Way back last year (13th December, to be precise) Rachel Held Evans wrote a post on her blog entitled “…your daughters will prophesy”. One comment on that post started a train of thought that has been haunting me ever since. The comment was this:
“someday when Christ asks me to account for how I used my gifts, “the boys wouldn’t let me” will not be an acceptable answer.”
Now both Rachel and her commentator are living in an American church culture in which the issue of women in church leadership and ministry is a hotly, some might say ferociously, debated issue. Many big-name pastors (whom I shall not name here) appear to have big theological objections to the whole idea that women might have something to contribute to this area. As a former opponent of the ordination of women to the priesthood in the Church of England, I know the arguments advanced for this point of view, and they have resurfaced in the current debates about women in the epsicopate in the Church of England.
My train of thought, sparked by the comment on Rachel’s blog, was this: suppose, just suppose, that those of us in leadership are accountable not just for how we use our own gifts and talents, but also for how the other gifts and talents that God has given his church are deployed. As I look around me I see many women who have undoubted gifts for pastoral ministry, teaching, evangelism and countless other things, including leadership within our churches. Some of these are using their gifting and are being used well and encouraged by their churches. But others most definitely are not. And before someone else says it, this does apply to many men too! We are not always good at using and developing people, full stop, but in the case of men we don’t tend to make such a theological song and dance about it (unless of course they are gay or transexual – but that is another discussion).
Rachel’s commentator understood that “the boys wouldn’t let me” was not an acceptable defence for her letting her own God-given gifts go to waste. To those who oppose the idea of women in church leadership, especially male leaders, I want to ask: will it be acceptable for women’s gifts to be buried in the ground, unused?
In the parable of the talents/pounds (Matthew 25:14ff.//Luke 19:11ff.) those servants who step out boldly, who take the risks, reap the reward not only for themselves but for their master, too. The one who buries the talent they have been given acts out of fear, and ends up losing even what they have. I believe that churches and leaders who ignore the gifts and people we have been given are, ultimately, working against God’s Kingdom.
And, boys: “but they were women,” will also not be an acceptable reply.