As a young woman actively involved in my congregation and preparing to serve God as a Director of Christian Education, I am occasionally asked what I think about women’s role in the Church. A discussion concerning women’s roles in The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod and the cultural movement we know as feminism is particularly important to youth ministry circles because a growing number of women are serving as youth workers. It is additionally important to discuss this issue because active Christian young women and youth in our congregations are being encouraged to leave the LCMS to join denominations that are culturally “up to par” and where they can serve “more freely.”
God has called us all into His service through Baptism and in grace through the faith He gives us. As an institution, the church is infinitely more complex than it was 2000 years ago. However, the Church and its purpose remain the same: God’s people serve God to spread the Gospel. God’s men serve God. God’s women serve God. In Matt. 22:37, Jesus states that the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” He immediately follows this with the second greatest commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” At the most fundamental level, there is no difference between a male servant of Christ and a female servant of Christ. (See Gal. 3:26-29.) The motivation for their work is the same. Their response to God’s grace is the same, namely to serve Christ joyfully and use His gifts to the glory of His kingdom.
Nonetheless, it is no secret that men and women are different. Their abilities contrast and complement one another in remarkably creative ways. The complexities of the differences between men and women go beyond physical characteristics and even personality stereotypes. Furthermore, because all people are uniquely made by God, stereotyping is tedious, difficult, and more often than not, harmful.
The question becomes more complex when we apply these concepts to our work for the Church. Life is not as clean-cut in the flesh as it is on paper. In my limited life experience, talking about gender and the Church raises emotions to uncomfortable levels. Men and women alike are uncomfortable talking about what women should or should not be allowed to do and say in the Church because of stigmas surrounding the conversation both in a cultural context and, in the LCMS, a historical and Scriptural context. However, God created both men and women to serve Him. And we must serve Him together as a single united body. If we send mixed messages on gender roles to our youth, they will be less equipped to integrate their faith into their personal convictions on cultural issues. In order to most effectively serve God and our youth, we must discuss this difficult issue with one another and with them.
It is my personal opinion that the Christian women serving in our parishes in some leadership capacity (either professional or volunteer) set the tone for the congregation’s outlook on gender, feminism, and women’s service to the church. It is of utmost importance, then, that these women consider their personal positions on the issue of gender and church leadership. It is important, additionally, that Christian men understand, encourage, and reinforce healthy gender perception in the congregation.
I have spoken with several successful women who are professional youth directors in the LCMS, I’ve noticed a few things about women in youth ministry and how they distinguish themselves from what we popularly identify in our culture as “feminists.”
- A spiritually mature Christian woman is not driven by a social or political motive. Rather, she is driven to do her best in serving the Lord of all creation and salvation.
- A spiritually mature Christian woman is not threatened by what she cannot do, but is propelled into action with the gifts of service that she has been given.
- A spiritually mature Christian woman finds companionship in the many women of the Bible who served the Lord zealously. However, she also identifies with the men of the Scriptures and with their struggles. She recognizes God’s great wisdom in creating the masculine and the feminine. She doesn’t view the differences as competitive but as complementary.
- A spiritually mature Christian woman realizes that in youth ministry there must be balance of personality in order to reach all the teenagers in the youth room. Therefore, she invites both men and women to join with her in service to young people.
- A spiritually mature Christian woman will recognize that spiritually mature men also embody these traits.
Feminism is only necessary or helpful in the youth room if it is defined as the valuing of all God’s people, considering each of them to be necessary contributors to the Kingdom of God. All church workers should teach this value to both young men and young women. This value is a centerpiece of our Lutheran Confessions known as the Priesthood of all Believers. Giving our young people a clear understanding of this principle will equip young men and women alike to serve their Lord wholeheartedly. Additionally, upholding this value will help create an environment where gender will be less of a “problem issue” and more of a blessing to help God’s people faithfully and successfully serve His young people.