Jesus spoke to women.
As Jesus walked and talked on earth, he had conversations with women in a variety of situations. That was unusual in his patriarchal culture which mostly disregarded women. What is even more stunning is that Jesus treated women with dignity, respect, tenderness, and a compassionate response to their individual needs.
Patriarchy Pushes Women Away from Jesus
I have been a Jesus-follower for forty-six years, ever since I heard his call as an unchurched middle school student. I love Jesus and I love his people, who have helped me grow in grace and truth. Looking back on my Christian life, what I find disconcerting is that so many churches actually imitate ancient patriarchal culture more than they imitate Jesus himself. If we are all, male and female, created in the imago Dei (the image of God) and formed into the body of Christ, shouldn’t we function as he did? Something got distorted along the way.
Because of the disturbing treatment they have endured in churches, I understand why many women don’t want to have anything to do with Christianity. In my mid-fifties, I went to seminary to learn how to more effectively minister to women who have experienced such faith crises. I see a challenge for theologians and ministry leaders: how do we faithfully proclaim to new generations of women the good news of Jesus, even as his teachings have been twisted to oppress them?
One thing leaps out to me as I ponder this question. It isn’t so much about the cleverness of our ministry strategies. Instead, I rejoice in the knowledge that Jesus himself is still alive and active among women, still calling them to rise up and follow him. At the finale of his Great Commission in Matthew 28:20, he promised, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” We know that his powerful presence is now manifest through the indwelling Holy Spirit who guides and empowers us.
Practically speaking, how does this knowledge that Jesus is alive and active change our approach to evangelism (drawing women in), discipleship (building women up), and mission (sending women forth into ministry)?
In evangelism, we must introduce women to the real Jesus.
The Jesus in the Bible may be far different than the stereotypes women have heard about him, even in church. This is such good news! Jesus is the one who loved, liberated, healed, honored, indwelled, empowered, and commissioned women within an extremely patriarchal culture. He is the one who dynamically continues that same work among women in all nations and generations, including right here and right now in our lives. Like the Samaritan woman at the well, who received living water so she could worship in Spirit and truth, we each need an authentic encounter with the Living Christ before we can share the overflow of joy and peace with others.
In discipleship, we teach and model how to listen to Jesus’s voice.
A woman who can listen to Jesus can learn to follow him for herself. This may be new to those who have developed an unhealthy dependence on men to interpret the Bible for them. Inductive Bible Study, one of my favorite courses in seminary, taught me how to directly read and analyze the text to cut through my presuppositions and hear the Word for myself. Like Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, I too have the right to learn from Jesus at his feet. I know how to prayerfully sit with the Bible and let it speak into me. This has helped set me free from the shackles of the faulty interpretations of others. Jesus’s words are life to my soul! I want to always hear, know, and obey my Good Shepherd’s voice.
In mission, we bless and launch women into whatever ministry Jesus calls them to do.
Using the gifts and personality that God has given, this could be boldly preaching the gospel, showing quiet hospitality, pastoring a church, teaching in a seminary, leading an organization, creating artistic masterpieces, singing God’s praise, envisioning and strategizing for the future, communicating cross-culturally, offering medical care to the vulnerable, raising children, speaking prophetically, teaching a small group Bible study, sharing a testimony, volunteering in a domestic violence shelter, feeding the hungry, visiting the incarcerated, counseling the broken, serving in local church lay ministry, encouraging others on the internet, writing books, telling simple stories, or any number of things. There is so much work that God has for us to do! Let us enthusiastically encourage and empower women to follow Jesus into the call of ministry and mission. Amen!
Does Jesus still speak to women even now? I say yes! Hallelujah!
Photo by Gift Habeshaw on Unsplash.