The gender “light bulb” clicked on for me the first time when I attended one of Leanne Payne’s Pastoral Care Schools and heard her specific teaching on “Misogyny in the Church.” I was disheartened to learn of different ways the church has supported this injustice and sin. It became more disturbing to me as I looked around at the church I was attending and saw that women in our church primarily served as Sunday school teachers, worship team members or event planners.
As I began to speak out concerning the lack of female teachers, leaders and pastors in our church, I became motivated to seek out the Lord in prayer about this tender topic. At times when anger would well up in me regarding this disparity, I wondered if I was just becoming an angry feminist. I asked some close male and female friends to pray with me about this growing burden. During one powerful prayer time, I received three powerful insights, impressions or revelations that I would like to share:
1) First, the Lord brought to my remembrance Mark 14, where the woman ministered to Jesus with the perfume from her alabaster flask. In that story, the woman’s act of love for Jesus was met with scorn and resentment from the other disciples. Jesus rebuked them for their ridicule and honored her. I felt like the Lord was exhorting me to continue to minister to him and his people out of a heart of extravagant love, but not to expect the blessing of other disciples (Christians, the church). He, however, would guard my reputation, as he had with this woman who loved and cared for him.
2) While we prayed, I saw a picture of a large barren tree. When I asked the Lord what it meant, I sensed him saying that this tree represented most of the body of Christ (churches) today. Christ is the root and trunk of the tree, and men are the branches, but the leaves, which the nutrients flow through (women), and the fruit (children) are missing. I believe that God was saying that until women and children are given the place to freely exercise the full range of their God-given gifts, the tree will remain barren because he designed spiritual life (fruit) to come forth just as he designed physical life (a newborn) to come forth – when man sand woman come together in love. Basically, the church minus the feminine presence and gifting cannot bear healthy, lasting fruit. Isn’t it significant that the Lord awaits His bride, a feminine metaphor?
3) The third impression I got was a shepherd leading his flock out to graze in a green pasture. He pointed to the expansive pasture and urged his flock onward to graze. As the sheep began to scurry off to eat, He raised his staff to restrict the final emerging portion of his flock and told them their grazing was to be restricted to the small area around him. They would not have access to the full pasture. I believe this is the sad picture of what continues to happen to so many women in churches today. They are shown the whole pasture (areas of service, gifting and ministry) and then told they must stay in the acceptable range of the pasture (hospitality ministries, Sunday school teachers, etc.). I believe this grieves God’s heart to watch shepherds often restricting the women in their flock to small portions of the pasture.
Several years later (January 1995), I had the beautiful and awesome experience of being involved in a foot washing ceremony conducted by Francis MacNutt at an Anaheim Vineyard Christian Fellowship Conference. It was a powerful event in which seven of us who represented different parts of the church (Evangelicals, Catholics, Pentecostals, Social Justice, etc.) sat on the church platform in front of several thousand people, while Francis invited people to come up and repent for judgments they have made against different parts of the church. His message that night had been about the need for love and unity in the body of Christ. Because I was working in a social justice ministry, I ended up on the platform. The only other woman on the platform was an African American Pentecostal minister. Many people that approached me and washed my feet also wanted to repent of not embracing women in leadership positions in the church. Some were even women who had denied their own leadership gifts, or given up because of the struggle and opposition they encountered. It was heartbreaking to me, and I felt led to stand in the gap and repent on behalf of the church for not welcoming their gifts or leadership. I believe some significant healing began or occurred for many people that night. I have, however, found myself wondering how many women have perished through the centuries with unexercised gifts or dormant callings because they were not encouraged in the same way men have been.
After seeing the film “Anna and The King” recently, I felt so moved by one woman’s story of confronting unjust traditions and prejudices, and how ultimately her courageous speaking out changed the course of the nation. I will continue to speak out in each opportunity God creates for me, hoping that one day the church will release its full army.