Are Women God’s Last Resort To Lead? (Guest Post by Rachel Tapling)

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I remember exactly where I was when I first started to truly question the hierarchical views on women in the Church.

Unlike many who go through their rebellious phase in their teenage years, I had managed to skip it completely by being “on-fire” and “plugged-in” and “enrolled in Christian schools my entire life”.

Of course, by “skip it completely”, I mean “delayed it until a much, much more inconvenient time”.

So there I was – late twenties, at a faculty bible study, 20 minutes before the start of the school day, suddenly having an epiphany.

Or falling headlong into a detour.

Or getting stuck in the mental muck of doubt.

Regardless of the metaphor I choose, the reality was that I walked back to my classroom to prepare to teach middle school religion and social studies and literature, feeling a bit drunk. Not, actually drunk, but the feeling of being slightly dizzy, of being off-kilter, of being confused.

This particular week we were reading Colossians 3, which defines the roles of men, women, slaves, and children within the Greco-Roman culture.

I was, obviously, quite familiar with this chapter. Suddenly, though, it hit me in a new light.

We read about the slaves and conclude, at least in modern times, this passage is not condoning slavery.

It is expressing the duties and responsibilities of a Christian within the context of the culture in which they lived.

It’s about how to live as a Christian wherever you find yourself in the social order.

Christianity is for all: The Husband, the Wife, the Slave, the Child. all submit to Christ.

My thought process, unbidden, suddenly went like this: So. If slavery is not condoned, why then do we use the same passage (and others similar) to understand the headship of man over woman?

And so I studied. It’s not the only reference to male headship, but I noticed that all of them are rooted in the culture of their time.

But what was Christ’s relationship with culture?

Christianity was usurping the household code of the time by charging the “head of the household” to respect and show compassion to those who were beneath him in the social order. It’s the upside-down kingdom, lifting up the lowly, the outcasts, the women, the children, and the slaves.

Christ did not come to overthrow Rome.

He did not come to establish a Jewish State.

He did not come to usurp the Greco-Roman household codes or to uphold them.

Jesus came as Immanuel, as the Word made flesh, as the Gospel with skin and bones.

I could no longer ignore the fact that I was sitting in a Bible study that I was not permitted to lead; yet, due to an interesting turn of events, I did lead it a few years later.

Did the church change their doctrine? Did they begin appointing women to the same leadership positions as men? Did I move to a different church?

Nope.

We simply ran out of men to make the system work practically!

Our new principal was a woman, and nearly all of the rest of the staff were women. To ask the men only to lead Bible study would be to ask them to bear quite a bit of extra responsibility, since there were only a few of them.

So, the rotation was opened up to all who were interested in leading.

This wasn’t the first time I’d seen this strategy.

Women were not allowed to lead chapel at my Christian high school. However, as our school numbers dwindled and our faculty shrank, there were only a few men left. So, the rules were changed.

Our assistant principal, a woman, was recruited to join the rotation. But on those days, we were told: it was not a sermon, it was a message.

As a pregnant working mom with young children myself, I needed extra responsibility like I needed a hole in the head, but I put myself on the list to lead.

What message is being conveyed to women, about women, when we use them as a last resort?

What does this message model about Christ?

Was Mary Magdalene Jesus’ last resort to deliver news of the resurrection, chosen because all of the other disciples were already too busy in the rotation of responsibility?

Was Mary, Jesus’ mother, the last resort to carry the Son of Man into the world simply because no men with uteruses were available at the time?

Was Eve the last resort to complete humanity, the answer to Adam’s loneliness, only after God auditioned the land, air, water, and animals?

No.

Mary Magdalene was uniquely suited to deliver the news of the resurrection because she was passionate and present, even when things looked over and done, and even when she was all alone. She’d listened and learned along with the rest of the disciples, and was the first that Jesus appeared to. It was her words that spread the message that Jesus had risen from the dead.

Surely, the Lord of the universe, who had raised His Son from the dead, could have spread the news with the mouth of a man, had he so desired.

Mary, the Mother of God was uniquely suited to deliver the Christ Child because she was faithful, and because she willingly obeyed.

She’d grown up in a broken and violent world along with the rest of them, yet was the woman chosen to carry the Son of God. It was her body that brought the Immanuel into flesh.

Surely the Lord of the universe, who had arranged for the salvation of mankind, could have brought forth the Savior in another way if He had so desired.

Eve, the first woman, was uniquely suited to complete humankind because she too was borne of God’s hand and breathed of God’s breath, designed in God’s image.

She’d been formed out of star-stuff and dust and bone just like the rest of us, yet was drawn up and gifted life specifically to stand with Adam. It was her very being that made the human race complete.

Surely the Lord of the universe, who had created everything out of nothing, could have trained a bonobo monkey, dolphin, or crow, if a subordinate assistant was all that Adam needed.

These women were not God’s last resorts, and neither are you.

You, too, were created in the image of the Divine, gifted a Savior, included in the genealogy of Immanuel, called to a unique purpose, and promised a fulfilling life.

Our stories as women matter because they are part of God’s story; our story of linking arms and answering calls of Christ in small and big ways:

With our words like Mary Magdalene.

With our bodies like Mary, the mother of Jesus.

With our whole selves, like Eve, the mother of all creation.

And just like each, we are flawed, yet fully redeemed.

We are not a last resort; we are cherished children of the Most High, disciples, and often, called leaders.

Be bold sisters, and put yourself on “the list” to lead.

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Rachelt

Rachel Roth Tapling is a wife and mom in Metro Detroit.  Like no one else you know, she’s a former social studies major who now stays at home with her three boys, likes coffee and wine, watches a lot of female-driven comedy and craves chocolate. A former teacher, she’s using her oodles of extra time these days to write and to travel the world virtually by marketing and selling fair-trade products with Trades of Hope. You can find her blogging at http://rachelerothtapling.com.

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14 Comments

  • Thank you for sharing this; even with a strong sense of purpose and direction, I still need to be reminded that because God has called and redeemed me, my place on the list to lead is ‘legitimate’. I belong there.

  • Excellent article thanks Rachel

    I have always hated that line “sometimes God uses a woman when no man is available”.

    It actually damages our understanding of God (and women of course). But suddenly God is not able to raise up a man! If the infinite God of all, who created everything out of nothing, cant manage to convince a single man to do a job that he (sigh) has to hand over to a woman, … then surely God is not all powerful.

    God found Gideon in a cave – hiding from the enemy and seemingly fearful and timid. He raised him up to be a judge. He also made Deborah a judge. But apparently Deborah was allowed to be judge because “God could not find a man for the job” (NOT in the text). Rubbish! He could have called any man. If he can all a Gideon he can call any man. No: he wanted Deborah for that role!

    And if God has a principle that only men lead, but God is willing to break that principle when it suits him, what does THAT say about God? Now he is not only lacking in power, now he is IMPERFECT as he compromises and acts with hypocrisy.

    It is such a stupid proposition (in the damage it does to God) that I am bewildered that male theologians over the centuries continued to use it. I guess it goes to show that some men will stop thinking when they land in a place they want to be. (We are probably all like that at times!)

    Thanks again for your story and thoughts. Much appreciated.

    Jim R

  • Such a great read! I have seen many times where women are a last resort and it is so disheartening. Thank you for being real and for pursuing God in spite of humans that often get it wrong. I just pray that our daughters and granddaughters are never discouraged from the call God puts on their lives! 🙂

  • “Christianity was usurping the household code of the time by charging the “head of the household” to respect and show compassion to those who were beneath him in the social order. It’s the upside-down kingdom, lifting up the lowly, the outcasts, the women, the children, and the slaves.”

    I think we’ve forgotten how subversive the Kingdom really is. We’ve tried to tame it – control it – and make it serve our own narrative. Your post is a breath of fresh air 🙂

  • Wonderful. Beautifully put. Thank you for sharing this post. It is amazing how much we overlook in scripture, and the sometimes unbalanced way we apply it. The point about the colossians passage was very apt. We no longer condone slavery but we condone the domination of women by men, which was a consequence of the fall, not an instruction on how to live afterwards. We are not God’s second choice.

  • Rachel, I so agree with you. The idea that God uses a woman because a man won’t do it is not just insulting to women, but to all the godly, brave, anointed men who are out there serving God, risking their lives often in the process. What on earth are they thinking? How finite are their thinking processes, that God ‘couldn’t find’ GOD couldn’t find the right person? WHAT!? How totally lacking in understanding of the greatness of God. Good post. I love it. Reposting to Kyria.

    • Yes. There are times when I simply want to say, “How dare you?” to men who make this claim. How dare you undermine the capability of God? How dare you undermine the leaders he chose in the past? How dare you do theological gymnastics to take the “God” out of God, to put him at the mercy of human limitations and stubborn hearts? How dare you rewrite history? How dare you warp Scripture so that it feels comfortable? How dare you call me, my sisters, and womanhood God’s second choice?

      I have news for you, my beautiful brothers in Christ. We, your sisters, are chosen. We are ordained. We are marching. We are running. We are leading. Because our God is too big for second choices.

  • Well done! Thanks for taking the lead on this prolific nonsense that continues to permeate the ideology of so many Christian churches.

    Should you wish a deep dive into the nuts and bolts of so many texts used to support male leadership (albeit wrongly), see my posts at http://inchristus.com/category/phil-payne/.

    On a somewhat lighter note, see my http://inchristus.com/2014/01/23/an-appeal-to-complementarians/.

    Blessings and continue taking charge wherever God leads!

  • Great article! Thanks. I was actually told once, by a man, that female leaders in the Bible, such as Deborah, were only used because there were no men available and God had no choice. To this, I replied, “Do you mean to tell me that the God of the universe, the God Who created all that there out of nothing, the God Who formed life by His very breath, couldn’t raise up a man and HAD to resort to a woman?” This person had no reply, but stuck to their view. How sad is that?

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