Submission: An Equal Opportunity Discipline
As a female involved in youth ministry and ministerial education for more than twenty years, I have encountered a variety of reactions and responses to the role of women in ministry. Much of the time I am viewed as a spokesperson or champion for the female sex.1
Interestingly enough, other females in youth ministry have sometimes viewed me as a traitor to my sex, within the context of ministerial leadership. Actually, I know myself to be neither champion nor traitor.
I am weary of the conflict and debate over women in ministry and am not energized by the topic. I don't want to be known or identified primarily as a woman in ministry, but simply as a faithful servant of Christ. This sounds rather like a holier-than-thou Sunday School response, but I've had years of testing in this arena and know it to be true.
To be “neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female” has a very different interpretation for me than it does for some of my colleagues. Rather than seeing this as a biblical mandate for “sameness,” I'm inspired by its liberating message, that we no longer need look at people as male or female, rich or poor, African or European. For those of us who read and believe these words, we realize that we're all people, we're all called, we're all gifted, we're all children of the living God, we're all loved—God has no favorites. We're not the same, but we don't notice our differences. We're gifted differently, yet we're all of equal worth. To focus on the limitations, benefits, or uniqueness of being male or female in ministry takes energy and resources away from serving God. There's too much to be done to worry about whether I'm being respected or slighted.
In my early days in youth ministry, I attended a conference on women in ministry. I drove several hours for this multi-day event, expecting to find encouragement and relationship with other women responding to God's call on their lives. I was so naïve, but my eyes were quickly opened. The tone and tenor of the prayers were ones of anger; I heard the word “female” more than the word “God.” I was uncomfortable with the focus of the conference, which was apparently about winning rights as women more than about honoring Christ through excellent service. I heard women sobbing as they told of how their husbands didn't understand their need to work long hours and be away from their families as they pursued their ministerial vocations. Actually, I left at the end of the first day; I could muster up no affinity for such a group. I found myself being critical of their self-centered approach to ministry. I know not all women's ministry gatherings have such a negative focus. However, this experience helped to shape my view of God's calling on my life.
I want to know God's will for my life, and I want to pursue God's calling on my life. I don't want to act or serve out of selfish ambition. I don't want to seek positions of authority or leadership for my sake. I want to faithfully develop all of the gifts, talents, and abilities God has bestowed upon me, and I want to use them with humility, as God leads. I want to submit to the authorities that are over me, for I believe submission to be a biblical spiritual discipline—for all Christians, male and female. This means that I'm free from having to defend myself or explain myself or promote myself. I can lay down my rights and let God be the one who promotes or exalts. I trust God to lead me into positions of authority that have been ordained for me, and I know that this will be possible as I live the life of a servant, fully yielded to God's will.
Submission is a spiritual discipline. Often we want to claim abuse and stand up for our rights when the only thing that has been abused is our ego. Submission is an equal opportunity discipline, as well, necessary for both males and females. Regardless of the role or position I'm in, it's a joy to serve with others who embody this Christ-like quality. Christ's death on the cross was the ultimate act of submission; submitting all of his rights for our sakes, who should be submitting to him. To practice mutual submission is to honor Christ; it's freeing; it's empowering; it's the necessary characteristic of one who would lead. In the words of Jesus: “Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:10-12).
1Notice that I didn't use the term gender, which has become the convenient descriptive tag we have gravitated toward in recent years. It is less provocative and more politically correct thant the word sex. However, the real issue that has become a lightning rod within the church, as in society, is not at all one of gender. While the terms may be used interchangeably, the more precise meaning of gender relates to the behaviors, psychological or cultural traits of a particular sex; the manner in which one “acts out” one's sex. The real question being debated is one of sex, the quality of being either female or male, regardless of behavior or culture or psychological health.
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