Female Role-Models in the Church

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Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewellery or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. 1 Peter 2: 3-4

I wonder how many women in the wider culture would think a gentle and quiet spirit is desirable? I’m not sure that many would. Gentle and quiet women are ok, but not something that is particularly sought after. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the opposite is true. We are expected to be independent women, emancipated and not just equal to men, but able to do everything that men do (audience of women cheers!) However, the women that can come to mind when faced with these ideals is some sort of Charlie’s Angel for younger women; and successful business women for us in our mid-twenties, and I guess beyond.

Michael Ramsden came to speak to our church in Brighton last year. He mentioned that he had been reading some feminist books that really troubled him, because of the abuses to women in our society. Afterward I got a chance to ask him for some references. As a result, I have recently finished reading Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture by Ariel Levy. It was a shocking confirmation of the debased and twisted view our culture has of female liberation. It is not a book I would encourage any men to read; it can be rather descriptive. Levy’s essential message was to undermine the assumption that women needed to try and impress men, or try and be ‘like men’. She comments on the increasing desire within the ranks of women to caste themselves in a masculine mould:

Why try to beat them when you could join them? There’s a way in which a certain lewdness, a certain crass, casual manner that has at its core a me-Tarzan-you-Jane mentality can make people feel equal. It makes us feel that way because we are all Tarzan now, or at least we are all pretending to be.[1]

It is a very interesting observation Levy makes, and one which I unfortunately agree can be true within British society. As such, there is a need for women in our country to have good role models. This is also true in the church, and is evident from my church’s Joining the Church Family sessions. There is a slot where we talk about women in the church, and there is almost always a question like: What can women do in the church? I believe in a Complimentarian view of gender roles, and believe that men should be elders, and therefore believe that men should often be the ones at the front of church, leading our corporate meetings. However, for women in the church it is easy to try and emulate the elders in more ways than one, and even start to believe that ultimate spiritual development is serving Jesus through preaching and leading the church. As this is the role model so readily displayed on Sundays.

Peter’s exhortation to build our identity as women on God, and develop our ‘inner self’ is beautiful and feels so right, but a male dominated ‘stage’ at church can leave women with few examples of how this is worked out in practice. This can be particularly true for younger women, who may not have developed friendships with older women in their church. With this vacuum in young women’s lives I have observed that they can increasingly, and often quite unconsciously, turn to the modern ideals of ‘independent women’ and being ‘like men’ as Levy has described. This can be compounded by a lack of female role-models in their church life, leaving them with male role-models within the church and female role-models in our wider society. Male church role models are great, but they may not help counter the pressure on young women to be ‘like men’. Certainly, non-Christian female role models won’t.

This is precisely why I have been so encouraged by the women’s work that has started running at CCK Brighton, and I’m sure in many other churches too. We aim to hold Women’s Days and events three times a year at CCK, and in the past they have been a great success. Personally, I have found it so helpful to be able to see women preaching and teaching other women. Not because I have a bee in my bonnet about ‘male only’ preachers, but because I have had the opportunity to be inspired by the spiritual lives of other women in my church. It really has been a great encouragement.

I’m aware that NF will need to continue to grapple with the controversial issues of women preaching and teaching. But while we do, it’s nice to know that we are developing, not necessarily toward an increasingly liberal theology, but towards a system that best represents the Word of God and the caring of his people.

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  1. #1 by Pete on February 15, 2012 - 10:01 pm

    Second para 3rd sentence you have “quite” where u mean “quiet”. I’m really hoping that any corrections serve to encourage you that people are reading your blog (and carefully!) and I am genuinely interested in a woman’s viewpoint. To be honest, women who admit to thinking deeply* seem to be rare in the church and I found my way here after seeing your posts on the NF theology blog because I wanted to know more about this ‘Ruth who studies theology’!

    *I know loads who think but won’t always let on!

    • #2 by emmausattwilight on February 16, 2012 - 8:21 am

      Hi Pete

      Thank you again! I’ve made that change (and a few others, after looking at it afresh). I’m so pleased you are interested in my blog and a Woman’s perspective. Very encouraging indeed.

      So, what got you so interested in Women’s opinions? I know that everyone should be, but obviously you seem to be particularly so.

      • #3 by Pete on February 16, 2012 - 8:46 am

        What a good question… I think two reasons. 1) my mum is a thinker and very very creative and 2) I grew up in a church that had more female leaders than men at one point!

        I’d always loved hearing women preach and, tho I’m broadly complementarian in regard to eldership, I like that fact my current pastor will let his wife preach occasionally (and this is in a NF church).

        The wider Christian world has Joyce Meyers and the like but I like finding gentle, honest spirits who aren’t afraid to say what they think… oh and occasionally less gentle brutally honest folk too. There’s one older lady in the church I meet up with when I can as she’s great for a kind of tough-love approach 🙂

        Hmmm, this is a long rambling answer but hope it makes sense!

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