The goal of our Justice + Unity series has been to understand more deeply the biblical teaching and practice around justice and unity so that we might move toward greater healing in a fractured church. Our next conference on April 16, focusing on women, will explore a number of topics related to the church’s vision and ministries for women. If you haven’t registered yet, I hope you will join us. Click here for more information.
Previously, I’ve written about the main question behind the next conference: “Is our vision for women robust enough to enlist and empower all women to bring all their gifts to the church, the kingdom and the gospel?” I’ve also highlighted another theme we’ll be exploring on church history, namely, that women have historically enjoyed influence and had a voice alongside men on theological and practical matters.
Today, I want to mention a third theme we will touch on related to the experience of many Christian women: How can the church encourage women in their careers?
Frequently, women express disappointment and frustration at how Christian perspectives on women often focus on marriage, motherhood and stay-at-home roles. As revered and vital as those vocations are, the reality for many women is that they do not fully identify with those roles, or they cannot (even if they want to) fulfill those callings. Single women, widows, women who cannot have children and women who are gifted to work, lead, build and create—these women find themselves in other God-given callings. Furthermore, as Carolyn Custis James points out in her book “Half the Church,” many women today (in affluent and impoverished societies) simply do not have the choice but to work to provide for themselves, their families and their communities. In fact, the woman described in Proverbs 31 is very active in a vocational/work context.
What does the church have to say or offer these women? Do the circumstances of their lives fall outside “God’s best” for women, or are they perfectly positioned to serve and promote the gospel right where they are?
We have previously addressed this topic at Talking Points, albeit not explicitly about gender. In 2017, we released a small group curriculum called Everyday Works: Rethinking What You Do Every Day and Why It Matters For The Kingdom. That study focused on a gap in common discipleship efforts, namely, the silence in church about work or “secular” careers. In that curriculum, our speakers argued that we can do more to recognize, honor and disciple followers of Jesus (men and women) to serve God in the workplace.
Here’s the question for our April event: If the church struggles to speak meaningfully into everyone’s work life, how much worse might it be for women who tend to be valued most for being wives and mothers? Men are frequently encouraged and challenged to assume leadership roles, and they can draw on that vision of leadership to motivate and strengthen their career callings. For women, their leadership gifts—or their practical need to assume leadership in the workplace—can often go against the grain of their spiritual mentoring in church. That’s a challenge most men never have to face.
In light of this tension, our next conference will feature a panel discussion with several women discussing one primary question: How has the church helped you in your calling, and where is there a need for growth? Dr. Lynn Cohick will participate on that panel along with two previous Justice + Unity panelists, Dr. Christina Edmondson and Dr. Elizabeth Conde-Frazier (and more to come).
All this to say, we are hoping to lift up practical ways churches and church leaders can recognize and encourage women in workplace and professional settings.