I was raised in a “no nonsense” household where emotions were, by requirement, channeled into productive activity and certainly not wallowed in; it was a rare occasion indeed when I would actually sit down and cry. (I have zero regret for being raised this way; let me make that very clear. My siblings and I were allowed to have feelings and process them, but as soon as a solution to the problem was identified, we were expected to act upon that solution and move on. As a human, this was great advice. As a girl—and with all the emotional implications that holds—this was priceless counsel that I would spend the rest of my earthly life thanking my parents for. We were encouraged to “let it out” on occasion, but most of the time my household strongly rejected walking around with “the face” [a generic, yet humorous, euphemism we coined to describe that self-pitying, wallowing, weepy expression].) The very words “acting like a girl” hung in my gullet like bitter castor oil anytime they were used in association with “feelings.” I almost had to swallow twice before attempting to pronounce that phrase. “Acting like a girl”… It was naturally an insult. I might be a redhead, but I was never going to be that Anne of Green Gables who constantly found herself “in the depths of despair.”
I didn’t think there was anything wrong with having been born female; I enjoyed my femininity in a healthy and modest way. But when it came to those ugly little “psyche-viruses called emotions,” as I identified them, I would sooner wax my legs than to get caught “acting like a girl.”
I remember a time in my early adulthood when I was crying about some trouble at work. I don’t remember the circumstances, but I’ll never forget my friend and coworker—one we referred to as “Crazy Molly” on account of her ceaseless laughter and unparalleled wit—who came to check on me.
“What’s wrong?” Molly asked. “You seem really upset…”
“Oh, I’m fine. I’m just being ridiculous.” I wiped my tears away and readied myself to apply the “brave mask.”
“Nah, come on. Don’t do that. You never cry. Don’t be a turd. What’s the real deal?” When I didn’t respond, she held her wrist close to her mouth. “If you don’t tell me, I’m gonna bite my arm. This arm right here. I’m gonna do it…”
As her mouth slowly opened over her skinny limb, I let out a chuckle and shook my head. “I’ll get over it, Molly. I’m just being a girl.” The last of these words fell out of my mouth like poison. I felt like I had just divulged my darkest, most sinful secret.
I was weak…and I had been caught.
She dropped her arm, blinked…blinked again…and wrinkled her brow.
“Donna,” she said, a smile toying with the edge of her mouth, “you are a girl.”
I can’t describe why this was such an epiphany for me. I knew it was a fact, but I had never had anyone respond to me that way. I had many times admitted this vile, “girlish” tendency to occasionally cry when I was having a rough day, but it was normally followed up with a lengthy psycho-analysis by my companion that began with how it’s “okay to cry sometimes,” or why “everyone needs to let it out,” or how “it’s not good to bottle it up.” I had trained myself to respond to each of these with logic that reasoned away any “excuse for wallowing.”
But then, Molly’s point-blank bullet through every wall of retort stopped me in my tracks. She didn’t have to analyze anything. I simply was a girl. Molly had made the simplest and most obvious statement ever, and by golly, it was actually true!
It’s unfortunate, however, that this basic truth actually had to be pointed out to me in the first place. We women are born into a position that requires us to fight daily toward the goal of being equal in strength to men (a common fact that the world—not my father—impressed upon me). But by denying our intrinsic, female nature, we are actually placing our own femininity under attack. We keep forgetting: “Equal to a man” doesn’t mean “identical to a man.” It is necessary to remember that God created both man and woman in His image.
Christians tend to assign God a gender, and that’s understandable since Scripture refers to Him with male pronouns such as “He,” and when Christ came, He was a male. But it’s important to remember that, as a Spirit and the Creator of both genders made in His image, God is not limited to the confines of any earthly language and its pronouns. God even said of Himself: “I am God, and not man” (Hosea 11:9; emphasis added), so His identity as Deity over humankind is above any humanized concept we may have. It might surprise some to see that God is even associated with feminine imagery in many Scriptures, such as Psalm 22:9, which beautifully portrays God in the role of midwife: “But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts.” The prophet Isaiah relayed God’s personal sentiments in the following terminology: “I have long time holden my peace; I have been still, and refrained myself: now will I cry like a travailing woman [Hebrew language here depicts a woman in the pain of childbirth]” (Isaiah 42:14). Even Christ described Himself as a “hen [who] gathereth her chickens under her wings” (Matthew 23:37).
Yet my purpose here is not to prove that God is “as much female as He is male.” My purpose is to illustrate that God is so far above our partial and inadequate comprehension that He should not be placed in any gender-specific box whatsoever.
Look at God’s nature throughout the Bible. There are times when He is swift and firm in His actions (masculine traits). Other times He is gentle and gracious (feminine traits). Yet with all of these actions, He loves. Consider the differences between how men and women are wired using biblical examples: When the Roman soldiers came to arrest Jesus, Peter acted with bravery, ready to fight. He grabbed a sword and lopped off the nearest Roman soldier’s ear (John 18:10). Although a vicious battle outbreak was not what Jesus wanted in that moment (because He knew His arrest had to be carried out), Peter’s gallantry—his fundamental nature as a man—was undeniable and heroic. The women in Jesus’ life were also very brave during this event, though they showed their courage in a nurturing way. They stayed near His side all night. Surely, these women must have known they could be in danger as well, but they remained beside Him until the bitter, bitter end. After the horrible deed was done and Jesus was placed in a tomb, it was the women who had the presence of mind to return with ointments and spices for His body. They weren’t there to change fate or cut off ears. They were there to nurture their loved one and Master, even after Jesus had died. Men and women handled this situation differently, but both genders took action in loyalty and defense of their beloved Jesus.
When men and women are considered together in ministry to our Lord and Savior as a whole—with both male and female attributes experiencing full freedom to contribute—a better representation of God’s image is displayed. When we, as women, give up our gentility, our innate femininity, in the quest to “be equal to a man,” we are abandoning our God-given image traits in trade for an imitation of those given to the opposite gender. This only results in becoming counterfeit copies of the other.
Have you ever gone to the copy machine and made a copy of a copy of a copy? Each time the image is rendered anew from another copy, the clarity of the original is increasingly lost. With each copy, the machine produces a blurrier picture, and eventually the result is nothing but a fuzzy blob on a page. Generations of women attempting to be “copies” of men presents a hazard to the original God-image we bear. Additionally, we have the right to compare apples to oranges, and we likewise have the right to argue about which of these two flavors we prefer, but nothing we do will ever make these fruits the same as they provide nutrition to the body. Comparatively, we can continue to compare men to women, wasting valuable time arguing over who is stronger in ministry, but nothing we do will ever make these genders the same as they provide spiritual nutrients to the Body of Christ.
God’s image is more complete than only what a man holds, or only what a woman holds. Together we create a fuller image of God, and by that, when we make room for each gender and that gender’s natural traits, we fulfill a more complete ministry. When a woman preaches, teaches, or ministers, her nurturing point of view affirms and encourages. Her reassuring and faithful presence is like that of Mary, who refused to leave her suffering Savior. When a man approaches the pulpit, his decisive and no-holds-barred willingness to be truthful in the face of adversity can be just the ear-lopping that the Roman soldier of controversy needs. But whether the listener on that pew is a man or a woman, he or she can gain more insight about the role God and His precious Son play in the spiritual realm during this human condition called “life” when both aspects of His image are at liberty to work together harmoniously.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW VIDEO:
WAIT… A WOMAN PREACHING IN A CHRISTIAN CHURCH… WHAT DOES GOD THINK ABOUT THAT?!
So how does a strong, spirit-filled woman who feels led to minister embrace her femininity? I will be honest, I’m still working on this myself. I am reminded of a conversation I had several years ago with Allie Anderson when I had found out that the baby I was carrying at the time was a girl. I had called her to give her the news that we decided to name the baby after her. Once Allie had calmed down from the excitement of learning she would have a namesake, I remember confiding in her that I was actually scared.
“Why on earth are you scared?” she asked.
“You know me, Allie. I’ve never been a ‘girly girl.’ I’ve always been a tomboy and I don’t really ‘act like a girl’ most of the time. I don’t do the big ‘emotional’ thing, I don’t do the ‘makeup and hair’ thing, and I sometimes have a hard time connecting with other women who do that ‘let’s all go to the bathroom together and try on lipstick’ thing.” I considered for a moment what my true fear was. “What if she’s a girly girl? How will I be able to set an example for her as a feminine woman when I’m not very feminine myself? Please tell me I don’t have to start stumbling into the makeup counter every morning or give up my video games in exchange for tea parties in order to provide balance for her…”
I remember Allie telling me that I would know when the time came how to direct my daughter based on her characteristics and what she seemed to like. As her needs surfaced, my answers would come.
Truth be told, this still baffles me sometimes—because I did give birth to the girliest of all girls. But watching her embrace her own femininity has taught me a lot about my own. I have learned that sometimes it’s as simple as Molly’s answer: “Donna, you are a girl…” My daughter is still little, but she does her makeup almost every day, and before she donated her hair to a cancer foundation (it’s now incredibly short), she was constantly trying out new hairdos. Hardly a day goes by when she doesn’t make the family run late because she has to consider each dress in her collection before making that perfect wardrobe decision. She loves to sing, must dance—everywhere!—and yes, she gets her feelings hurt easily. On the other hand, however, she is constantly coming home from school with reports from her teacher that when another student feels down, my adorable Sissypoodle—her favorite nickname—is the first to nurture that student with encouraging words. She doesn’t just “have” baby dolls, she tucks them into bed at night, tells them stories, prays with them, and sings them to sleep. I hear her telling her older brother all the time that he’s smart and handsome when he comes home feeling sad. There is a beautiful woman developing in her tiny heart, and her nurturing instinct is active. Strangely, though, I haven’t had to try very hard to instill any of that within her. The feminine side of God’s image bestowed upon humanity in the Garden of Eden is manifesting within my daughter because it’s what God ordained and designed, not because I have taught her how to “act like a girl.” She “is a girl.”
As for myself, I may not head for the makeup counter first thing every morning, and I can still totally blow away the average guy in a video game tournament, but as a reassuring spirit who looks after and cares for those around me like Mary did at the tomb, I am a woman…who “acts like a girl.” My relationship with my daughter has taught me that this side of me has always been there, and I couldn’t remove it if I tried. When it comes to ministry, when it comes to obeying the Lord, I have extreme strength to face whatever is coming against me in the interest of Kingdom work. I am dedicated to being “at His side” for the sake of the Gospel, regardless of resistance or fear. (More on this later in this series.)
Act like a lady. Think like a boss.
What does that look like? I’ll tell you what I’ve learned: Not all strength comes through muscle or masculinity. The loudest in the room is sometimes the quietest. My mother-in-law, Joyce, was one of the strongest women I ever knew, and yet one of the most feminine. She may never have stepped behind a pulpit, but with only an expression she could preach an entire sermon. At her memorial service, countless testimonies were given that showed this to be a fact. One woman walked with Joyce daily and gossiped about everyone in the neighborhood. Joyce never once scolded her for this as she didn’t feel it was her place to; she never tried to fix the other woman’s bad habit. Over time, however, Joyce’s sweet silence during the exchange was a witness, and through her quiet, gentle, nurturing nature, this other woman felt convicted to put a stop to the slander. This experience changed that woman’s life forever, and every relationship she’s held since has been healthier as a result of Joyce’s influence.
UP NEXT: Ladies Acting Like Ladies in Church Leadership