I recently met with one of the pastors of my church. He wanted to get together to talk about the work I do and how I might be able to better serve at our church. We sat down over coffee and he listened to me as I talked about my passion for the small group that I lead, my heart for writing and for media, my love of books and what I had been reading lately. He asked me if I’d be willing to help with some of the new technology our church was trying to use and asked me to consider teaching a class on a subject that is very dear to my heart.
I left that conversation feeling elated, heard and valued. I felt like he saw me. I was so thankful that this pastor didn’t write me off or keep me at arm’s length because of my relative youth or because I’m a woman. And while that might seem crazy for some to imagine, I know many women understand what I'm talking about. Many of us know what it’s like to be made to feel that we're “dangerous” or “not qualified” just because God made us female.
Jen Wilkin has written a really fantastic trending piece addressing this issue, called, 3 Female Ghosts that Haunt the Church. I’d encourage you to read her whole piece over at The Gospel Coalition. In it, Jen describes three “ghosts,” or stereotypes of women that can haunt men in leadership and stop them from interacting with and utilizing women in ministry. Jen calls these ghosts the Usurper, the Temptress, and the Child. If you're a male staff member at a church, consider if these three "ghosts" are keeping you from doing ministry with women in your church.
1. The Usurper. She’s the one you think is after your ministry position, after your authority and out to control the church. Not sure if you’re falling into this false belief about women in your church? Jen shares some signs:
- You find her thoughts or opinions vaguely threatening, even when she chooses soft words to express them.
- You avoid including her in meetings where you think a strong female perspective might rock the boat or ruin the masculine vibe.
- You silently question if her comfort in conversing with men may be a sign of disregard for gender roles
2. The Temptress. If this ghost haunts you, your guard is constantly up in case any woman might try to seduce you. Some tell-tale signs, Jen says, include:
- You go out of your way to ensure your behavior communicates nothing too emotionally approachable or empathetic for fear you’ll be misunderstood to be flirting.
- You bring your colleague or assistant to every meeting with her, even if the meeting setting leaves no room to be misconstrued.
- You consciously limit the length of your interactions with her for fear she might think you overly familiar.
- You silently question if her comfort in conversing with men may be a sign of sexual availability.
3. The Child. This ghost spreads the false belief that women are emotionally or intellectually weaker than men. If this is your ghost, you might be exhibiting the following signs:
- In your responses to her, you tend to address her emotions rather than her thoughts.
- You view meetings with her as times where you have much insight to offer her but little insight to gain from her. You take few notes, or none at all.
- You dismiss her when she disagrees, because she “probably doesn’t see the big picture.”
- You direct her to resources less scholarly than those you might recommend to a man.
For more insight on these three ghosts, you can read the rest of Jen’s article here.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with putting up appropriate safeguards against misconduct. But as Jen says, it's okay to be wise, but you shouldn't be haunted. And there is simply no excuse for talking down to, ignoring or being stand-offish with members of the opposite sex. (This goes for women too!)
Why is that? Because our model for ministry, Jesus, never did any of these things. He never let these ghosts haunt him. No, he got close to women. He touched, he listened, he included women, all without fear.
Jen writes, “Do some women usurp authority? Yes. Do some seduce? Yes. Do some lack emotional or intellectual maturity? Yes. And so do some men. But we must move from a paradigm of wariness to one of trust, trading the labels of usurper, temptress, child for those of ally, sister, co-laborer. Only then will men and women share the burden and privilege of ministry as they were intended.”
iBelieve writer Chelsea Cote shares her journey to becoming a more gracefully assertive, confident woman. It has meant shedding these ghosts that others have tried to attach to her and learning to view herself as God views her:
“Do people still intimidate me? Yes. Do I still shrink from being assertive in certain situations? Absolutely. Am I often wrong, even when articulating something I believe to be right? Yup. But the more I learn, the more the Lord pours His grace out on me and the more I believe that in being assertive about my faith, my calling, my responsibilities, my gifts, and my identity in Christ, the more He can use me, teach me and grow me in reliance on Him. Being a confident woman means finding – and acting in – our identity as the Daughter of the King.”
Kelly Givens is the editor of iBelieve.com.