When I talk about gifts in the setting of advocating an approach to church that involves men and women, I am not talking about a new hierarchy based on gifts. I don’t think church should have a hierarchy at all really, at least not one that looks anything like a worldly hierarchy.
I think the important of talking about gifts in this context is twofold.
- Gifts are not distributed based on gender. Though males and females are biologically different, the differences do not always extend to what they are gifted in. For example, it’s been a common belief that because men were historically stronger because of the work they did, they were more equipped for leadership, and because women were responsible for childrearing, they were more equipped for caring and nurturing roles. Both roles are equally important: but what you are gifted with is not dependant on your gender. I know plenty of caring, nurturing males and strong, fearless women.
- We have been sent on a mission for God, to share his good news and redeeming love with the world. In this task, we should be using all the gifts and resources at our disposal. To not do so is not honouring to God and is not productive to the church.
I also think that valuing gifts to an extent is important. We want skilled preachers, talented musicians and kids church leaders with the right qualifications. We don’t want to be asking people to step up to tasks they aren’t capable of. It’s not fair to them and it’s not honouring to God.
God gives us gifts to serve the church with. Using those gifts well is honouring to God, as it shows we value what he has given us and how he has made us in his image. We want church to be good and to do community together well. That means using what God has given us.
We are all on mission together. To an extent, it doesn’t matter who is ‘in charge’ or directing things. It only matters when the ‘hierarchy’ is being exclusive and not involving the whole church, or when the ‘hierarchy’ is moving in a direction away from what Jesus commanded.
In Jesus, the Church, the people of God, has been transformed. Instead of a temple with priests and sacrifices, with layers and barriers to God, we now have free and open access – for everyone. We don’t need a priest to intervene, and women don’t need a male ordained minister to intervene for them. We are a priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:5-9) and we are fellow workers in the Gospel (1 Corinthians 3:5-15). We are a team. If someone takes the lead, it is out of necessity and a desire to see the Gospel work continue.
A Church where everyone is battling for their right to be part of the team and to participate isn’t going to work. Which adds insult to injury when women are left out of the work. We have been commanded by God to do this task: we must answer to God about what we did with our time on earth just like men will. To put us in a position where we must argue for our right to participate in God’s mission is unfair, it’s disruptive to the Church and it distracts everyone from the bigger picture.
I don’t like talking about this issue. I don’t know a single woman who would rather argue about gender roles than get on with serving God. But when roadblocks are put in the way of us joining in God’s mission, we have no choice but to slow down and dismantle them.
What do I think the answer is? Mutual submission.
There’s an imbalance in the system. Mutual submission is needed to clear the playing field, set up an equal footing for everyone, and then we can continue. When we have a mutual playing field, where everyone is submitting to each other out of mutual respect and humility, we can get on with the business of serving God.
Servant leadership and a community based on mutual submission leaves no room for jostling for the chance to use our gifts. Instead we can step back and make room for each other’s’ gifts. It means when someone is appointed in a position of authority, we submit to them – not because they are male or because they are more gifted, but because it is what God commands. It means that in different contexts, we submit to whoever is appointed over us, male or female. This doesn’t mean boosting someone out of a role when a better equipped person comes along. It means at times the person in that role of authority won’t be the most gifted or smoothest looking, and that’s okay. We submit to each other out of love anyway.
Mutual submission means working together as a church to do the task God has given us.