An Excerpt From My Book

I haven’t talked much about it here on my blog, but I am [very, very slowly] writing a book. It is a book that God has placed on my heart to write. It will help pastors understand the importance of including women in church leadership and practical help in how to do it. This is a little excerpt from the first chapter. Hope you enjoy it! -Kristi

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I was raised in the church my whole life under what I would call complementarian theology, but truthfully that wasn’t even a term I’d heard used until I was into my thirties. I have been active in the church for most of my life. The relationship between men and women and what that looks like in a marriage and in context of the church was not something I ever remember talking about. My family life growing up was better than most I would say, and both my parents did the best they could, but wasn’t a prime example of a healthy marriage. (Is anyone’s really?)

My implicit theology would always have been that as a woman, God loves me equally to any man, but my explicit theology, what I actually experienced and felt as a result, would have been that men are more valuable to God than women. I don’t believe that this was a result of any particular thing that was said or done to me over the years, I think it was more about what I observed (or didn’t!) and what wasn’t said. I don’t remember anyone ever really talking much about how God feels about women specifically and the result was, I filled in a lot of the blanks myself.

Because of this belief I subsequently did not have a proper or healthy understanding of submission, or what to do with the fact that, while much smaller in stature, I am much louder than my husband and my skill set and gifting is much different than his- I tend towards truth speaking and teaching and his tend towards empathy and loyalty. For years, I lived with the belief that the way I was made was WRONG and I must work hard to TONE IT DOWN in order to be submissive to my husband, or my church. I also believed that it was wrong on some level to disagree with my husband (because he was “superior” which would automatically put me in the “wrong” category) or God forbid EVER disagree with a pastor.

For years I wrestled with this tension of desiring to be a Godly woman and thinking that the only way I could do that was to squelch who I was, but also hating that I had to work so hard to be someone that I was not created to be.

As I began to learn more and more about what submission actually is, I began to realize that there really is no one-size-fits-all approach to what a marriage and family structure should look like or how they should work functionally. The ultimate judge of health in a marriage I believe is if the wife feels loved and is flourishing and allowed to grow to become the woman God created her to be, and when the husband feels respected, honored, encouraged and supported by his wife to become the man God intended for him to be. Learning what this looks like in the practical everyday-ness of our marriage has helped tremendously in the context of marriage, but theologically, I still felt lesser-than as a woman.

When I first heard the word ‘complementarianism’ it was defined as, ‘The belief that God created both male and female with equal value and worth, but with different complementary roles.’ This made a ton of sense to me. I rejoiced in the fact that God created women equal to men, but with a different role to fill. I remember diving into the study of what it means to be a wife and mother- with fervor as is generally my style (because that’s pretty much the extent of what I was doing at the time) and learned just how much God honors the role of motherhood! It’s all over the Bible. It is a high calling! This, I thought, is what it means to be a woman.. the most important thing we can do for God is to raise our children and make disciples. Which of course means being a stay-at-home mom.. Who else can you trust to teach your children about Jesus? It is definitely the BEST, most Godly way…

Except, it isn’t. One of the great lessons I’ve learned over the years is that if your theology doesn’t work for everyone, it doesn’t work. And my theology at that time was more along the lines of, women are of equal value and worth and have a different role to fill [motherhood]. And the best way to fill the role of motherhood is to; stay at home with your kids, homeschool your kids, cook dinner every night, keep up with the laundry, keep a tidy home, etc into infinity of whatever your personal values were. You could certainly build an out-of-context scriptural basis for all of those things, but then what do you tell the single woman with no kids? What do you tell the single mom who has to go to work to provide for her family? What do you tell the mom whose husband is un/under employed who has to go to work in order to put food on the table?  Do you tell them that they are not fulfilling their God-given role? Do you tell them that they have inherently less value in the sight of God because they’re not doing it right? Do we really want to tell women that their value in the kingdom of God comes primarily marrying and having a functioning uterus?

That’s not good news. My theology did not work.

A few years later, I was called to a leadership position within my church. Over the course of the two years of my position there was good, bad, beautiful, ugly, painful and redemptive. I have wished many times that I had not served in the capacity that I had. But with hindsight now, I am glad for it. It was immensely painful in ways that I am still healing from.. but it also caused me to seek answers in scripture, and learn and grow and fall more in love with Jesus in ways that I would not have without this experience. And for that, I am grateful.

During my time serving at my church what I personally experienced was an IMPLICIT (inside, theoretical) theology of women are equal to men, and can do anything short of being a pastor within the church. Unfortunately, there was an EXPLICIT (exterior, practical, what actually was practiced) theology that communicated that women were of less value than men, were less capable than men, were not able to lead in the church, and in fact were, in some ways, quite dangerous to the men in leadership and should be held at arms length most of the time. AND- if you came across a woman who was capable and gifted, one just didn’t know quite how to handle that.

This explicit theology was hurtful to me, and other women in the church and I needed to understand the truth. I needed to understand God’s heart.. I wrestled with the scripture. I studied scripture and asked Jesus to show me his heart for women. Why were we made, what was our role, how do we best reflect Him, and most importantly, how does He feel about us.

To my great delight, He answered me… Sort of. In a way that I didn’t expect, as is usually the case. There are some theological ideas that I will never know the “right” answer to. For example, Paul’s admonition about not allowing women to teach or have authority over a man. If you read it literally, it seems like it’s straightforward, but it isn’t. I have read and studied both sides of this issue and both sides present a clear, convincing, historical and Biblical argument to support their side. The more I study about it, the less I’m confident in the answer, which, if I’m honest is super irritating.

But perhaps that is what God intended. Perhaps He has intentionally put things in the Bible with no clear answer, so that we are forced to lean into Him, build our relationship with him, get to know Him and His heart better. Maybe there is no right answer because there is no one right answer, and He has given us freedom to make the decisions we feel are best for our specific churches. And maybe there is no right answer because if we study and study and study and have less answers than we did when we started, maybe then it’s easier to have grace for someone who comes to a different conclusion than us. Maybe it’s more about trusting the Holy Spirit and building unity and learning from one another, than it is about being right.

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Mary, Jesus’ Mother

The story of Jesus’ mother Mary is both over-told and under-told. Or perhaps it is just not told in the correct way. On one hand, we have an entire religion that has raised her up to the level of God-like worship; prayers are sent up to her in heaven, and she is treated as worthy of our devotion and praise for her role in the coming savior of the world. On the other hand, other religions, while wanting to dispel the notion that Mary should be worshipped as God, have gone through the trouble of dismissing her and her example of faith.

Both tracks are wrong, and both lose sight of the larger story that Jesus tells with the details of his life and the people who surround it. When we elevate Mary to the level of God, we lose sight of her example of great faith and the courageous spirit that we are all given through the power of the Holy Spirit. If she was, in fact, God-like it is easy then to lower the standards of faith and obedience for ourselves. But when, in hopes of dispelling the idea of her divinity, we gloss over her story, we miss an important and relevant part of what God is telling us about the honor and glory he bestows on women, the importance of women in the spreading of the Gospel story and the picture of the Kingdom of God he gives us in the story of this seemingly insignificant woman.

Mary was a young, virgin girl, who lived in a small and insignificant town. Because of the culture at the time, it is easy to assume that, like most young women in her town, she was looked upon as an afterthought. Marrying, bearing children and keeping house was her lot in life, the highest honor given to any common woman. According to society, there wasn’t anything particularly special about Mary. Nothing that made her stand out. Nothing praiseworthy about her. A quiet and dutiful girl, she seemed ready to accept her role in society, as it was laid out before her.

Mary’s parents are not spoken of. Some have speculated that she may have been an orphan, but no one knows for sure. It is possible, and even likely that she was descended from King David, but since her parents are not mentioned, we can’t know for sure. The only thing we know about her is that she was a virgin, living in Bethlehem and betrothed to Joseph.

The story in Luke about Mary is interesting in the fact that her story follows immediately after the story of Zechariah the priest, a faithful man of God, who was told his wife would become pregnant with a prophet who would proclaim the coming of the Lord. Zechariah didn’t believe it could happen in their old age, and because of their inability to have children, and the angel rebuked him and rendered him speechless because of his unbelief. The story of Mary follows the story of Zechariah, and Mary’s faith is intended to show a stark contrast to Zechariah’s faithlessness.

When the angel comes to Mary to tell her that she will become pregnant as a virgin and give birth to the savior, she is utterly amazed, but fully submits herself to the will of the Lord. This was a bold and brave move for Mary. A young girl’s virginity was a value held higher than a young girl’s life. It would have been an easier thing for her to give up her life for her savior, but she is asked to give up her virginity- or at least her reputation.

Giving up her reputation in this way, could have lost Mary literally everything. She could have lost her fiance, any hope for a marriage in the future and thus her entire value in society. Not only that, but she could have literally lost her life- it was common to stone women to death who had engaged in unlawful sexual behavior. Mary indisputably puts everything on the line when she submits to the will of God. What a beautiful example and display of courage and faith.

One of the things we need to see in this story of Mary is the way in which Jesus’ life is heaven invading earth and bringing to us, the Kingdom of God. Not just on a large scale, where the savior comes for all of us, but in the details of the individual life of Mary. On earth, in her society, Mary was of little value, worth, and was marginally acceptable as a young woman. But when Jesus came, it was clear that this was not how God saw Mary. God sees Mary as precious, honored, worthy, brave, and He knew that she contained a vibrant faith and a warrior-like heart. No one else esteemed Mary like God did. And what a beautiful picture of how God feels about all of his daughters.

When you spend your whole life, as Mary did, hearing that you are lesser-than, that your value and worth is small, that you will never measure up, that you, because of who you are, will never amount to anything important, even if you begin to believe it because that is the message you have always heard, there is still something deep down inside of you that yearns to believe the truth. The truth that you are valuable and worthy and loved.

Perhaps this is why Mary reacted to the news the angel brought her in the way that she did. Maybe there was a longing in her heart to be valuable and to do big things for God. Maybe she was desperate to believe that she was worthy and loved. Maybe she clung to this news with all her might because it was the first time she had ever been told these things and she did not want to let it go. Maybe this is part of what she pondered to herself in her heart.

I think this is why Mary was so brave. She had heard the truth, maybe for the first time, that she was valuable to the Kingdom of God, and she was told, maybe for the first time that she was loved unconditionally and she responds with passion, gratefulness and bravery. Can’t you just feel it? Have you ever felt that way? 2 Timothy tells us that the Spirit of God does not make us fearful, but gives us power, love and self control. Mary understood that and was filled with a love and a power that made her brave.

Even after the birth of Jesus, Mary’s story is not over. She is not simply chosen as a holy birth canal, but she is also chosen to be the mother of the savior of the world, and with that role comes authority to which Jesus willingly submitted himself to during his growing up years. Jesus even performed his first public miracle because his mother told him to!

Mary’s life WAS significant. Not because she was ever a leader within her society, but because God raised her up and allowed her to teach and influence Jesus and the rest of the world as a result. Not only that, but Mary also contributed to the writing of the book of Luke!  The Gospel of Luke is the only gospel not written by a personal eyewitness to Jesus’ life and ministry- Luke spent years of travel and writing and research, interviewing eyewitnesses of Jesus in order to put together his gospel, in order to get a more complete picture of Jesus’ life, who he was and what he was about. One of those eyewitnesses was Mary, which is why Luke is the book where we see the most detail of Jesus’ birth and childhood.

Interestingly, Luke is the Gospel that speaks the most about the poor, the needy and the marginalized of society, and how Jesus comes, not just to care for them, but to save them, rescue them and give them value and worth in the Kingdom of God. It shows Jesus in the most compassionate light. It tells the highest number of stories about Jesus and women in general. This must be because Luke (and Paul as well, as they did a lot of ministry together) understood the importance of women to the story of Jesus and allowed them a place to tell their stories. He knew they were important and that they would tell us something about Jesus that we didn’t already know. I pray that, like Luke and Paul, we can all be moved towards that same understanding.

With his dying breath on the cross, some of Jesus’ last words are making sure that his mother is cared for after his death. He esteems her with his last breath. In the end, we see that Mary’s story is a beautiful picture of the Kingdom of God coming to earth, not just in a general way, but in a way that is deep and personal for each one of us, particularly the daughters of God who long to be treated with value and worth, and often aren’t. It is a story about how, regardless of society, God raises women up and puts them on the front lines of the spiritual battle, because that is where he always intended them to be.