The Great Commission is an invitation to serve and to lead.

The Challenge of Women’s Work and the Great Commission

The Lausanne Covenant declares that the whole church is called to take the whole gospel to the whole world, and certainly Jesus makes His own intentions clear with His Great Commission.  How then are all God’s amazing daughters to respond to this invitation while also remaining sensitive to theological controversies about the role of women in ministry, observing cultural and contextual norms–and making sure everyone has clean underwear in their drawers and sandwiches in their lunchboxes?

Without taking sides or over-simplifying the complexity of the differences that exist, Mary T. Lederleitner offers the gift of a spotlight, illuminating crucial work that women are accomplishing as they serve and lead around the world. The stories that enrich Women in God’s Mission: Accepting the Invitation to Serve and Lead are based on research Lederleitner conducted among women born and raised in approximately thirty countries. They have ministered in additional nations and represent different generations and a variety of ministries. What they all share in common is that each one has earned the deep respect of her colleagues.

For the leader committed to “influence others toward God’s purpose in the world” (12), serving and leading are two sides of the same coin. The ninety-five women who shared their stories minister in the same spirit as New Testament heroines and the great women of faith who pioneered outreach in response to God’s calling throughout the history of the church. While their contribution is indisputably significant, they reject celebrity culture and offer their highly competent fruitfulness with a heart that says, “It’s not about me.”

Is Leadership the Same Regardless of Gender?

Ministry leaders around the world show up for work every day with the same slate of financial, staffing, vision, and policy issues on their desks. Lederleitner’s research pointed out, however, that a woman’s career tends to include more twists and turns, disruption and diversity. Frequently, cultural norms wholly apart from theological influences make it difficult for women to find the “power distance” and assertiveness style that works where the sovereignty of God has placed them.

A Question to Ponder:

Would you be willing to leave behind the privilege and freedom of the North American church to serve in a ministry context where you had to walk behind your husband in public and set aside much of your own personal power for the greater gift of reaching people with the love of Christ?

The Faithful Connected Leader

In her work with ethnically diverse women, serving in a wide range of roles and contexts, Lederleitner observed a model of servant leadership that was both faithful and connected.  Modeling the faithfulness of God in their goal setting, spirit of forgiveness, and commitment to the task, these women in leadership roles are also deeply connected to “their God, to the people they meet through their ministries, and to the realities present within their ministry contexts.” (53) They demonstrate humility, dependency on prayer, a collaborative style, a holistic view of mission, perseverance despite injustice, as well as a commitment to impact and to excellence.

Carmen, a Chilean leader, embodies this philosophy of ministry:

“I am a channel and not a source. I am not the fountain.” (62)

A Question to Ponder:

In your own ministry, would you say that you value relationship with God more than your work? In what ways do you seek to connect with your colleagues and the people to whom you minister?

 The Challenge Continues

Since more than half the missionaries around the world are women, it is clear that God is calling women to serve, and they are answering the call in spite of the challenges that exist. A strong theology of hope is the key to faithfulness for women who encounter unfair treatment and frustrating obstacles. Based in the recognition that God is sovereign and justice belongs to Him, they choose forgiveness over bitterness and persevere in finding ways to be effective in their calling in spite of hurdles.

Lederleitner’s research is a snapshot, capturing a moment in time in an ever evolving obedience. In the years ahead, new freedoms–or new constraints–will change the way these courageous women pour out their lives for the gospel. They will tire, grow old, and leave this earth as will we all, and yet the quality of their work ensures that it will continue in some way as those they have trained step into leadership behind them.

A Final Question to Ponder:

How would you characterize your following life?
Are you allowing petty hindrances to sideline your ministry instead of persevering and expanding your influence for the gospel? 

Many thanks to InterVarsity Press for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Women in God’s Mission: Accepting the Invitation to Serve and Lead, simply click on the title here or within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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Michele Morin

Michele Morin is a teacher, blogger, reader, and gardener who finds joy in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles. She has been married to an unreasonably patient husband for nearly 30 years, and together they have four sons, two daughters-in-love, two grandchildren, and one lazy St. Bernard. Michele loves hot tea and well-crafted sentences, poems that stop her in her tracks and days at the ocean with the whole family. She laments biblical illiteracy and advocates for the prudent use of “little minutes.” She blogs at Living Our Days, and you can connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

32 thoughts on “The Challenge of Women’s Work and the Great Commission”

  1. This really makes me question the restrictions I put on my ministry. There are so many questions you posed here that made me wonder if I am really serving with my whole heart or out of the comfort of my current circumstances. Awesome work Michele!

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    1. It’s easy for us to forget that we are ministering here in North America out of a place of real privilege. The stories of these women who serve and lead all over the world were very inspiring–and convicting.

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  2. Love this quote, Michele, from Carmen “I am a channel and not a source. I am not the fountain.” The challenges these women face and the humility required to share Christ with the nations spur me to pray and count my blessings.

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  3. This sounds like a treasure trove of interesting stories in one collection. Serving and leading as a woman never looks the same for any two people. I wasn’t aware of this book so thanks for sharing, Michele. I’m sure it will spark much conversation and hopefully more effective ministries as well.

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    1. Yes, I enjoyed the author’s thoughts on ministry and the way she tied the stories together, but the real treasure of this book has been the opportunity to hear the voices of women who are faithfully serving in unseen places and under challenging circumstances.

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    1. I thought so, too! No arguments about the boundary line between okay and not-okay ministries for women. Just good writing and inspiring examples of women who have rolled up their sleeves for Jesus.

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  4. One of the great challenges of my life is to suppress “self” and to follow. The only light we have to shine is reflected from the One Light. Thank you for the reminder, Michele. I need it.

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  5. Thought provoking questions! How refreshing that the author doesn’t worry so much about the “proper way” for a woman to serve in ministry, but just shows true examples of servant-leaders who are also women!

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    1. I thought so, too, because so often, the culture dictates parameters, and while we try to be as biblical and as free as God makes us, we also don’t want to turn people off from the core message because of a peripheral disagreement. I was thankful for the spirit of self-effacement among the women Mary interviewed.

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  6. Wow! Sounds like a really interesting read. It highlights the question – ‘what does leading look like to you’ and seems to offer the answer – through sincere and wholehearted obedience to God and dependence on His power you lead others to Christ – The Source. Looks a lot like serving in whatever way He asks. Thanks for this thought-provoking review, Michele.

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  7. Oh goodness, I enjoyed this. This is a topic near and dear to my heart as I love the way Pope John Paul II spoke of the “feminine genius” and how much the world needs women not for what they can do but for who we are! I would like to share this with my Facebook readers!

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  8. Wow! This sounds like a book that doesn’t beat around the bush! Women in the church is such a tricky topic, even today in the churches around me. Anything that can shed light and make it easier to see is such a great resource!

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  9. I really enjoyed the questions you shared and hope that I will always choose forgiveness over bitterness like these women! I have found it is a true challenge in ministry. Thanks for sharing this at Booknificent Thursday on Mommynificent.com!
    Tina

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  10. I’m struck by the first question you offered. I am a ministry leader and am saddened that my husband doesn’t take his role as seriously as I would like, but I see there’s something to not taking the place my husband is made to be. I’m intrigued!

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    1. Yes, I was intrigued by the weight Mary’s research gave to the role of the husband in the success and comfort level of women in ministry. Of course, we are relational creatures, so if our man is not behind us, we’re going to feel the lack and mourn it.

      Liked by 1 person

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