The other night I went to see, hear and experience three women singing in a performance called ‘Sing the Truth’. The musical director who was a drummer, who was a female, who had won a Grammy for musical direction, themed the performance around the concepts of truth, service to one another, joy and courage. Apart from the incredible voices that echoed in that theater and left all in a state of rapture and alongside of the mesmerizing dancing and heart warming stories told, I was in awe of the confidence of these women.

Each of them was incredibly different with diverse styles of singing and moving. Each had a different way of captivating the audience. But not once did I see competition, insecurity or a battle of the egos which is so the norm in the arts. Instead I saw humility and a lifting up of the other in the midst of each woman boldly displaying her God given talents.

I thought to myself why don’t I see this more often in the church- the community of God’s people? Why don’t I see more often women with courageous confidence yet true humility exhibiting their God given talents and gifts be they singing, teaching or leading?

Lately the topic of women in ministry has surfaced yet again in Sydney. This ‘hot topic’ has its ebbs and flows in this city which never ceases to amaze me. Once again the debate has been circling around ‘Do we let women preach to men or only to women and children?’ ‘Do we let women lead? If so can they be leaders of men or only leaders of boys?’ ‘What does the Bible say about what women can and cannot do as they follow Jesus?’ While the question of women in ministry, the debate and discussion are necessary and while the topic does need to be looked at in the light of each new generation I wonder if our focus is wrong to begin with.

Should not the question first and foremost be ‘What does the Bible say about women?’ ‘What does God have to say about women?’ ‘How did Jesus treat women?’ ‘How did Jesus treat the marginalised?’ ‘How do the concepts of justice and equality as seen from God’s perspective apply to gender?’ Once we get that sorted perhaps we will have a better foundation in order to ask the more specific question of ‘What does God say about women in ministry?’ Once we truly see God’s attitude towards women then it may help to lift some of the cultural and sociological assumptions that we place around gender. And when that happens maybe then we will see more confident yet humble women utilizing their God given gifts to change our world in his power.

I know, there are a lot of assumptions as I move through each of those steps.

Let me use some examples however, to explain what I mean from an article I read the other day about how difficult it is to raise young girls today. The article looks a little at the recent book by Steve Biddulph about raising girls which is interesting because he had become the expert on raising boys based on his last book with that title. The article talks about the difficulty in raising girls today due to their early sexualisation which comes from images seen in the media and the movies. We see the devastating results through the evidence of girls binge drinking, self harming through ‘cutting’ and taking drugs. Biddulph gives some great practical, common sense advice to parents like ‘don’t dress your girls too “girly” all the time’, ‘avoid toys that imply that only a girls looks matter’ etc. Great advice, contentious in some conservative contexts, but I think it’s great.

However what I found interesting is what the author of the article says about the enculturation of girls. It says,

‘ I see how hard it is for young women of their generation to be honest about who they are and what they want from life, to confront others and say what they think rather than what they feel they ought to say just to be liked. I see how girls are still socialised to be selfless, stepping back from opportunities with the presumption that “she doesn’t deserve it” or “isn’t up to it”, whereas young men never think twice about their right to achieve. And I see how so many young women still assume that their needs come behind those of the boys they form relationships with, absorbing the message that they are lucky to have been chosen at all, when they are the ones who should be doing the choosing.’

If you are a Christian like me you might read that and think ‘Well what is wrong with placing others needs before your own?’ Isn’t that the example that Jesus gave us? He came to serve and not be served? I agree with that. Humility, service, placing others before ourselves is something that each of us must emulate for a better world. But the point is that each of us men and women must strive for that, not especially women because somehow that is their identity or role in essence.

When I read that quote in this article I found myself going back to my childhood and recalling how confronting it was to be faced with a seemingly confident group of boys all budding with what boys bud with, and trying bravely to be strong asserting my thoughts amidst their clever words. It was very hard. Not only that, it was harder because the assumption was that I was a girl and as a natural consequence, ‘girls are generally more quiet, less vocal than boys and they are happy to let others shine while they recede’. This stopped others I think from encouraging me to be confident in humbly yet courageously displaying my God given gifts and talents…perhaps in the manner of those three women who sang their guts out the other night as we all watched in awe.

Now I watch with a lot of sadness young women who were confident little girls, yet as they mature in our culture they become less and less confident, more and more shy and less and less visible. And all because it seems like ‘that’s what women are supposed to be like’- shy, less visible, with a ‘special’ servant role. As a reaction perhaps this is why some women are pouting, parading and poking out their sexuality using it as a form of ’empowerment’. How else will they be noticed? I also watch older women who have not been able to come to terms with their talents and gifts displayed with boldness and humility, pass on that same insecurity to their daughters. Without a doubt I also struggle with my insecurities, but I live in hope that the God who loves women will continue to give me the boldness and humility I need to use his gifts to change the world. Moreover I live in hope that as God works through me I will be able to be mother, aunty, mentor, coach to many other younger women who need to see modeled, women living out that bold humility just as I saw on the platform with those wonderful women singing their songs of truth.

All of us- men and women need to think about who are the younger women in our lives that we can encourage and inspire to be all that God has created them to be. In these challenging times for girls this is needed more than ever. So it’s not just a reductionist argument about women in ministry. The issue is deeper than that, it goes to the core of who we are, our very identity and begs the question ‘Who does God say I am?’