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.

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