God Will Make a Way
There's an idea floating around Christian women's circles. I'm hearing it more frequently. I've heard it from missionary colleagues and women at church. I've read it in books and seen it posted in comments on blogs. It goes something like this: If God has gifted and called a woman to lead, teach, pastor, or preach then he will make a way for her to fulfill that calling.
We talk about God making a way in terms of "open doors," as in, "God will open a door for you to preach," and in terms of time, as in, "At the right time, God will give you the place to use your gifts." While these sentiments are true on one level—God is absolutely powerful and capable of opening doors and placing his daughters where he wants them—on another level, they trouble me deeply. I believe they represent two faulty ways of thinking that affect many Christians—men and women—today.
The first problem with this kind of thinking: it makes what is really an issue with the system into an issue related to the individual. A woman who is called and gifted to preach or lead ,but who finds herself unable to put these gifts to use, is very likely in a situation that prevents women from preaching or leading based on principle. It could be the tradition or theology of the denomination, local church, seminary, or organization that tells her women can't do that.
The obstacle arises because of a structure that opposes women using certain gifts in certain ways, not because of the woman herself. Yet when we repeat the "God will make a way" response, we're reinforcing the notion that the issue is about the individual woman. The unspoken second half of the statement is this: "If God hasn't opened that door yet, it's because you aren't ready or perhaps are mistaken in what you think is your call." So she waits, and years may go by without her ever using her gifts. Meanwhile, the system that prevents women from using all their God-given gifts to build up of the Kingdom of Christ goes unquestioned.
The second troubling aspect with this line of thought: it leads to a type of Christian fatalism and takes away our responsibility to act. If God will open a door at the right time, then all we have to do, indeed all we can do, is pray and wait. Those are certainly valuable acts for believers, but are they all God expects of us? When I read the Bible and Christian history, I see a long line of believers wrestling and struggling to right injustice. I see beautiful examples of women throwing themselves into the spiritual battle for Christ's kingdom on earth. When systemic issues regarding women changed in the past, it was usually because women and men decided to act.
For example, in the late 18th century, as the modern missionary movement got underway, sending boards refused to send single women to the mission field. Married women on the field were begging for single women to help in the work, and single women in North America were begging to go, yet the boards refused to send them. So, women from many different denominations banded together to create their own sending agencies. By 1900, more than 40 women's sending agencies were established and the missionary work force had risen to 60 percent women, according to Dana Robert in American Women in Mission (Mercer University Press, 1997). During the first half of the 20th century all those women's groups were gradually merged back into the main groups, and now none of those groups exists. Yet the missionary force continues to be composed of about two-thirds women, and hardly anyone today would refuse to send a single woman to serve God overseas. The change happened because the women worked together to fix a faulty system.
So what happens when we continue to tell ourselves and each other that it's up to God to open a door for us? Can that become an excuse for passivity and disobedience to God's call on our lives? While God absolutely can and sometimes does miraculously change things for us, can we also consider that perhaps we need to work together to change the system? Or do we need to seek a different ministry setting where women are not prevented from using their gifts?
Leanne Dzubinski has served as an evangelist and church planter in Europe, training missionaries in Bible, leadership, and ministry skills. In 2007, she received her DMin from Gordon-Conwell. As the mother of two teenage daughters, she is passionately interested in how the church and Christian organizations treat women in general and particularly women in ministry.