By Mark A. Taylor
It’s time to broaden our discussion about women’s roles in the church. And before you click to the next article, let me assure you I’m not interested here in debating whether to ordain a woman staff member, add a woman to the preaching team, or name a woman as deacon (or elder).
Instead, I think we need to back up and look at a bigger picture. While debating and discussing specifics like those above, maybe we’ve been missing a more basic issue: How are we tapping the giftedness of every Christian to meet the needs of the whole body?
A blog post last month about working women leaving church got me started thinking about this. The author, Sandra Crawford Williamson, asks, “When we look in the pews on Sunday morning, what kinds of women do we see?” Her answer: Too often we ignore the large number of working women among us, many of them carrying heavy professional responsibilities. She shared some data to prove her point:
In America, 47% of the workforce is made up of women, and the percentage has doubled in every age category since 1950, according to the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee. The Committee also reports that 83% of women raising children work outside of the home, compared to 47% in 1975. AND a whopping 75% of them work full-time!
These working women are with us every Sunday. Yet too often we still see women only as mothers and wives. Williamson points out some women in our churches may “run a multibillion-dollar firm, argue a legal case, or manage a $500 million investment portfolio.” But at church “they are often only asked to make casseroles and work in the church nursery.” This is one of the reasons professional Christian women are leaving church altogether (27 percent of them, according to Barna Research, quoted by Williamson).
But the fact is that men are leaving church too. Thom Schultz, for example, has been writing about the “Dones,” longtime, faithful Christians who have given up on the institutional church. Most of those he quotes are men.
And here’s the overlap with the women’s issue: Some—many?—church members are weary of engaging with church only as consumers or volunteers.
They may enjoy the music, the concerts, or the special speakers. In fact, they may have first chosen their church because of the “good stuff” they get when they attend there. But now they’re asking, “Shouldn’t the church offer something more substantive than the satisfaction received from a favorite restaurant or shopping site or online music source?”
They may be glad to run with the youth group or greet at the front door or shovel sidewalks or prepare Communion. And many are willing to give financially too. But I’m wondering, “Shouldn’t the church be more than another benevolent organization constantly cajoling its members for time or money?”
Spiritual growth and connections with God are foundational answers to questions like those. But in this short space, I want to focus just on the giftedness question. The fact is we have men in many churches with leadership, planning, management, or speaking skills who are tapped only for little more than remodeling a classroom, driving the church bus, or passing the offering plates.
Maybe women aren’t invited to the future planning task force, because neither are the men (save for some elders and the minister). Maybe women aren’t tapped to advise on the church’s human resources, personnel, or financial questions, because the smaller circle of church leaders seldom look beyond themselves for such resources—among women or men sitting in pews on Sunday. Maybe women aren’t given the chance to speak into the church’s mission because most men aren’t either.
Paul told the Romans, “We, though many, form one body” (12:5). Our body weakens when we don’t tap the skills, learning, experience, and gifts of every member, whether woman or man.