Rebekah at the Concordian Sisters blog recently posted a letter she wrote to the editor of the LCMS (Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod) publication The Reporter. Her letter (which may or may not find its way into print) was written in response to a recent article in The Reporter about the Women's Leadership Institute, an LCMS organization dedicated to providing women "opportunities to grow in the unique gifts of leadership and character that God gives to women for service to Christ, the Church, and the world." I think Rebekah rightly questions the goals of the WLI, and I encourage you to read her letter as well as the article that prompted it. While initially one might ask what could possibly be wrong with encouraging women to serve others, that misses the point, because the WLI seems not so much focused on serving as on leading.
Well, then, you might ask, what's so bad about that? What's wrong with women leading?
Again, on the face of it, nothing. In fact, I spend much of my day directing and leading people. I tell them when to wake up and when to go to bed, when to eat and when to wash dishes, what pages to read in their history book and when their essay is due. I decide what snacks they will find in the pantry and what they will have for supper. I determine what picture goes on which wall and who gets new shoes this month. But I don't think the WLI cares too much about that sort of leadership. I think instead that what they are most interested in is women leading large groups of people visibly and publicly. And the great risk is that in doing so they dismiss and devalue the lion's share of women's work, because most of it is hidden and humble, known by but incredibly important to only a cherished few.
One quotation from the article effectively summarizes most of what concerns me about the concept of a women's leadership organization in the church:
"[A participant in the WLI conference] said it was 'refreshing,' as a young person, 'to see that there's actually a need and a want for us in the church.' She said it was 'awesome to see other sisters in Christ who are so 'on fire' for the Lord,' and that her experience at the conference 'makes me want to go out and serve more, and lead more, and make more of a difference.'"
There is something seriously perplexing about a young churchgoing woman who has to attend a "leadership" conference to see that her church needs her. In my experience, most churches are hungry for volunteers. The need is great and the workers are few. Too often, it is the same few people doing most of a congregation's work. How, then, could someone find it surprising or "refreshing" to discover that she is needed? My guess is that the ways she wants to be needed may be different from the ways that she actually is. But true service is not a matter of cherry-picking the jobs that appeal to you or the ones that will build your self-esteem or bring you praise. True service is being willing to do that which is inconvenient and unappealing and tedious and dirty (kind of like being a mother, no?).
I'm not even going to touch the phrase about being "on fire for the Lord"--that is a whole other post--but I can't ignore the final reference to making "more of a difference." More of a difference than what? Implicit in that statement is the belief that the kind of service that requires "leadership" as it is defined by organizations like WLI is inherently more valuable than the sort of leadership I provide on a daily basis for the poor miserable sinners who share my roof.
Please understand: I have no problem with women leading in ways that are in accord with God's word. My husband's assistant cantor is a woman, and she contributes much to enabling the Lord's song in our congregation. But she is also a wife and mother, and I think she would agree that the service and leadership she provides at home by caring for her husband and baby girl are far, far more important than any of her singing or organ playing or choir directing. I have known many other women in the church who have served as teachers, school principals, board members, deaconesses, musicians, composers, editors, event coordinators, counselors, secretaries, and more. But you know what? None of them needed a leadership conference to tell her that there was a need for her gifts nor to convince her to share those gifts in service to God's people.
When you get right down to it, the establishment of a women's leadership organization within the church is a buying into the mindset that women have heretofore been kept down and that they need to be liberated from the patriarchy in order to truly fulfill their potential. It is at its core unbiblical. It is also--and I think this is what bothers me most of all--rooted in the Law. Because far from feeling liberated, when I contemplate participating in such an organization or attending one of its events I instead feel burdened. You mean to say that what I am doing right now is not enough? You want me to do MORE? And if I don't it means I'm not on "fire" for the Lord?
Note to WLI: I'm sure you mean well, but I think I'll pass. And now, if you'll excuse me, there's a certain 6-year-old little boy who needs and wants me to make a difference in his life by directing him to his bed and leading him in a story and a prayer.