After a long workout, I shuffled up to the front desk and made my usual request for a shower towel. The older gentleman at the front desk obliged, “Here you are, little lady.”
I had just spent the last hour slinging weights and sweating more than most of the men in my CrossFit class.
To be fair, that man had no idea that I had just spent the last ten minutes trying to convince well-meaning gentlemen that, no, I did not need help putting my thirty-three-pound barbell up, considering I had just spent thirty minutes power cleaning more than that. I had also spent the entire two months of class so far trying not to audibly gag when called “sweetheart,” “darling,” or “girlie” during grueling workouts.
After the better half of five years running long distance, twenty-three years of living in the athletic shadow of my talented older brother, five years of being in a relationship with a collegiate soccer player, and now, after just two short months of CrossFit, I’ve learned several lessons about what it means to be a woman trying to make it in a man’s world.
Unfortunately, I’ve also had plenty of experience trying to make it in a man’s church.
I’ve had a fair amount of mission experience—both locally and internationally. Over the years, I have discovered that sexism is alive and well in the mission field. There are usually three options for service for women: manual labor, children’s ministry, or women’s ministry. On my last one-week mission trip, we could choose between cleaning up a recreation field and leading a women’s event.
I’ll speak candidly here. Of all ministry categories, I am least gifted for women’s and children’s ministry.
It’s not that kids don’t like me. They do. It’s that, for the most part, a large group of children all asking questions at the same time, running around in circles with sticky fingers and mud on their faces, is just not appealing to me. In the same way, pink table cloths, fake flowers, and/or knitting are just not my cup of tea.
I’m not trying to belittle children’s and women’s ministry or imply that all of these ministries look exactly the same. But the truth is that they don’t allow me to pull from my tool box of skills. I would much prefer taking a group of adults hiking or running, hanging out with college students, serving those with addictions, or leading a small Bible study.
I don’t think the church at large believes that it is actively restricting the potential ministry of female congregants and leaders. But that’s exactly what it’s doing.
Assuming that my gender inherently makes me gifted for a certain type of ministry is sexist. Sexist assumptions have no place in the house of a God who sees men and women as equals.
My husband, Jonathan, joined CrossFit the same day I did. But people’s reactions to us have been very different. There is a double standard that prizes strength in men, but discourages that same trait in women. This sexism creates fear and self-doubt in the minds of my beautiful, capable female friends who like to compete at the gym.
Many of these women feel intensely unwelcome at the gym. Women gifted to lead often feel the same way in the church.
Women make up the majority of our congregations. Why, then, are our leadership teams and ordained ministers predominately male? Why must we assume that women’s ministry necessitates pink tablecloths, cooking, and sparkles? Are we using terms like “man’s work or role” or the “head of the house?”
Are we afraid that when our women exercise their faith muscles, they will come out looking too “masculine” for our congregants to handle? Is a strong spiritual gift for leading or teaching okay for a man, but unattractive or inappropriate for a woman?
Many women in the church are not able to serve as the Spirit has equipped them to serve because of unspoken assumptions about where they will fit best.
Women have been oppressed since the beginning of time. In the secular world, women get paid less and critiqued more. Women are called “cute” when they’re just trying to be physically healthy at a gym. Or they find themselves gushed over at work when they’ve simply done their job.
The secular world is just that—secular and not of Christ. There is no excuse for women to be continually degraded and even unwelcomed in their own family, the church.
When will we understand that we are all meant to participate in equality? When will the daughters of God be taken seriously in the pulpit?
Men, speak up for your sisters when they’re being treated differently because of their chromosomes. Women, stay strong—sling weights, run a mile, preach a sermon, join the women’s ministry, whatever—no matter what the world tells you is beautiful.
And stop calling women cute. We’re not cute. We’re children of God, just like you. It’s time we were treated like it.