It won’t surprise you when I say that I am a sucker for any new book on gender and faith. I mean, I’m really an easy sell. And so I picked up Emboldened, by First Church of the Nazarene of Pasadena’s Senior Pastor Tara Beth Leach, with eager anticipation.
As it turns out, that anticipation was well-founded. There’s much to affirm about Emboldened. For instance, because of its relentless and heartfelt affirmation of women in leadership, I’m going to give a copy to each of the women on my staff team. And I love how Leach chooses to frame the conversation about women in leadership around mission, with justice as a part of that larger concept. And for me the final 2 chapters, with their compelling vision for an emboldened church releasing women and men to use their gifts in pursuit of God’s mission, is worth the price of the whole book.
These things noted, I read Emboldened with Tertullian in mind. That is, my question was what Emboldened have to say to men like me. I think Leach has at least 5 challenges for today’s male ecclesiastical gatekeepers.
Challenge #1: Listen and learn. Part 1 of Emboldened is written for women, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a goldmine of learning for Kingdom brothers like me. There are lots of things that need changing about how we are doing church in terms of gender equality, but it must start with listening and learning. It’s a privilege to be trusted with the all-too-common difficult stories of women in today’s church; we would do well to read Emboldened with reverence, care, and with a heart eager to learn.
Challenge #2: Embrace some new faith heroines. Growing up, the vast majority of my faith heroes were male. You know, King David, the Apostle Paul, Billy Graham, etc., etc. Over the years, I’ve been able to diversify my biblical and extra-biblical mentors, to include women and people of color. Need a similar experience? Leach has you covered. Read chapter 1 to get to know Mary Magdalene, Marcella, Teresa of Ávila, Maria Woodworth-Etter, Patricia Gundry, and Tara Beth Leach herself.
Challenge #3: You can’t do it all. In my leadership, I aspire to intentionally mentor and empower women into leadership. Leach definitely affirms male mentorship, but she simultaneously notes that it’s not enough. That is, up-and-coming women need female mentors in their lives as well. Why? Because men like me “will never fully understand the bumps, setbacks, and pushbacks women in ministry face (pg. 90).” You know what? That’s true. And it’s OK. And for men like me who want to fix everything, preferably in the next 10 minutes or less, it’s good to be reminded that we can’t do it all. One of my application points is to ask the women that I’m leading if they have female mentors in their lives.
Challenge #4: Teach the Bible. Leach is clear that Emboldened is not a theological defense of women in leadership. And while I might wish that we’d had a chance to hear her exposit some of the so-called “problem texts” (maybe in the next book?!?), there is a clear call for pastors to proactively teach egalitarian theology in their contexts. Here’s Leach: “men who embolden women don’t wait before it’s too late to paint the kingdom vision for women in the church; they do it as if it’s second nature. Men who embolden women paint the kingdom vision for women in the church with such vigor, color, and beauty that women in the pews imagine a world in which they are invited to the table to use their gifts and soar with great freedom. (pg. 167)” Amen, and this motivates me to continue to press into the discipline of study, in order to know the Scriptures better, and it challenges me to continue to plan teaching slots in my yearly calendar.
Challenge #5: Take risks. In the forward, Scot McKnight, one of Leach’s mentors, writes: “males on the platform (ie. in church leadership) need to slide over and give women a place (pg. 2).” Long-time readers of Challenging Tertullian won’t be surprised to know that I highlighted the heck out of that snippet. Indeed, men, we are called to take risks to advance women into greater leadership in the church, and that could well mean stepping to the side. For a benediction, here’s Leach’s charge:
“Brothers in Christ, it can be risky to embolden your sister in Christ. You might be ridiculed. You might cause uproar. You might see people leave your church. You might see pastors leave your denomination. You might lose some of your biggest givers. How much longer will you be a slave to fear? When will you start bringing women before your congregations and faithfully proclaim that the bride of Christ will continue to limp along until we embolden gifted, called, and anointed women in our midst (pgs. 161-2)?”
Men, do yourself, and your sisters, a favor. Pick up and read a copy of Emboldened.