DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

On breaking ice and chinese water torture…

Written by: on March 7, 2019

I’m just so tired.

So, so tired.

I’m not tired of my work as a church planter or leadership mentor or missionary equipper; these things energize me. No, I’m tired of having to constantly break down barriers so that women are empowered to plant churches and do the mission work to which they have been called. I’ve been called an “ice-breaker” by more than one person, but it isn’t a role that I enjoy. Ice is hard, and cold, and it hurts. And I’m weary of having to break it.

And when one is weary, then everything feels like a battle.

Take this week’s reading, Divine Sex, by Jonathan Grant. It’s a brilliant book, really—well researched, theologically rich, and intellectually stimulating. Grant’s vision of human sexuality as eschatological, metaphysical, formational, and missional is inspired.[1] But then there are phrases woven throughout the book that feel like subtle jabs, and when the jabs keep coming, even subtly and softly, they become tiresome. Here’s just one example. The sentence begins hopefully, and I find myself nodding along, right up until the word, “paranoia.” That’s when my eyebrows went up. That’s the word that jabbed me.

“Only when we are attentive to these differences of sexual complementarity, free from hierarchical paranoia, can we build a strong foundation for intimate relationships.”[2]

When one sex has been systematically oppressed and excluded by the other for centuries, and that sex begins to assert itself and question the hierarchies, I take issue with that assertion being equated to “paranoia.”

And yes, I understand that this is small. But the accumulation of such small insinuations coming from various media through the course of weeks, months, and years, begins to feel like Chinese water torture. And it’s very tiring.

I’m not the only one who picks up on this undertone. In his review of the book, Brad Lau states, “when Grant discusses how women and men spend their time, pursue careers, or rear children, he runs a fine line between making a good and valid point and becoming overly prescriptive in suggesting what contemporary family life should look like (220).”[3]

I wasn’t imagining the bias of the book. And while I won’t throw the baby out with the bath water—again, I see great value in the book—I’m disappointed that so many worthy babies have such dirty bath water. And I’m tired of it.

I’m not bitter, nor am I looking for a fight. Indeed, I’m tired of fighting. I’d really like to just get on with the work of God, announcing the Kingdom and living for the King. But what kind of kingdom are we announcing?

Women can go out into the world and start a business or run for office or launch a non-profit, but then we tell them that when they come into the church they must not be too assertive or expect to be in charge? For many women that’s not exactly Good News. In fact it’s bad news. And it isn’t even what the Gospel teaches.

Just as Grant points to the eschatological vision for sex, I believe that we need to have an eschatological vision for the Church as the foretaste of the future and coming kingdom of God. There is not a single indication from any passage in all of scripture that men have any authority over women in eternity. Rather, the Bride of Christ is made up of a body of mutually submissive worshiping servants of the radiant Prince of Peace. When Paul wrote “there is neither male nor female” he didn’t mean that all Christians were gender neutral, he meant that gender was no longer to be a factor in determining who was IN and who was OUT, including who was in and out of leadership roles in the church.

Do I sound angry? Shrill? “Paranoid”? Please forgive me. I’m really just tired.

The fact is, I’m the mother of two boys—two young men. I love men. I appreciate men. I don’t want to criticize men or belittle men or chase men out of leadership positions. I just don’t want women deprived of the same simply because they are women. I believe we are better together. We need each other.

And while we’re on the subject, have you ever noticed how it’s often the women that are willing to adapt to more masculine ways who get invited to join the teams at the top? I’m always terrified that I’m going to start crying when I get passionate about something because I know that many men believe that is impossible to be emotional AND logical—one teardrop in the wrong room, and all my credibility as a church planter goes down the drain. But when all have to act according to male standards in order to be accepted in leadership roles, the very strength of our complementary natures and the riches of our diversity are lost.

I was recently at a leadership meeting for a Europe-wide saturation church-planting conference, and they were discussing whether we were simply going to count the number of churches planted as part of our research, or whether we were going to consider the societal impact of those churches as well. During the same meeting we were also going to discuss the value of recruiting more female church planters. Ironically, the research show that “women have qualities that suit designing churches which connect with this culture;”[4] that is to say, churches that are planted by women tend to be more naturally focused on justice and mercy and therefore have a stronger societal impact. The natural answer to growing our capacity to plant churches that have an impact is to recruit and train women who have an apostolic gifting to engage in church planting alongside their brothers. Instead, the church tends to marginalize such women, which is why they are business entrepreneurs and senators and community change leaders instead of church planters.

And which is why I am so, so tired.

[1] Jonathan Grant, Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships in a Hypersexualized Age (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2015), 143ff.

[2] Grant, 97.

[3] Lau, Brad A. “Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships in a Hypersexualized Age.” Christian Scholar’s Review 46, no. 2 (2017): 190-192. https://georgefox.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.georgefox.idm.oclc.org/docview/1873850621?accountid=11085.

[4] Karina formation, “Why Women Make Excellent Church Planters,” The Junia Project (blog), August 5, 2016, https://juniaproject.com/why-women-make-excellent-church-planters/.

About the Author

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Jennifer Williamson

Jenn Williamson is a wife and mother of two adult sons. Before moving to France in 2010, she was the women's pastor at Life Center Foursquare Church in Spokane, WA. As a missionary with Greater Europe Mission, she is involved in church planting and mentoring emerging leaders. Jenn benefitted from French mentors during her transition to the field, and recognizes that cross-cultural ministry success depends on being well integrated into the host culture. Academic research into missionary sustainability and cultural adaptation confirmed her own experience and gave her the vision to create Elan, an organization aimed at helping missionaries transition to the field in France through the participation of French partners.

12 responses to “On breaking ice and chinese water torture…”

  1. mm M Webb says:

    Jennifer,
    Dear Ice-Breaker,
    You are an anointed champion for Christ. Your skills and gifting just happen to be using a sharp pointed spiritual tool, like the Sword of the Spirit; piercing, dividing soul, spirit, joints, marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Heb. 4:12). So, stand firm Jen, you have one of the best jobs around, wielding that Sword for God’s glory is very cool missionary leadership stuff.
    I read your whole post. As your friend and cohort member I encourage you to consider the role you are serving in, as the one carrying the Sword of the Spirit. I definitely see a little Jeanne d’Arc in you.
    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

    • Dear M. Webb

      I can’t tell you how grateful I am for your encouragement and how sincerely I receive your words. Jeanne d’Arc was burned at the stake…I hope to have a different destiny! And she is another example of a woman who adapted to male ways of leading in order to get heard. My desire is to be lead by the Spirit, whether called to break ice or to stand down and surrender. And may if all be by His strength and for His glory.

      Standing firm,
      Jenn

  2. Greg says:

    Jenn.
    I have always thought that my “includer” has helped me to see when others of not treated as equals. I do realize that I am blinded by my own journeys and agendas. I didn’t read any of those biases in Grant’s book, not because they weren’t there rather because I was focus on other aspects. One area that this cohort has continued to remind of was my own biases (or lack of focus) on egalitarian issues. As I watch my oldest daughter grow and see those inequalities in the church, she also has expressed some disillusionment. Thanks Jenn for your passion (how ever it is expressed) and for your leadership despite the obstacles in the way. I agree with Mike….stand firm against any and all that seek to invalidate the call the God has given you. Someone said to me, “you like to rock the boat, don’t you?” I responded, “how else do you make sure to wake the people sleeping on the boat.” So…break some ice and rock some boats.

    • I love your “includer!” And truly, this was a great book. I could’ve written a totally different post about it, it’s just that it had been “one of those weeks”, and this happened to be the straw that broke my back.

      And honestly, I’m not all that concerned about MY call (perhap’s there’s a little “includer” in me, too, though not enough for it to register as a strength in StrengthsFinder), my concern is for the young female leaders that I am mentroing. I have been given opportunities beyond anything I ever could’ve imagined. But when the women I am mentoring have barriers that keep them from pursuing their calling, I get really angry. And this just happened to be “one of those weeks.”

  3. Amen, Amen, and Amen Jenn (hey that rhymes :-)) You are so right on and I don’t blame you and every other woman in ministry (or anywhere) for being tired and sick and tired of being tired. That “hierarchical paranoia” comment was definitely biased and highly disrespectful to all the women who have been abused and discriminated against all in the name of a male-dominated hierarchy. (not surprised you picked up on it as well 🙂 I have to say, my favorite part of your blog was: “The fact is, I’m the mother of two boys—two young men. I love men. I appreciate men. I don’t want to criticize men or belittle men or chase men out of leadership positions. I just don’t want women deprived of the same simply because they are women. I believe we are better together. We need each other.” This is so my mantra, men and women lead better together and that’s why we need more GENDER BALANCE in leadership!!!!! Great post my fellow equal and Godspeed to your ice-breaking!

  4. Yes, Jake. We need to make sure that this conversation is never “us against them,” because that is never helpful to either side. Thanks for keeping the conversation about “us with them.” Better together.

  5. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Jenn,

    Wow – I completely missed it but definitely see your point regarding the subtle gender bias. I guess I was too caught up in how the book resonated with my own context that I wasn’t alert enough to notice. And while it is subtle it is still there and needs to be highlighted. So let me just say thanks for doing that and forgive me for the times when I am too self-absorbed to even notice when my comfort is a result of being part of the ‘insiders’ rather than ‘outsiders’.

    • Dan, the bias was easy to miss. I only picked up on it because I am “paranoid” (Ha ha!). But seriously, I was just having one of those weeks where I felt jabbed so many times that this was the straw that broke my back. But in and of itself, it was just a straw. I see you as part of the solution, not part of the problem, and I am truly grateful for brothers in Christ like you who advocate for those on the margins.

  6. Jenn, or is it Jeanne d’Arc? (I wouldn’t want you to have her end, but you do inspire me as a one who is more than capable and anointed to lead the charge!)

    Your observation about women leaders who are squeezed into leadership expectations that are masculine (eg. no crying, alone at the top, etc.) is relevant for this cohort. Our churches and nonprofits so often idealize leadership as being gendered only one way. We need models and mentors for the advancement of feminine leadership. I am impressed that your church planting movement articulates the need for female-led startups that will have justice and mercy at the core.

    • Thanks, Mark. Yes, I’ve been thinking about feminine leadership models for a while, and while part of me despises the idea of categorizing any leadership style as either masculine or feminine, I do think we need to learn to recognize the value of diverse leadership models. Another attirbute that tends to be labeled as “feminine” is one that you alluded to here–the ability to build leadership teams or networks and sustain flat leadership models. I believe that this is a leadership model that would serve the church very well.

  7. mm Jean Ollis says:

    Jenn,
    I totally felt an undertone of gender bias in this text (and like you also saw its value) but didn’t have the energy to take it on in my post (like we are supposed to be procreators for example). Thank you, thank you, thank you for always championing God’s cause, in spite of the barriers, biases, and blockades. You are a spiritual warrior and do so eloquently! Well done, good and faithful servant. Now get some rest 🙂

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