In the New Testament, we see women like Lydia, a wealthy merchant woman who helps fund Jesus’ ministry. Paul calls a woman, Junia, an apostle. He entrusts Phoebe to deliver and read one of his letters in which he describes her as a deacon and a benefactor. The easy thing to do is cry “feminism!” when we see a woman exercising her God-given gifts in a way that looks unfamiliar to us or our community.
Something I often hear is that men are natural leaders/providers/protectors. Men are strong/stable/rational. In contrast women are followers/receivers/the protected. Women are weaker/more emotional/less rational. It may be that these generalizations are more true than untrue, meaning it could be that these descriptions are true more than 50% of the time. More men may have leadership qualities than women.
Yet it’s entirely another thing to say all men are this, and all women are that. There are many women who do possess strength, leadership ability, etc. And there are some men who are not gifted to lead, who are not emotionally stable, who are not very strong in general, or able to protect very well. When we operate with these generalizations as gospel truth, some people who fit the bill may be able to thrive; but some who don’t (the men who are built to follow and women who are built to lead) and will have an impossible time fitting the narrative we’ve constructed for them.
The statement “people in the city walk to work” is true for many many people around my apartment in Phoenix – but not all. To say “people in the country like hunting” is true for many many people in my hometown – but not all. Generalizations, like theories, are helpful to explain things. Yet they can be very harmful and frustrating for those whom they don’t fit.
For men and women in the church, these generalizations are often crippling and leave us trying to be people God didn’t make us to be. So what if instead of saying “men need to lead” we said “we need those people to lead whom God has gifted”? What if we approached roles with a faith in the Spirit of God to gift and call those whom he chooses, rather than those our generalizations fit?
Do I trust the Spirit to gift people in the way they will be able to serve well?
Is my community a place where men and women are expected to fulfill a generalized role, regardless of their personality or gifting?
Do I give lazy answers (make broad generalizations) about who a man or woman is supposed to be?