A pack of wolves makes their way to the winding mountain stream for a cool drink of water. They are healthy and strong—their coats wave back and forth in the crisp mountain breeze. As the sun pierces through the trees and illuminates the wolves, a glowing effect is created on the insects dancing in the air. The river glistens—it, too, is healthy. A sight for sore eyes, no doubt. The ecosystem is exactly as it should be—all is right, all is in balance, and all is in order.
It has not always been this way in Yellowstone National Park. At one time, the decay of Yellowstone concerned biologists. Wolves were once extinct from the park, and it wasn’t until wolves were reintroduced into the area that biologists began to observe the ecosystem functioning as it should. One article from Mission:Wolf notes,
Since wild wolves have returned to Yellowstone, the elk and deer are stronger, the aspens and willows are healthier and the grasses taller. For example, when wolves chase elk during the hunt, the elk are forced to run faster and farther. As the elk run, their hooves aerate the soil, allowing more grasses to grow. Since the elk cannot remain stationary for too long, aspens and willows in one area are not heavily grazed, and therefore can fully recover between migrations. … Now, the coyotes have been out-competed and essentially reduced by 80 percent in areas occupied by wolves. … With fewer coyotes hunting small rodents, raptors like the eagle and osprey have more prey and are making a comeback. The endangered grizzly bears successfully steal wolf kills more often than not, thus having more food to feed their cubs. In essence, we have learned that by starting recovery at the top with predators like wolves, the whole system benefits. A wild wolf population actually makes for a stronger, healthier and more balanced ecosystem. From plant, to insect, to people ... we all stand to benefit from wolves.
Biologists have long understood the cascade effect occurring when a species is removed from an ecosystem—by either extirpation or extinction. Recently, biologists have discovered the opposite impact of the cascade effect—that is, when a species once again returns to an ecosystem it becomes whole again. I learned about this when a video went viral on social media, telling the story of wolves returning to the Yellowstone ecosystem in 1995 after having been killed off in the 1930s. The return of the wolves had an astonishing ripple effect on animal life, plant life, and even the health of rivers.
When a critical species of the ecosystem returned, the ecosystem functioned according to its purpose. As I watched this video for the first time, I was overcome with tears at the wonder of creation. It’s amazing how one seemingly small shift can have such a profound impact.
An Ecosystem Out of Balance
It is unclear when women began to disappear from the leadership structures of the church, but there is evidence to suggest the number of women in church leadership is less than it once was. It is typical to walk into a church on a Sunday morning and see a male-only platform—male ushers, male Sunday school teachers, and male elders. The biblical narrative, however, tells of a time when women led, prophesied, taught, and ministered. Let us remember and celebrate the stories of the prophet Deborah, or Mary, the prophet and mother of Jesus. Miriam was a gifted worship leader and musician, Esther was emboldened to protect her people, and the apostle Junia was loved, respected, and cherished by the apostle Paul.
As the story of the global church has unfolded, there have been more anointed and gifted leaders such as Macrina (one of the Cappadocian Mothers), Phoebe Palmer, Mildred Bangs Wynkoop, Maria Woodworth-Etter, Aimee Semple McPherson, Nancy Beach, and Mandy Smith. The point is this—since the beginning of the story of God, women have played an integral part in God’s grand and glorious mission in this world. Women have been intentionally equipped, supported, and sent to join their brothers to be on mission together in a variety of ways. And yet today there is an imbalance in the ecosystem of the church. It’s safe to say that we’re missing out on the things women uniquely offer, and I wonder if restoring the balance might cure some of the church’s biggest issues today.
Imagine the possibilities of a cascade effect in the church, where women are restored to a variety of ministry positions. What if the results altered the church ecosystem in such a way that:
- we saw movement and momentum as we witnessed in the early church?
- pastors would not close their church doors at such a rapid rate?
- the church would be leading the way of the kingdom vision for men and women serving alongside one another?
- young girls would have an expanded imagination that maybe they, too, could be in ministry with their brothers?
- the church would be attractive to men and women alike?
- we could say we are a part of a movement instead of a structure?
- or, the percentage of the “unchurched” would not be 60 percent, but 20 percent or less?
I love the Bride of Christ. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, she is called, equipped, and sent to join God on mission. However, the ecosystem is out of balance; we are limping along, and we can do better. It is time we circle up and figure out how to equip and call our daughters. God’s mission does not mean we sit back and hope for the best in this world; rather, it means there is an invitation for men and women to rise up, take hold of their unique callings, and get on with the mission. I yearn for the day that the Bride of Christ is no longer limping along, when the leadership structures of the church become whole again.
Dear church, we desperately need a cascade effect.
Looking for practical ways to embolden more women to lead in your church? Check out these next: