Whether at a church or an organizational event, I often find the allotted “meet and greet” time after a speaking engagement awkward. People don’t know how or if they should approach, and this can be further exaggerated if financial support is involved.
It was in this context something surprised me: in a span of two weeks at two different speaking events in two different US states, I had two women come up to me with virtually the same comment: “It is so encouraging to have a woman speak at this event.” It hadn’t crossed my mind that it may be so rare for this to happen, and the emotion in their voices made me wonder if they heard any of the content that was shared or were only impacted by having a female speaker!
Personally, I have received nothing but encouragement as I have been invited into various leadership roles, and I find I often have opportunities to speak. This is undoubtedly a legacy of women and men who have come before me! But it is far from perfect. It is still common for me to be one of or the only women in the room while decisions are being made. Plus, almost all of the team leaders whom I supervise are men.
When discussing women in leadership, I find there is a danger in making it too simplistic. For example, I have watched the same men who championed me be criticized for limiting opportunities for women to be in leadership- this largely due to them and their colleagues overwhelmingly being middle aged (white) married men. The reality is that even in organizations which are actively trying to involve women, it can be challenging to have as many women involved.
And that isn’t due to not having enough qualified women. Our organizations and churches are often filled with more women than men actively engaged in the work! Perhaps we need to reconsider what we deem as qualified, but that may be a different conversation. Women carry so many different roles that often there isn’t enough space to be engaged in these sorts of conversations in the same way as married men. The fact I am a single woman without children carries with it advantages in this area.
For organizations that are not looking to involve women more, I would argue they do so to the detriment of the organization, their members, and the work as a whole. How often do we see women playing pivotal roles in Scripture and throughout history?
For example, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that as I began writing this my Bible reading plan landed me with the prophetess Huldah in 2 Kings 22. When a book of the Law was discovered, she was sought out by King Josiah and his officials. Her word carried an enormous amount of weight not only for King Josiah but by extension all the people of Judah (2 King 23). I found myself wondering why we don’t speak of Huldah and her influence more often or consider the fact that it was a woman that was sought out during this crucial moment.
There are few pieces of advice I would give sending organizations. First, follow the lead of the good king Josiah. Seek out women’s voices, even if they aren’t able to be engaged in the same way as men.
Second, find ways for women to be more engaged and have their voices heard! With over half our organizations being women, and the work we’re engaged in being half to women, shouldn’t it be a priority that female voices are heard, and not just relayed? And that women are a part of the decision making process at all levels?
Third, never forget this is a kingdom work. The God who created us in his image, male and female, is concerned with our hearts and how we go about the work we do. There is a saying: change the discussion, change the world! Conversations like this need to be done with love, humility, prayer, and mutual submission.
I write this with a tremendous amount of gratitude towards those who have spurred me on and with a deep desire to see His people become more equipped for their works service around the world. May He in His Grace empower us to live lives worthy of the calling we have received, may others know us by our love for one another, and may he receive all the glory for it.
Are there women in Scripture who have inspired or challenged you? What other thoughts would you want to pass on to a sending organization?