A basketball team would never dream of winning their game with half its players benched. An army platoon would never fight its enemy if half the soldiers decided to stay back. Likewise, the church cannot and should not imagine God’s kingdom will advance when half its members are “standing on the shore,” sidelined, benched, and dismissed from leadership (185).
This is the premise of Tara Beth Leach’s inspirational book, Emboldened, that women must link arms with men for the sake of the gospel because there is a mission to fulfill and a vision of equality to show the world. As senior pastor of First Church of the Nazarene in Pasadena, California, she is uniquely qualified to write on this important yet controversial topic. Rather than use gender as a cultural platform or social agenda, Tara Beth emphasizes call and giftedness as criteria for women in ministry and leadership. Those looking for a theological argument in favor of women’s ordination will be dissatisfied. She makes it clear that her book is written for those who already agree that women belong in ministry and leadership in the church (10). Her target audiences are women who seek to be emboldened and the larger church that needs a vision for empowering women in ministry.
The book is divided into two parts: “Emboldened Women” and “A Vision for an Emboldened Church.” She begins the first section with a few biographical snapshots of women in Scripture and throughout history who were emboldened in their contexts to proclaim the gospel. This was perhaps one of the weaker sections of the book. Since she points readers to other books that make a strong theological case for women’s ordination, she chooses to barely skim the rich Christian tradition of female women in ministry. She jumps from the year 340 to 1880 in the span of three pages and three women (18-20). Her case for emboldened and empowered women in the Christian tradition would have been stronger had she included more women throughout the ages.
She continues with her own story of being called into ministry and some of the challenges she faced both personally and communally. In her chapter, “Overcoming Imposter Syndrome,” Tara Beth names the inner plague of doubt that often besets women in ministry. She proposes combatting a sense of underestimating one’s giftedness by “looking to the emboldening presence of the Holy Spirit [so] our perspectives begin to change” (43).
Her chapter, “Overcoming Opposition” is especially helpful for any woman who has dared to step into a calling of ministry and faced resistance. Her evolved strategy for dealing with opposition is to state simply why you believe in women’s ordination, relax, pray, and keep Jesus as the focus (79-81). She shies away from gender being the focal point of the conversation, believing that, “leading with this as an agenda will likely set our congregation back” (73). While she writes honestly of the pain and anger she feels on gender issues, she does not find it helpful to argue and challenge those who oppose her. While this strategy works for Tara Beth, one should keep in mind that this is not the calling of all women. Indeed we need those who can bravely articulate the need for gender equality in the church.
She gives helpful tips on marriage and family and how that relates to calling in the church. Her husband Jeff’s voice is particularly helpful as a pastor’s husband. Rather than merely tolerate Tara Beth’s calling, he celebrates it: “I don’t view the way I help Tara as simply a spouse supporting the career and aspirations of their partner. Rather, I see it as living out my identity as a Christian” (114). Any husband of a woman minister would be greatly encouraged by Jeff’s attitude and the important role he plays in his wife’s ministry.
In part two, Tara Beth leads with the chapter “An Emboldened Mission,” where she uses a rainbow as a picture of the kaleidoscope nature of the church in all its beauty and diversity (131). Instead of empowering women on the basis of justice or fairness, she argues for giftedness as the reason women should be empowered: “The goal is for the colors to shine fully so the world … will see the reflection of Christ as men and women labor together” (131).
In the chapter “Emboldened Colaborers,” she gives examples of male pastors who supported her calling and gave her opportunities to lead (158). She also challenges the church’s paranoia around men and women working together, stating: “[by having strict boundaries] we communicate to women that they are untrustworthy or shameful simply because of the shape of their body” (163). In a world obsessed with sex, this is a timely reminder that the church can show a different way of working together in mutuality and respect.
Tara Beth offers practical suggestions for how men can embolden women; everything from telling stories about women in sermons, inviting them to preach, and engaging women pastors in decision making (170-171). Her clarion call to the church is one of action, “We can’t sit and hope it happens … If we aren’t intentional … there will hardly be a shift in the church’s practice” (184).
This book needs to be in the hands of every pastor, woman, man, girl, and boy in the church. Not only because it gives very practical and personal ways to live in mutuality and equality as men and women, but because it lays out a vision of where the church should go. The church has long headed in the wrong direction in relation to gender equality and women’s empowerment. But this book gives the church hope that the ship can begin to turn, one degree at a time. Though the destination of mutuality and equality is far in the distance, at least it is seen on the horizon. This book gives a vision for what the church could and should look like when it empowers women to use their gifts and embrace their calling.