It has been an interesting journey, to say the least, to be a part of the church body as a leader who also is a woman. (I will avoid delving into the absurdity of qualifying a person with the title of “female leader”, or will at least save it for another day.) I am a follower of Christ who is fully convinced that my days on earth are to be spent serving Him and His people. I am also a woman. I am imperfect and have spent many years trying to find the mold that is best for me to try and fit into. There are two stories in Scripture that resonate deeply within me, despite their distinct differences, and help me to remember that my place in the body of Christ is beautiful in its diversity, rather than antagonistic because of its non-conformity.
The first story is of the sinful woman in Luke 7:36-50. In this passage, Jesus is eating at the home of a Pharisee when a woman comes in and anoints him with perfume and wets his feet with her tears. The emphasis in the passage, especially as the people in that home observe this interaction, is of the woman’s deep and illuminated sinfulness. To those objections, Jesus reminds them that the person who is forgiven little, loves little, and she who has been forgiven much, loves much. He loves this woman, in word and in deed. The message of Jesus’ grace is so beautiful here – it is in this sinful woman, marginalized by society, that Jesus redeems value and beauty and faith through Him. As I read this, I am reminded that similarly, it is in me, a sinful woman, that Jesus does his redemptive work, able to esteem my value, save my soul, and proclaim that I belong in His family, adopted and fully grafted in.
The other story is that of Deborah in Judges 4:4-10. Deborah is a prophetess and a judge of Israel, arguably one of the most powerful leaders in the nation at that time. There are no excuses or qualifiers given about her power, prestige, and authority. However, while she embodies her gifts and wisdom with a beautiful strength, she didn’t ignore her gender difference from those she led, nor did she pretend that it wasn’t an issue to them. In the passage, she sends Barak to lead an army into battle, and he refuses to go unless she goes with him. In one of my all-time favorite biblical responses, Deborah replies,
“I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the LORD will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.”
She refuses to dance around the truth, nor will she avoid the spotlight – she resolves to lead exactly the way that God had created her to, despite the unfavorable responses that she may receive. I find such encouragement in this, remembering that while God has surely been faithful to women all throughout time as He worked in and through them and their gifts, He never promises that gender isn’t going to be an issue. More specifically, that gender isn’t a qualifier to Him in value or dignity, though it proves to be for others. It’s a task set before all women who find themselves in congregations where there is opposition to leadership in this way, to continue to trust in God’s faithfulness.
There is, within me, a deep resonance with these two stories, and the differences between these two women gives depth and meaning to the extent of all of our differences as women in the body of Christ, and how beautifully those different qualities work within us all as we bear the image of God. I will not be coerced into one mold that restricts the uniqueness of my calling or my gifts, and I will not compare them to those wonderful women that surround me. May we all find comfort in the words of Scripture, remembering that God created us as women purposefully and uniquely, and that we should walk forward with confidence and humility in that truth.