A few of my nieces are mighty soccer players. The 11 year old has been saving her allowance and gift money in a jar to support her dream of attending the Women’s World Cup in Canada in 2015.
I admire her discipline – both on the field and with her allowance. I don’t think I would have had a similar commitment when I was her age, namely because the Women’s World Cup didn’t exist until 1991 (when I was 11 myself), and women’s soccer didn’t have a large following in the U.S. then. I didn’t even know it was a possibility to play professional soccer.
Girls today can see examples of women in many fields, such as pro sports, entertainment, and health care. But do they see a variety of inspiring examples here in our churches?
If I were a young woman in a church today, I might not know that there is a possibility of serving God in a professional capacity. At church we tend to celebrate the maternal and heart-related capabilities of women, or celebrate their commitment to church service. But women’s professional and intellectual strengths are just as much gifts from God and a way to serve this world in need.
While many adults spend most of their days at a job, we don’t talk about our professional lives that much at church. Young girls don’t see a lot of professional Christian women as examples of something to aspire to.
As Christians, we need to understand that the church we attend, and the global Church, has a huge influence on how we see ourselves. At church, either implicitly or explicitly, we receive a message that enforces one of three perspectives: (a) the “best” Christians go into full-time ministry; (b) women aren’t supposed to lead men—ever; and (c) women should prioritize getting married over a career. And if women do decide to get married, and if they do decide to have children, one of the best ways to prioritize their family is to be home full time.
I am fortunate to attend a church in which women’s ministry is multi-dimensional, recognizing the various roles women play in contemporary society. But I know it is not always that way. The stereotype of women gathering together for flowery, pink women’s Bible studies that meet at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday mornings persists in our Christian culture. Those types of small groups -- everything from their meeting times to the topics covered -- send a message about what is expected of women.
Why do these stereotypes keep getting reinforced? How can the church encourage women in our vocational callings? How can the church offer more examples of strong professional women?
I offer the following ideas:
- Invite women to serve the church in ways that are related to their professional field. Instead of assuming a woman would be a good fit for children’s ministries, why not ask that CPA to serve on the finance board? Rather than have that architect organize the clothing drive, why not ask her to offer input on the new building plans?
- Ensure men know they have the opportunity to serve in traditionally female areas, like childcare or planning the Christmas play. While we may have biological leanings we all have diverse interests regardless of our gender. When men to serve in those capacities it frees up women to serve in areas where they feel called and help break down gender stereotypes. (This has the added benefit of demonstrating to children that men care about their development – which is important for them to understand.)
- Commission all your professionals into their vocational calling. Churches are careful to send missions teams out with prayer covering and an understanding of the importance of the work they are doing. Make sure your professionals – who are serving God on a daily basis as well – understand the importance of the work they are doing and are covered in prayer. Make sure the children in your congregation understand the important work that people do to serve your community.
I’m so glad my nieces have professional women soccer players to look up to. And I hope that as a church we can demonstrate to young women the range of ways for them to express their God-given talents.
What suggestions do you have for ensuring women’s professional and intellectual strengths are celebrated in the church?
Elizabeth Knox works in the defense field in Washington, DC where she lives with her husband and son. You can read more by Elizabeth at her blog: Elizabeth Knox Online or follow her on Twitter. Her first book is Faith Powered Profession.