An Open Letter to Women Who Lead

A while back, a colleague reached out with deep frustration over some incident or another that caused her gender to bump up against her calling. I felt her pain. It is amazing how quickly a moment like that can set us back. Because I’ve felt her story and heard it from too many others, I suspect that my response to her may resonate with others who find themselves frustrated by life in a fallen world.

Friend,

I suspect you already know the stuff we all know: that we live in a fallen world; that we will struggle to make partnerships out of hierarchies on this side of Genesis 3; that “standing” in the Ephesians 6 sense of that word is hard as heck but still the best option we have in a fallen world.

Given all that, this would be my advice to you in a sentence: After you’ve done all you can do, stand. That is your call. Stand.

And I get it … standing can be tiring. And holding an uncomfortable position can be uncomfortable. An yes, it can get old and after enough of it we would rather just do our small work and grow old and bitter than keep rubbing against the grain. That is our choice, of course. But that is not the call.

The call is to stand. After we’ve done all we can do, stand.

So when hard things happen, go ahead and blow off steam and be angry and sound off, but then get back at it. Get back to making your stand for Christ. Learn winsome ways to make your point and stay in the game. The call doesn’t disappear and I can assure you that it is so much more frustrating to avoid a call than to deal with the pressures that incubate inside of one.

Stay in it. Stand.

Be angry at injustice and at the enemy of our souls who has found a foothold in gender inequity, but don’t assume we can win that argument and defeat something nearly as old as humanity, that somehow if we just say it right the thing will go away. This is human fallenness we are battling! It is in our DNA. Be angry about what the enemy has done to humanity, but don’t settle for the cheap way out by blaming Hollywood or government or worse yet, men in general. Don’t give room to defensiveness. Make sure your arguments are biblical, theologically sound, practical and most of all, that they come from a whole and holy place.

Because this thing we deal with is a fact of the fall (have I said that yet?). I assume it will be here until Jesus comes back. Our challenge is to learn how to navigate past it so we can do the things we’re called to. How do we as women support each other without competing or belittling or forgetting, or worse, stoking unholy fires by projecting? How do we raise up men by encouraging them to love and respect us as partners in the work of lifting up Christ, without competing with or belittling them?

Ed Stetzer says church planters are 400% times more likely to succeed if they know what they are up against. The Small Business Administration says much the same thing about entrepreneurs. Realism is an ally. So on the point of women as leaders, here’s what you’re up against:

  • Sometimes you will experience condescending attitudes from men who have no idea they are being condescending.
  • Sometimes you will experience the jealousy or competitiveness of women who have no idea they are broken in that way.
  • Sometimes you will experience subtle and even overt sexual advances by men who know what they are doing and by men who got broken as boys.
  • Sometimes you will be passed over by churches because you are female, because they are gripped by the spirit of fear.
  • Sometimes you will be invited to speak/ sit on the platform/ write/ participate for no other reason than that you are female (take it … every time, take it and be grateful; never mind their motives).
  • Sometimes you will experience lack of success because you are female, and sometimes because you’re not that great of a leader. And it will be hard to know which is which.
  • Sometimes you will feel crazy because when you verbalize your experience of any of the above, others will deny or minimize what you’re feeling. They’ll tell you you’re doing “just fine.” And you will feel crazy because what you know to be true is not validated.

All those things will happen to a woman who chooses the path of leadership. And we’re not just talking about Christian leadership, but leadership in general. Hundreds of studies in multiple fields bear out the fact that you will have these things in your life. Which is not to say men have no challenges of their own. Men have other things to deal with and we ought to be careful to hear them, too.

But friend, these are our things and they are not necessarily because you are not good enough, though it is possible you have placed yourself into something you’re not ready for. Your pain is not necessarily because you are not called or gifted, but please be sure that you are. The call of God is not for the faint of heart.

If you are called and gifted, then hear me: sometimes this call will be hard, Some things just are, because we live on this side of Genesis 3. As Paul said, we’re not battling flesh and blood but powers and principalities that want to take us down.

So now you know, which means you are 400% more likely to succeed because you can be in this with eyes wide open. You are more likely to succeed if you will seek your own healing, stop apologizing your way into rooms, and trust that if you’ve been invited to a table then you belong there. You are more likely to succeed if you will take responsibility for your own gifts and hone them so you’re making the most of the moment.

And listen: You can’t lose if you will spend your energy lifting up Jesus. Let him take care of your reputation. Your job is to stand. Witness to your creation-call by being good at it. And if you sense you’ve been given a prophetic voice to speak into this arena more boldly, then pray desperately for humility enough to stay under the Lordship of Christ so the unholy fires don’t burn up your message.

If my thoughts don’t settle well with you, then do your own research, find your own message … but either way, keep pursuing healing because the Kingdom is starving for warriors like Deborah — both women and men who are whole and holy, courageous and ready. And keep pursuing healing for your own wounds because healing is freedom. Whatever has happened to us, Jesus can return our souls to a place of peace. It has been liberating, after too many years of being fearful and defensive, to simply be at peace as a woman who loves Jesus and finds joy in leadership within His church. Praise God for the healing grace of Jesus that brought me this far and please, God! Heal me some more because I’m not nearly who You’ve designed me to be. Not yet. But I’m a Methodist, so I absolutely believe I’m getting there. And so are you, my friend. So are you. 

In all things may Jesus be praised! 

— Carolyn

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Abortion, choice and what makes a life

(This post first ran a little more than a year ago. I am reposting these blogs in recognition of   the 100th anniversary of the founding of Planned Parenthood in October.)

“As of today, I am responsible for 18,617 abortions.”

Those were the words on a note handed me by a young woman who walked into our church desperate for counsel. For three years, she said, she’d been working in an abortion clinic, rising in the ranks to the place of managing several clinics in Georgia for an owner in Tennessee.  The day she came to see me, she’d decided she was done and wanted help getting out. What she knew put her in a dangerous place; walking out wasn’t as easy as just walking out.

I’m remembering that conversation and all we did to help (we put her in touch with folks who helped her begin a new life) as I note the 100th birthday of Planned Parenthood earlier this year.

In light of that, I’d like to spend a few paragraphs discussing what I know about abortion and believe the Bible teaches.

For those who may not have a good sense of the history of abortion in America, let’s look at the highlights:

The early church – Some of the earliest writings of the Church fathers deal with the issue of abortion. They debated the question of when life begins, but never the question of the morality of abortion. It has always been considered morally wrong by the Church.

1869 – Pope Pius IX announced that abortion at any point in pregnancy was cause for excommunication. That’s when the Church began to say with authority that life begins at conception.

Around 1900 — Laws against abortion in the United States first appeared.

1916 — Margaret Sanger and her sister opened the first birth control clinic in Brooklyn, New York. Sanger was the founder of Planned Parenthood.

1927 — Sanger helped organize the first World Population Conference in Geneva.

1942 — Planned Parenthood Federation became an official organization.

January 22, 1973 –– the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its landmark decision in Roe v. Wade, recognizing the constitutional right to privacy and a woman’s right to choose abortion.

Planned Parenthood is by far the most influential voice in the pro-choice movement. While most people today associate Planned Parenthood with women’s rights, most are not aware that Margaret Sanger, the founder, was actually a student of eugenics. That was a sort of popular movement back the 1920s. Eugenics is about breeding. It is the idea of controlling population by breeding out ( I’m actually quoting from someone Sanger followed) “the physically unfit, the materially poor, the spiritually diseased, the racially inferior and the mentally incompetent.” People involved in the eugenics movement of the early 1900s, when Sanger was involved, believed these groups of “inferior” people should be controlled through segregation, sterilization, birth control and abortion. And that was at least partly Sanger’s motivation for supporting contraception and eventually abortion.

Today, Planned Parenthood clinics still reflect that bias. You will almost always find them (76% of all clinics) located in economically depressed areas of a community and particularly in areas where minorities live. The second largest abortion clinic in the world (like an abortion super center) is in Houston, Texas, in a neighborhood that is 85% Hispanic and African-American.  That should be a concern, especially given the soil in which this organization is rooted.

How do we understand these things in light of the Bible?  Let me give you a few starting points:

God creates life. God has allowed the killing of animals since the fall, but we’re not animals. We have God’s spiritual DNA. Genesis 1:27 says, “God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Life is sacred because we bear a spiritual likeness to our Daddy. Every human being has life because God chose to give it.  Surely that’s worth more than $335 a person, or $20 for a part.

Human life is under God’s care and control. Psalm 139:13-16 says, “You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

God is involved in our lives from the moment he calls us into being, and is making plans for us even before we’re born. We are under his care.

Jesus came to give abundant life. God is always on the side of life. Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy, but I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).

Choose life. In Moses’ final instructions words to the Israelites, he pleaded with them to “choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19). Surely this word was more deeply prophetic and more deeply eternal than the man who first uttered it could have imagined.

The woman who walked into my office looking for help and a way out discovered that as she participated in sucking the life out of thousands of children, the industry in which she was taking part was sucking the life out of her. When we take life, we lose our own.

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