As many of you know, I served as the convener of the Gender Forum at what is considered the most important missions organization for evangelicals: the Lausanne Conference for World Evangelization (LCWE). Because I value the work of Lausanne as much as I cherish the leadership of Lorry Lutz (my co-convener), I knew God was leading CBE into an important opportunity!
Our task was to generate discussion on the impact of gender on missions and evangelism, while also exploring the important issue of abuse. Our goal was to voice the experiences and vision of Christian leaders from around the world.
Preparation for our week together in Thailand began months in advance by addressing online questions. Our discussion topics included:
- What is a Christian/biblical perspective on the dignity and value of women?
- How do we define spiritual gifts biblically, and what are the purposes of spiritual gifts? Are spiritual gifts gender-bound?
- Are evangelism and missions furthered or hindered when organizations empower the gifts of all Christians? What happens when organizations are selective in affirming the spiritual gifts of Christians?
- What holds women back from using their spiritual gifts?
- What impedes mutuality in ministry between men and women, and what strategies can you provide to enlarge the ability of churches, organizations and individuals to empower men and women to use their spiritual gifts?
- How do we define abuse? How can we educate, intervene and prevent the abuse of women and children?
- How can we encourage a spirit of reconciliation and acceptance between those who hold differing biblical views regarding men and women using their gifts together in the home and in ministry?
We developed a schedule of papers and facilitators, trying to include the leadership and gifts of all participants. We worked to embody our message by engaging the gifts of all Christians in building up the Church.
Presentations were intelligent, creative and passionate. We were stretched by the scholarship of Cecilia Yau (China/USA), Kevin Giles (Australia), Ellen Duffield (Canada) and Debbie Gill (USA). We stood amazed at the courage of Christian Leaders whose names cannot be repeated without risking reprisal. Reconcilors like Lorry Lutz called for patience and understanding in working alongside those with whom we disagree, while the prophets in our group encouraged us to be bold, outspoken and courageous. This balanced approach enriched our two presentations from the main platform.
Our first presentation included a parable written by Cecilia Yau, while Geeta Mondal (India) read our Declaration to the Church. Our second presentation was led by our youngest participants, Leslie and Chad Segraves (USA). As we held a large fishing net, the Segraves read the following:
Just as Jesus is both the Good Shepherd and the Lamb of God, we too are both fishers of people and the net itself. Notice the diversity of those of us who are holding the net as the fishers of people. We are from Australia, North and South America, Asia, Europe and Africa. We are from different tribes. We’re different shades of color. We’re all gifted in diverse ways.
Jesus prayed that we would be one. Not all just the same, but unified in our diversity. The Bible tells us that the Spirit has gifted each of us “just as he apportioned it” (Ephesians 4:7). The Bible says he gifts all believers, but the Word never says he gifts us based on our gender. Yet, at times, some believers tell other believers that they cannot hold that certain part of the net because of their gender. The results of this exclusion and inequality can be disastrous.
Men, hold onto your net. Women, drop your part of the net. What happens? We lose some fish. We don’t catch as many as we could if we all worked together. Women, hold the net. Now men drop your net. Again, we lose some fish.
Men, hold the net high. Women, get on your knees and hold your net. What happens if we work with men over women? We lose some of our efficiency in catching fish. Fish get out. Reverse it, women standing and men on knees. What happens?
God did not create man and woman to stand at different levels in Genesis. He created them side-by-side. Jesus redeems this picture through the Cross as the Word says in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all One in Christ Jesus.” He makes it possible for man and woman to again reflect his image of partnership, unity and equality.
Our work touched the hearts of many. After our first presentation, a young man dashed up to us and said: “This is the best theology I’ve ever heard! Do you have a copy of this?” I was sitting in the audience during our second presentation and a woman seated next to me actually touched me and said: “This is wonderful!” Another woman, several seats away, gave me the “thumbs up” sign. Clearly, we were reaching people!
Very few of us left Thailand unchanged. It wasn’t simply another beautiful country filled with gracious and tender people. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience of bonding with Christians who share a deep value, a life-long commitment to biblical equality.
Yes, we were strangers when we met, but within hours we realized the similar call upon our lives. Our hearts had been molded by the Holy Spirit and we simply “fit” together by our passion for empowering women, and, perhaps by our personal encounters with injustice. For one week we shared the joy of living as the body of Christ, realizing that together we are greater than the sum of our parts. We were one of those teams God assembles now and again for projects that leave the world a different place. It was, as one member said, a fore-taste of heaven.
The Gender Forum has also completed an Occasional Paper which gives voice to our vision for the Church. Our Occasional Paper will be posted and published in different venues. Thanks goes to Alvera Mickelsen who invested many hours editing papers from more than 40 individuals.
Thanks also to YOU, beloved friends and sacrificial partners at CBE. Because of your faithful giving, CBE was mentioned over and over for serving as a resource to the Gender Forum leaders. CBE was the reason many found hope, quality biblical resources and encouragement to move forward as evangelists, missionaries and leaders.
Many CBE resources are not available anywhere else. Yet even leaders in places with limited access to the internet, libraries or biblical literature received CBE materials to take back with them. They thanked me for making a difference in their ministries. I felt like falling to my knees and praising God for a ministry that has such a significant impact around the world.
And I was also very grateful for you, our dedicated members who graciously responded to those many appeals asking for help to send books to far away places, and for help improving our Web site. Celebrate with us, as we hear from those who were blessed by CBE.
Thank you for walking beside CBE and beside so many gifted leaders. Jesus is leading us out of Egypt into the promised-land where gender, class and ethnicity are irrelevant in service to our humble and mighty Lord.