Our daughters and sons enter Christian colleges and universities with so many hopes and aspirations. They are eager to discover their calling from God and refine their skills.
Yet, for many young women, a consideration of vocation can be limited by an inadequate and inconsistent teaching of the Bible. Too often, female students receive “double speak” from churches and Christian schools. They are told the Bible teaches that men and women are equal, but that they have “different roles.”
The difference between men’s and women’s service has to do primarily with one issue—authority. Though gifted and called to serve in areas that demand leadership, women are often advised to pursue their calling only as long as they never hold a position of authority over a man.
The question of whether or not women are ontologically—in their being or essence—capable of leadership is not an abstract discussion, but impacts, in a very real way, the future of our world—our sons and daughters. If women, by virtue of their gender, are not suitable to lead men in the realm of theology or ministry, many are left wondering if there is something intrinsically inferior in the female gender.
Moreover, if women are told they may not lead or work as colleagues with men in Christian work, why should women be encouraged to do so in secular fields? Why should women pursue their best in business, law, education, medicine, or commerce? This message of “no authority over men” is taught as “biblical truth” in many churches and in some Christian colleges. No wonder some young women enter school with greater self-esteem than when they graduate.
For many years, CBE has observed the critical junction between vocation and a thorough understanding of Scripture. We recognize how reading the Bible with one lens for women and another for men can mislead, confuse, and disempower our youth. Fortunately, we are not alone in our concern that college students receive consistent biblical teaching on gender and vocation.
Because CBE is the largest clearing house of biblical resources for gift-based ministry, our materials and services are often in high demand by educators, parents, pastors, and students who work in partnership with CBE. Together we are bringing the teachings of biblical equality to campuses across the country.
The plea for CBE resources has been on the rise, thanks in part to funding from the Lilly Foundation. Since 1998, Lilly has funded a theological exploration of vocation among twenty colleges and universities. Craig Dystra, vice president of religion at Lilly, writes:
The quality of the life and faithfulness of the church depends in many ways on those who minister…so it is the business of all of us…to seek out, identify and encourage bright, promising young people and explore with them the possibility of a vocation to ministry. (“Good Ministers,” Initiatives in Religion 7, 2 [Spring 1998]: pg. 2)
Dystra goes on to write that it is our duty to make “vivid the personal and spiritual rewards that ‘come with the territory’ of ministry, to encourage them to taste the joy of theological study.” Yet, in order to experience the satisfaction of theological study and Christian leadership, female students must learn that the Bible welcomes them as leaders, theological educators, and pastors.
As always, God is doing “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Eph. 3:20). Thanks to help from Lilly, and in partnership with egalitarian educators, CBE is providing a consistent and thorough message on gender and vocation. We are making clear that the Bible teaches that both men and women are gifted and called for leadership and ministry. The results have been astonishing. Here is one example.
I received a call from a young woman, let’s call her “Chanda.” Chanda is a senior at a Christian university in the southern United States. She is a born leader. Chanda and her friends are part of a women’s center on campus that is funded by Lilly. Their group has been very interested in CBE’s work.
Through our publications, website, and conferences, Chanda and her friends discovered that their passion for Christian ministry is nothing short of God’s call upon their lives. Being female in no way limits the levels to which they may reach in developing their skills in service to Christ.
These bright and visionary students raised funds on their own in order to host multiple opportunities for me to address their campus. The fellowship and discussion was powerful. One month later, CBE received an application from one of these students who was interested in becoming a CBE intern.
Stories like Chanda’s happen regularly at CBE. As a result, more college students are interested in CBE’s ministry than ever before. Students write for our journals, apply to serve as interns or as staff members, attend our conferences, and organize CBE seminars.
Because of these partnerships with colleges, some students have heard the liberating message of biblical equality for the first time. For other students, our lectures represent the first time they have heard a woman preach in chapel or teach theology. We cannot underestimate the value of modeling our message.
We are working with a number of educators to consider a more intentional and systematic approach to college campus outreach. We are eager to see many more students explore a biblical basis for gift-based, rather than gender-based, service.
Will you join our efforts with your prayers and your regular financial support? Together we can offer a more thorough understanding of Scripture among college students, who look to Christian churches and institutions for guidance and support.