Discrimination and bias are “hot topic” words. I don’t buy into a philosophy that views history and the world through the lens of oppression. There are more biblical and hopeful worldviews to embrace! At the same time, central to the Gospel message is freedom for those who are oppressed, the restoring of God’s original created order. What role is it appropriate for women to play in DMMs?
How do we release women to be all God has created them to be?
Women are undervalued, underpaid, and often overlooked by the world. As we make Kingdom disciples and start Disciple Making Movements, we must intentionally develop systems that uplift, encourage, and develop women at every level.
I Felt Small and Ignored
We were at a pastor’s meeting for our state. During the break time, couples were milling about in the foyer of the large church where it was being held. Being friendly, we introduced ourselves to various people and chit-chatted. It was a bit awkward. Almost everyone we met assumed my husband was the pastor and I was just his wife.
They talked to him and ignored me. They asked him questions about how it was going in the ministry and I stood silent. I didn’t know whether to be angry or just ignore this feeling I’d had many times before. Why do people assume that he is the minister and I am not?
I felt small and ignored. It felt unfair. Having faced this before and knowing the importance of guarding my heart, I quickly breathed a silent prayer “Father, I forgive them. It’s not intentional.”
Is this discrimination? No. I’d not call it that. Does it demonstrate a bias toward men as more likely to carry pastoral or leadership gifts? Yes, I think it does.
My husband and I are definitely a team. He has amazing gifts of service, hospitality, and encouragement. My gifts are more along the lines of pioneering (apostolic gift), teaching, and faith.
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.1 Cor 12:4-7 NIV.
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
A Biblical Perspective
I am not going to argue here that women are victims of systems of injustice and oppression. I leave that to others if it is even needed. Instead, I want to simply offer some thoughts on a Biblical perspective on women, and some suggestions for how to release them into their God-given roles.
Obviously, I write as a woman. In that, there are certain limitations. More men need to write on this topic! I am grateful for people like David Hamilton, Loren Cunningham, and others who have done so (Read their excellent book: Why Not Women?) At the same time, I offer my voice on this issue and will not be silent.
5 Points to Understand About Women in Disciple-Making Movements
1. Biblically (and historically) we can see that women are effective disciple-makers and leaders.
Phoebe, Priscilla, Dorcas, the woman at the well, Mary, Martha, Deborah…the list is long in the Bible of women who were effective in spreading the Gospel message. They served as leaders. They hosted house churches. They supported Jesus’ ministry. Women shared the message of the resurrection for the first time in history.
As we look at more history we could talk about women from the distant past Teresa of Avila, and many other Catholic figures. In modern times people like Beth Moore, Anne Graham Lotz, Elizabeth Elliot, Mother Teresa, Joyce Meyers and many, many others demonstrate clearly that God has chosen to give gifts of teaching and leadership not only to men but also to women. These women are as effective and anointed as their male counterparts.
Space is not sufficient for me to include a lengthy list, but there are many more I could add to this.
2. The list of spiritual gifts in scripture is not gender-specific.
When we study the lists of spiritual gifts in Scripture (1 Cor. 12, Romans 12, and Ephesians 4), we quickly realize that there is nothing listed here about gender. Paul doesn’t list one group of spiritual gifts as being distributed to women and another to men. Instead, it says, “to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” Each one means both male and female.
3. Jesus uplifted and encouraged women. He believed they could minister effectively.
While our Lord lived in a particular cultural context that was very male dominant and did not give opportunities to women, He consistently taught them His ways. He welcomed them into His inner circle. Thinking of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, it was the two sisters whom Jesus seemed to be closer to.
At a well in Samaria, He spoke with a woman. This was not the cultural norm. He saw her. He valued her. He engaged in dialogue with her. This was a great surprise to the woman! She then went and shared His message with her entire community and many listened to her and came to hear more. She was what we call a Person of Peace.
The most significant endorsement of God’s trust in women is evident at the garden tomb. The very first disciples to be given the message of Jesus’ resurrection were women!
4. There are Biblical examples of female apostles in scripture and of women training men.
Read through the list of people found in Romans 16. You’ll see that quite a few female names are listed there. One of them, Junia, is even called an apostle. If we read Acts 18:26 we see that Priscilla and Aquilla together explained the way of God to Apollos. Earlier in scripture, her name comes second, but here and in Romans 16 she is listed first. This indicates that she was likely the more prominent spiritual leader among the two. Deborah is another example of a woman who led many men.
5. Not giving ministry responsibilities to women will cut your disciple-making task force in half.
You can not afford to cut your workforce in half by failing to train and fully release women as disciple-makers and leaders in the movement you begin. One of the foundational principles of Disciple Making Movements is “Train everyone.”
Want to see rapid multiplication? Train and equip both men and women and go out of your way to help women step out of their insecurities or cultural biases and into leadership.
How Do We Create a System that Releases Women Fully?
- Be aware of gender bias within yourself and within your culture. Power points are real.
Some of the greatest discrimination against women can actually come from other women. I am not pointing fingers at men here. All human cultures have some level of gender bias. It comes from the fall and curse of Genesis 3. Our job is to bring about a restoration of God’s original intention for women (and everyone). We help people move out of the curse and into freedom.
When we say we have no bias, we are fooling ourselves. Allow the Holy Spirit to highlight any areas where you may be looking down on women and take action to repent.
- Be aware, if you are male, that you carry some natural power points.
When I am in a meeting with five males and I am the only female, I feel some level of unease. I often listen and wait to be called on, unlike I would do if it was a more gender-equal represented group. This is normal. When those men go out of their way to make room for me to speak, I’m able to contribute more fully.
- Compensate for it by making extra efforts to release and include women.
Don’t assume that the women around you feel free to give what is within them. Intentionally make space for their voice and gifts to be utilized.
Though you may not look down on women, cultural norms and even (sadly) church norms, cause many women to feel they have nothing to offer besides service. While making tea and cleaning is a worthy task for anyone, it’s not all they have to give! These women have fantastic ideas to share if you make space to hear them.
Particularly when working with women from South Asia, or from cultural backgrounds where women are severely oppressed, you really can’t overdo this.
- Invite them to the kitchen (where decisions are made).
I love Todd Johnson’s use of the table and kitchen analogy. In referring to our need to release people from the Global South (Asia, Africa, and Latin America), he says – Don’t just let them sit at the table, invite them into the kitchen! What does that mean? It means that making sure you have one female representative on your board is not the same as including women in the place where major decisions are made – in your senior-level leadership teams.
- Welcome women to do all the work of the ministry and to obey all Jesus’ commands.
As part of the priesthood of all believers, women have been commissioned to do the work of the ministry under the New Covenant. Jesus said to his disciples in Matt. 28:18-20, “Go, make disciples, baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and teach them to obey everything I commanded.” Who was He speaking to? Only men?
Or maybe we think it is okay to cross out part of this verse and make it gender-specific! Women can go, and they can make disciples, but they shouldn’t teach or baptize. Not allowed. We take all of scripture as inspired and equal.
Find ways to go the extra mile to be sure women are being trained, commissioned, acknowledged, and highlighted as they serve in the movement. Look for ways to especially affirm and endorse them as they exercise their gifts.
- Be a Barnabas to women in your disciple-making circle.
Determine to be an encourager of women.
Who do you know that has obvious spiritual gifts that are under-utilized? How can you make room for them in your spiritual leadership “kitchen”? Ask for their input and advice. Welcome their creative ideas (which may be quite different from the men’s present). Develop and mentor women, while observing wise opposite-sex boundaries. Your movement will grow and multiply as a result.
What stood out to you from the above article? How will you apply it? Let us know in the comments below or on the DMMs Frontier Missions Facebook group.
I have worked a combined total of 16 years predominantly in South America and SE Asia which are mostly dominated by men in ministry positions. As I have worked under indigenous male ministry leaders I have basically been ignored as they deferred to my husband. I have prayed that I wouldn’t be easily offended or offend, but if I speak up, they simply don’t know what to do with this white woman, especially now that I am a widow. It’s very frustrating.
Sorry to hear this Maggie. May God give you grace as you navigate this difficult road. Continue to use the gifts God has given to you. His anointing and Spirit upon you will open doors you can not open.
Yes,we welcome women leadership as well . In the history women have had played Great Rolls as well.
We should see Bible as a whole and how our Lord and apostles treated women in the early century. We can draw lessons and models from there. We need to very seriously go back to our roots. Certainly the Spirit of the Lord will guide us if we take serious to God and His word. We shouldn’t depend on the environment, need or our experiences.