By An Anonymous Writer —
I was an elder’s wife.
But before that…well let’s go back in time nearly two decades. I went to ministry school overseas. One of the last sermon series from my home church before I left was on what women can and cannot do in the church. But at ministry school, I learned that the Apostle Paul was speaking into a very certain historical context, culture and to specific church groups – he was not meaning to write a ten commandments for the role of women in the church from then onwards.
It was a very releasing time for me at ministry school on the whole, where I was given many opportunities to grow and try new things. Then I returned to my home country and fast forward some years, got married, had our daughters and found ourselves in a church where eventually my husband came onto the eldership team.
I have grown up in church and observed many ways Christians believe about theology, the Bible and church. These beliefs can bring people together, but they can also alienate and cause a lot of hurt. Being very certain that you have the right way of believing doesn’t allow room for open discussion or change.
Having daughters ourselves, we want them to grow up knowing the sky’s the limit, that there is nothing they cannot do, that they are created powerful, beautiful, gifted, individually unique and equal in the sight of God, neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female.
But what are the belief systems in the church teaching us as women? What are they teaching our daughters?
I have seen differing beliefs about gender roles in the church. Many of these may be unconscious, inherited through the traditions of church and culture yet they are nonetheless deeply held beliefs. Many have also been discussed, studied, researched in depth – beliefs about gender and church leadership, submission, teaching, preaching and so forth.
As many other women around the world have experienced, I too have heard, But the Bible says…
There are some wonderfully liberating books out there which speak into the issue of the role of women in the church, challenging the status quo. I discovered however, that it doesn’t matter how many articles or books you read on the topic, if your presiding church leadership (including the broader context of denomination or affiliation) does not feel the same way regarding these interpretations of the Bible, you can find yourself in an even deeper place of stifling frustration.
It took a time of being stripped and eventually leaving the church we were in to realise that the walls of restriction I felt had to come down first in the most important place – being my mind.
I had been released and given opportunities; all seemed to be going in the area of my dreams…to be in “ministry”! But I discovered that being a disappointment to others can leave you reeling from the place you thought you were headed.
You can land up with labels, being put into boxes of other people’s making and once that happens, I experienced that there is very little that can be done to “go back to the way things were”.
In hindsight, I am very thankful for what we went through. I have seen ladder climbing in the church, projection, power struggles and spiritual ambition. Striving combined with good intentions. And I have seen all of these, in me.
No one can control you without your permission. No one can restrict you when you are already free. Free to know who are as an abundant created being. A freedom to relate with people on an equal footing from a heart of humility and humanity, not from a place of labels, projection and position.
As an elder’s wife, I had many questions with no solid answers. And all I strove to achieve, a place of equality, release in the call of God on my life, I discovered would never have truly satisfied. Would never be what I thought I wanted.
The church, what is it really? Is it a place, a building? Ministry, what is it really? Is it an outreach or church plant? Is it preaching from the pulpit?
When we finally left, a change in perspective grew that has made all the difference. What value do we place on the calling God has for us, outside of the four walls? Following Jesus into the dusty streets of whatever Jesus calls us to, the mountain tops, beaches, gardens, people, homes and yes, synagogues.
I have made my fair share of mistakes and I have felt broken. I had to leave to discover being a child is enough. A child who does not need to prove their place in the family whether female or male. I do not need to fix everything. I am a Daughter of God, of inestimable value. With no ladders to climb to impress God, with nothing to offer to redeem myself. I am finding myself at the cross where labels and masks are stripped away. Where I don’t have to be perfect to fit in. Where no one expects me to be perfect. I can be myself. I can breathe again.
I love the church. But it’s more than that. I love the amazing variety of people on this earth where we live for now. Jesus was not status quo – he always offered a new way.
It is the simple things that matter – love, loving God, loving ourselves, loving others.
I don’t have to live up to other’s expectations.
I don’t have to attend to please or do to be pleasing.
When I know myself as loved, all else will flow.
Including a deepened appreciation of all that happens outside of the four walls of a church congregation.
I have learned to cease striving against the goal. When you realise your value and go where the energy is welcoming, loving, spacious – you start to flow naturally in your gifting and talents. We cannot fill the void by proving a point through cycles of action and reaction – we will find our skin when we embrace the places that are inviting and open. Destiny calls and makes a way for our unique flavour. There is no one else who can offer what you offer. There is no one else who can do what you do in the way you do it.
Yes, I have a heart for all people to be mobilised in and grow and flourish in their gifting, to come into healing no matter what gender they may be. But I have chosen to relinquish the striving. I am in the process of learning to rest in a different sense of belonging. A belonging that is peace, and not dependent on the fulfillment of future dreams.
The walls come down in our minds first.
And then we come to know, we are actually free.
We are loved.