It’s taken me a while to decide whether to publish this because in part it exemplifies the very issue I’m trying to bring to fore. Alas, I have spoken to a few people, prayed and decided I would. If you take issue, bring it up with me – I’d love to talk further.
A number of months ago I was chatting with a young single sister- and an older brother-in Christ, one that I respect and have learnt a great deal from. The conversation flowed about the struggles of relationships, singleness, strong-willed women and in jest he commented, “Well as a first year single guy, I would have been intimidated by you both!” I laughed it off and moved on to another topic. I moved on so quickly I missed his apology for his remark. However, my dear friend standing with me went silent. I didn’t notice. We spoke later and she admitted she was hurt by the comment.
Today a dear sister shared her anxiety after disagreeing about an action decided upon by a brother she is in a ministry partnership with. Deciding not to speak up, “Mel, I don’t want to intimidate him!” She isn’t interested in him, but still conscious of her actions.
I’ve had other conversations of a similar nature. Strong young Christian women confused as to how to live as a disciple-making-disciples, serving in ministries, often in leadership positions, without intimidating the godly young men they meet. I myself have been labelled an “outspoken single adult,” and wondered at the time what to make of the comment. In a wife I might be described as contentious and far from temperate, the exact opposite of what a wife is called to be. I know it’s unhelpful to have a part of the body so confused as to how to respond and so here’s just a small insight into what’s going on inside the intelligent minds and huge hearts of so many young Christian woman.
Before setting out on a longer-than-usual drive on Sunday I pulled up The Village Church podcast and saw Matt Chandler’s most recent talks were on women. Strong-willed, judgemental Mel was fired up: ‘Ah a married Southern man talking about the role and downfall of women – this is gonna be great!’ I pounded my finger on the play icon and pulled out of my driveway. Standard stock introductory music and then Chandler boomed out of Penelope’s speakers: “A man teaching on the purpose of women. What could go wrong?” Huh, way to go brother, at least we agree on that.
The first 30 minutes were fairly standard; wives, submission, husbands, male headship. It wasn’t anything new (although he explained ‘helpmate’ in a quite a helpful way). He then moved away from role of women in the family and to their role in the local church. Things heated up.
“Now let’s look at the church. What we see clearly in the New Testament is women are as needed and necessary in the flourishing of the church body.” In Acts 8:4, women are almost certainly included in the list of disciples who went everywhere preaching the gospel. Older women are to teach younger women. We see that in Titus 2. Priscilla helped her husband Aquila teach Apollos. In Acts 18 Philip had four virgin daughters who prophesied. The women prayed and prophesied in the gathering at the church in Corinth.”
Damn straight. “Women are not only needed and necessary, but they are indispensable and essential in the life of the church.” Men and women are created equal and we should see that play out in the local church and in other areas of life. He had set things up well. He moved on to single women – ah yes, here we go.
“Let me tell you what [a helpmate for single women] doesn’t mean: it doesn’t mean you’re supposed to sit around and wait for a husband. In the Old Testament, the blessing was children. In the New Testament, the blessing is disciples. So don’t sit around twiddling your thumbs waiting for some man. Please don’t do that. The kingdom of God is at hand and you’ve been called to actively play a part.”
Amen brother. Amen. For a while now, as I attend more weddings in one year than my non-Christian friends and colleagues will attend in a lifetime, tour the new homes and apartments of friends and as I awkwardly rub the growing stomachs of my pregnant Christian sisters, I’ve refused to sit and wait. From getting involved at church, to making independent financial decisions, understanding superannuation and investing in relationships far and wide. I’m not waiting.
I may not be waiting but I also haven’t discounted serving God with a husband. I’ll happily admit I notice young men. I notice Godly young men. I notice Godly young men who are theologically sound, serving the church and can stand on their two feet (and preferably mow a lawn!). I notice them and sometimes* I wonder why they don’t notice me.
I know I’m not alone but it’s also not something I’ve ever heard spoken of ‘from the front’ – until Sunday (via my car’s speakers).
“If you’re a single woman in here and you’re like, “Chandler, if I go strong like that, if I get deeper theologically, I’m nervous that young men would be intimidated and wouldn’t approach me.”
Now, I don’t struggle with confidence. I am confident in how God has made me. The gifts he has given me. The passions he has instilled in me. The go-get attitude I use to serve the church. But I’m guilty of thinking this – and so are my friends. Perhaps if I’m less assertive, less opinionated, less keen to grapple with God’s word, less vocal in trying to understand women’s role in the world, less enthusiastic in trying new things, less change-happy. Perhaps [insert any number of attributes] I’d be more attractive to a male suitor.
Matt’s response was on point but the statement he had made just previous to it changed its weight.
“Practice and exercise your gifts to make disciples for the glory of God. Be the type of women who are iron that sharpen the iron of your husbands and male friends. And young men, don’t be intimidated by women who are more theologically informed and educated than you are.”
Awesome. But he had just made this condition:
“The only caveat we ever see in the Bible around this is that women don’t exercise their gifts in a way that emasculates men or usurps their authority…[so] quit waiting around for some doofus to ask you out.”
While I openly joke when discussing the role of men and women, and throw around the term feminism, hear me when I say I appreciate the role God has designed for men – that’s some serious responsibility thrown in their direction. With a sociology major under my belt, I also accept the sociological reality of a man’s impact on the stability of family and children’s wellbeing. Despite my ongoing struggle in understanding the term, God designed women as a ‘helpmate’ for men (Genesis 2:10). However, God instilled a desire for knowledge and understanding, He gifted me in a way that sees me speak up when I don’t understand/agree. He designed me in a way that people may label me as “outspoken”. Matt Chandler suggests we should not wait for a doofus, nor should we exercise our gifts in a way that usurps the authority of men or less diplomatically – emasculates them. It is this very statement that leads me to start thinking perhaps I should curb by words, think more, listen more, speak less. I seek to live life that pleases God and follows his teaching in his Word, the Bible.
Now I do not uphold a particular pastor or teachers words as truth, rather I look to the bible and it’s teaching. It just happens that Chandler was the first pastor I’ve heard to address this issue. There is a great deal written about women and here’s just a few passages that address how a woman should live:
A gracious woman attains honor, And ruthless men attain riches. // Proverbs 11:16
It is better to live in a desert land Than with a contentious and vexing woman. // Proverbs 21:19
Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things. // 1 Timothy 3:11
Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, But a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised. // Proverbs 31:30
Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored. // Titus 2:3-5
The bible is punctuated by honourable woman who have served the Lord faithfully. Faithfully with honour, dignity and goodness. Their temperament patient, encouraging, kind, loving, generous; temperate. These are the things a woman should be. We read about those who worked with Paul in the early church as “fellow workers.” We see women used powerfully for God’s glory and growth of the church. Mary Magdelene, Lydia, Tabitha, Mary, Phoebe, Priscilla in the New Testament. We also see single woman passionately standing up for truth, for social justice, for unity. Single women, and married women, are integral to the church.
But here’s the challenge where we get caught up thinking, ‘I don’t want him to be intimidated.’ We actively are trying to balance living as biblical women and serving the church with our gifts, while also allowing men to fulfil their roles. We want them to live as Godly men and so we’re left questioning the impact of our thoughts, words, actions. Am I fulfilling my role? Is he fulfilling his role? Am I doing too much? Am I preventing him from fulfilling it? These woman I speak of aren’t after a doofus. We want a husband fit for his role. We want brothers serving faithfully.
Now this is not a call out for help, I’d like to think I wouldn’t go to my little corner of the internet to do that. I don’t wish for you to come up to me and pat me on the back and say: “The Lord has someone picked out for you,” or “Patience sister,” or any other patronising statement. I’m good. I’m better than good. Many of you may want to help so it’s worth considering what will be helpful for single women. There are too many unhelpful articles, too much ill-informed advice and weak prayer going on. This isn’t about me and my future, rather the healthy, fruitful service of this part of the body of Christ.
I’m also not calling young men to be stronger in how they live and serve our God. I would be out of place doing so and I also don’t think it’s the solution. It’s the unhelpful thought that is pervading young Christian women and holding them back. It’s a thought that makes me question the ministries I’m involved in. It’s what distorts my thinking and question why the attractive, (and before you all jump, not physically) godly, faithful brother isn’t interested. It’s about a confusion that is pervading the thoughts of strong Christian single women unsure how to serve God best. As we live, prayerfully serving and considering how best to do so, it’s worth considering and praying for the confused sisters around you – whether you’re married, single, man or woman. I don’t know if we’ve made this fear of ‘intimidation’ up or whether it’s legitimate, but without resolution these woman, and I, just continue. I continue praying with a confessing heart. I continue serving with a generous spirit. I continue running; running with perseverance the race marked out for us. May we all.
Listen, read or watch Matt Chandler’s talk ‘Woman’s purpose‘.
(I also recommend his next talk ‘Woman’s hurdles‘ and look forward to his most recent ‘Woman’s redemption‘.)
*Please don’t think I’m wallowing in my singleness, or it consumes my thoughts. I am trying to be honest. I look forward to seeing and praising God for the great things single woman and I could do without the added responsibility of a husband and children.
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