Karen teaches adult education in her church. Her classes are exciting. Despite her denomination’s support of gift-based roles for men and women, she is frequently questioned and criticized by a few who challenge — not the fruits of her labor, but whether women should even be fruitful. The more she tries to persuade her critics, the more weighed down she feels.
Doug is frustrated that talented women may use their gifts in their careers while those same gifts are devalued within the church. He was discouraged when Christian friends said he was fortunate his first child was a boy. Since he seemed the only one troubled by his church’s attitude toward women, he started a series of Bible studies on gender. His pastor eventually asked him to leave the leadership team. His heart was broken and he wondered how to respond.
Rita rose before dawn to walk the streets of her town to pray for families, businesses and schools. She had a vision for a church that would reach her community for Jesus. She persuaded likeminded leaders to join her. Together they built an outreach-oriented church that brought a new and exciting ministry to her community. As the church began selecting elders, she was told she could not serve. “Yes, you have vision and leadership skills, but elders are to be men.” Her spirit was crushed and she became depressed.
How many of you are in similar situations? Your vision, gifts and call are God-given, yet you feel nearly swallowed up by criticism, depleted by those who challenge the work God has given you. How many times must you reteach the biblical basis for women using their gifts and sharing leadership alongside men? How much energy should you devote to your detractors?
Research indicates that only a few people change their behavior in response to hearing debate. Most people need to see a belief lived out in another person (preferably someone they respect) before they will consider changing their ideas.
Consider the story of Nehemiah, a brilliant change agent even though his task was daunting and his critics treacherous. God called Nehemiah to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem and restore worship and faith in Israel. Nehemiah organized the people of Israel and began repairing the wall. His enemies took notice and began to complain. The more Nehemiah accomplished, the more his critics attempted to engage Nehemiah in dialogue. Eventually, they organized a plot against his life. How did Nehemiah respond?
Nehemiah recognized first that his work was of God. Given the choice of accomplishing a marvelous task and engaging those opposed to the work God had given him, he chose the better part. He told his critics, “I am carrying on a great project and I cannot go down” (Nehemiah 6:3, NIVI).
Nehemiah then asks, “Why should the work stop?” He resisted the temptation to justify his call or his ministry, and simply remained faithful to the work God had given him. By remaining focused on ministry, Nehemiah offers us a powerful example that persistent ministry is often more persuasive than debating our opponents.
CBE members often encounter the same opposition in the form of the critic who attends a church class or CBE chapter meeting, posing questions but showing little interest in the answers. CBE members often consider, as did Nehemiah, whether God’s purposes are best served by answering unyielding critics. And, like Nehemiah, many of us have come to the conclusion that in order to use our time and resources most wisely, we must choose to keep our hands to the plow, doing the work God has given us.
Please don’t misunderstand me: Leading the church to higher ground on the gender issue does indeed require many hours of thoughtful dialogue and much prayer. But, once that has been done, to leave opposition unaddressed is not to leave it unanswered. Like Nehemiah, Doug, Karen and Rita, God-given ministry is itself a response. Like Nehemiah, God will enable us to rebuild the church and empower the children of God.