As I write these columns for “Girl Talk,” I approach this task with some apprehension. I am the Director of the Women’s Leadership Institute at Concordia University Wisconsin. As I use this title, I have become aware of the mix of emotions that it elicits within our church body. Some women and men immediately show surprise and interest, and their words of encouragement and support are gratefully accepted. Others raise their eyebrows and make pronouncements such as, “Women should not be pastors.” Some prefer not to talk about the topic of women’s leadership in the church. After all, it’s easier to avoid such an emotional and controversial topic.
For these next six columns, I’d like to set the following “ground rules” and “non-negotiables.” It’s better to make these statements at the beginning, so the words that I write will not be dissected for personal agendas or hidden meanings.
- The Bible is God’s Inspired Word. While human interpretations and applications of Scripture have changed through the ages, God’s Word remains true and absolute.
The Women’s Leadership Institute (WLI) does not advocate for the ordination of women. The WLI is an educational initiative for the purpose of encouraging and equipping women for Christian leadership in their congregations and communities.
With these statements as clear parameters, it’s time for some “straight talk” about how Christian women can and should lead.
We live in amazing cultural times for women. It wasn’t until the last 100 years that doors have opened for women in almost all institutions within American society. Women are more educated today than at any other time in the history of the world. Opportunities have surfaced for women in the worlds of education, business, law, medicine, sports, politics, and even the military. It has been said that the 21st Century will be the “Century of Women.” Is it acceptable for women to be leaders in the church? On the LCMS website, one can read eight different documents about “Women in the Church” that have been written since 1968. Plus, there are eight minority reports and opinions. As I write this column, the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations is drafting another document about the “Scriptural Relationship of Male and Female.”
Most of the debates within the church are centered on the topic of women’s roles. Historically, leadership has been perceived as a role that is filled by a man. However, during today’s Information Age, leadership takes on a whole new meaning. Leadership isn’t always about a job or position. Leadership is about influence. According to Ken Blanchard, “Influence is the ability to affect how someone thinks, acts, or develops.” Hmm…. That sounds like women’s ways of leading!
Many women do not aspire to be leaders. For instance, check out the Old Testament book of Esther. It’s about a queen who had no intention of being a leader. Beautiful Esther became the wife of King Xerxes after he deposed Vashti, his previous wife, who did not come when he had called for her. Esther became Xerxes’ next wife, but she hid her Jewish ancestry. Persecution of the Jews began in Xerxes’ kingdom, and Mordecai, Esther’s uncle, sought her help. Esther would have to go to Xerxes without being summoned, reveal her Jewish ancestry, and plead for the deliverance of her people. Mordecai said to Esther, “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to this royal position for such a time as this? (Esther 4: 14)
Esther replied, “Go, gather together all the Jews and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4: 16). Esther went to Xerxes and revealed her Jewish ancestry. She pled for the deliverance of the Jewish people, and he granted her request. Esther showed great courage and boldness, and her people were saved.
I suspect that Esther had some interesting talks with God. Perhaps, she asked, “Why me? Why did you place me here? How did a Jewish woman like me end up being a queen?” Esther had an amazing life of riches, but she was prepared to lose it all. Esther spoke up with the full knowledge that “if I perish, I perish.” Esther used her influence to save a nation.
Are you at a point in your life where there is something deep within you telling you to be a leader among God’s people? You can’t explain it to somebody else, but you know that this is where God is leading you. It will take courage and boldness, but you have an eternal life-saving message to share. Seize your “Esther Moments” for such a time as this!