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Mean Girls in the Church

How to become women who embolden rather than undermine

Several years ago I endeavored to write a Bible study on the Sermon on the Mount for several hundred women. The Bible study was a labor of love, passion, and joy. When the books arrived for us to distribute to our three hundred or so women, it felt like Christmas morning. Almost all of the women were just as excited as I was because many were on the editing and writing journey with me. But one woman in particular thought it was deplorable that I would even consider writing a Bible study. I was dumbfounded by her anger, and yet she raked me over the coals with email after email for writing a Bible study. To her it was arrogant, and I was way too young to do such a thing. Although my predecessors were authors and had written their own Bible studies, to this woman thirty-four was way too young to pen a Bible study, and I was perceived as arrogant.

Being a woman in ministry, I would think that my biggest advocates most often would be women and my biggest naysayers most often would be men. However, this is not always the case. Nancy Beach is sadly right: “Just as adolescents can be mean girls, grown-ups can turn into mean women who subtly—or not so subtly—undermine, judge, and criticize the choices of other women they worship next to on Sunday mornings.” Jamie Ostrov, a professor, psychologist, and researcher, discovered that triangulation behavior begins as early as age three: “Aggressive behavior in girls from ages 3 to 5 tends to be more direct, but by early adolescence it starts becoming more covert,” Ostrov says. He notes that girls who are victims of this behavior are more likely to demonstrate symptoms like depression, anxiety, and academic problems.

Sadly, all too often this “mean girls” behavior still exists within the bride of Christ. More often than not, some of the most hurtful and painful things said to me as a woman in ministry have been from women. Women are all too often the most critical of one another rather than cheering one another on. If women continue to push, shove, criticize, and fight for seats at the table, perhaps there will always only be one seat at the table.

Women Who Embolden

When I began serving as a staff pastor at a church in Oak Brook, Illinois, there was a young, tenacious, and gifted female pastor on staff, Tracey Bianchi. Tracey was a well-known and gifted author, speaker, preacher, and pastor. She has stood on the main stage of several Christian conferences, yet you would never know it when meeting her. She is generous, present, gracious, and kind with every person she meets. When I came on staff, I filled her old position because she was moving into a teaching and worship position in the church. Before coming on board, Tracey was the only female teaching pastor, but with me, there were now two of us. Tracey could have very well sized me up and seen me as a threat, but instead Tracey was my biggest cheerleader while I was on staff there. There were many times when we prayed together, cried together, commiserated together, and hoped for the fullness of the kingdom together. Whenever I had a new writing opportunity, Tracey flooded me with encouragement, and if I was preaching, she would check in with me, send me texts of encouragement, and be the first to cheer me on. Tracey emboldens women.

I am reminded of the friendship between Mary and Elizabeth. Mary, the soon-to-be-mother of not just any bouncing baby boy, but the Messiah himself, enters the home of another pregnant mother, Elizabeth.

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has been mindful

Of the humble state of his servant.

From now on all generations will call me blessed,

for the mighty One has done great things for me—

holy is his name.

His mercy extends to those who fear him,

from generation to generation.

He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;

He has scattered those who are proud in their in most thoughts.

He has brought down rulers from their thrones

but has lifted up the humble.

He has filled the hungry with good things

but has sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel,

remembering to be merciful

to Abraham and his descendants forever,

Just as he promised our ancestors.”

Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home (Luke 1:39–56).

Faced with a Choice

A scene that could have easily gone awry is a glorious picture of women who embolden women. Mary enters the home of another pregnant woman, and there could have been comparing, jealousy, and passive aggressiveness. Mary was pregnant with the Messiah, after all, and Elizabeth was not. But instead, Elizabeth flings open the doors, embraces her, welcomes her, identifies with her, and blesses her—“blessed are you among women!” After she is blessed by Elizabeth, Mary is emboldened, propelled, and impelled to proclaim one of the most beautiful, prophetic songs in Scripture. Will you be an Elizabeth today?

It brings me a tremendous amount of joy to sit with younger women pursuing ministry. The next generation of leaders give me so much hope for the future of the bride of Christ. We need all capable hands on deck reaching out to the next generation, pulling them to the table, pushing them to pulpits, teaching them the Bible, speaking words of wisdom to them, coming alongside them in leadership, and instilling confidence in them. What we decide to do with the next generation has a ripple effect for our daughters, and their daughters, and their daughters. Who will you, dear sister, embolden today?

Tara Beth Leach is the senior pastor of First Church of the Nazarene of Pasadena in California, and the author of Emboldened. You can follow her on Twitter @TaraBeth82. Taken from Emboldened by Tara Beth Leach. ©2017 by Tara Beth Leach. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426. www.ivpress.com

November14, 2017 at 8:00 AM

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