Recently, I’ve been thinking about being a worship leader and a woman. I’ve always liked being a girl. Not that we get to choose those kinds of things of course. But the social norms we use to construct and convey gender, well they don’t worry me too much. If you’re lost by that sentence, let me just say here that I’m okay with wearing the colour pink. In fact, my high school uniform (I live in Australia, where uniforms are required) was bright pink. With baby blue socks.
For some reason, the lady that donated the land to our school insisted that the school charter include a clause, and all girl students should wear pink. I used to imagine her, dressed in pearls at her desk drinking tea, and writing the request in fountain pen, adding a small flourish at the end of her sentences.
So, I wore a pink uniform (in various sizes) for six years of my life. And, unlike many other women I know, I am okay with age-appropriate pink-ness. I won’t go so far as to say that I liked it, but there were also other women in my family who had worn that pink uniform too, who I very much looked up to.
For example, there was my mother, a counselor and now an Associate Professor in Psychology. I still remember the click-clack of her heels at night as she walked up the driveway to complete her PhD research after kissing my father and tucking me into my small bed. There was my aunt, an artist, who fled from her idyllic home in the Pacific Islands after war broke out over a copper mine. During the ten years she fought for the rights of her village, she collected the names of people killed in the subsequent genocide, and prayerfully presented them to the UNHCR. She is truly the best kind of unintentional human rights activist. And there was my godmother, a meticulous book lover, who felt a call to ministry and ended up appointed as a Bishop in the Anglican church of Melbourne, Australia.
Are women supposed to be professors? Activists? Bishops? Or, like me, are they supposed to be worship leaders? I don’t know if my family members felt they were supposed to do all these things. Perhaps. Had they listened to people around them, they would have felt they shouldn’t really do them, you know, as a woman. But they did do them.
For me, this quandary reminds me a lot of the story of Jael in the bible. We don’t know much about what she felt called to do. We find her story in Judges 4. The only thing we know is that the person supposed to deliver Israel from its twenty year oppression was Barak. God had chosen him, and sent a clear message via the prophetess Deborah. And yet, when she delivered this word of the Lord, he immediately asked her to accompany him. It’s not certain why he wanted Deborah to come along – a good luck charm? Because he was insecure? Or maybe he doubted her ability to hear from God, and figured she would change her story if she hadn’t actually heard from Him.
Well, Deborah didn’t appreciate the gesture. She pronounced that not only would God indeed deliver Israel from the commander Sisera – but that it would be into the hands of a woman. It seems pretty clear that that was an insult. That woman was Jael. Sure enough, Sisera visited Jael’s tent. And, with no knowledge of the prophesy, she had enough courage to slam a tent peg through the temple of the fierce commander’s head. That’s something I hope I don’t get called to do in ministry. But the important thing to note is that because of her action, her people went free.
Strangely enough, the oldest recorded portion of the Bible is said to be Judges 5, a song that Deborah composed after this battle. Here, Deborah showed that she was a worship leader in the truest sense. She recounts the story of God’s deliverance to Israel. And, in verse twelve she also sings for a moment to herself:
“Wake up, wake up, Deborah!
Wake up, wake up, break out in song!”
There’s no sense of the same reluctance that was present when asked by Barak to join him in battle. She doesn’t give preface that as a woman she is singing because of a man’s failure to step to the platform. There’s no prior explanation needed as to why she should break out in song, or recount the nation’s story, or lead the praise.
As a worship leader, I’ve had to sing a similar song over myself many mornings. Not because I’ve secretly felt that God does not want me to lead the people, but because I believe that God does want me to. You see, there are things society thinks about women, like that they wear pink. That they shouldn’t be in leadership in the church. That they shouldn’t take the stage to lead the praise.
And there are things God makes clear about women. We can see that God made a place within the story of the redemption of the earth for the strong leader Deborah, and for the little-known but decisive wife Jael all those thousands of years ago. I honestly don't believe God has a problem with women leading His people in song. Just like Deborah and Jael before me, I give all I have so that we as a people might be set free to recount the story of all God has done for us, the people of God.