Pursuing Partnership, Part 17: Considering the Biblical Woman?

Pursuing Partnership Series, Part 17: Men & Women In Leadership
Considering the Biblical Woman?

By Eva Burkholder, Christar-Asst Member Care Dir, and Wendy Wilson, Women’s Development Track-Exec Dir

Taking a Break to Consider the Practical Impact of our Theology? Before we move on in our series to the next passage (1 Tim 2), let’s take a short break to consider the kinds of things that develop in our practice because of the impact of how we have come to think about men and women. Here’s such a story:

Beth (not her real name) was young, passionate, idealistic, and smart. She could also be bold, loud, and not afraid to confront. Beth did not conform to the Christian definition of feminine. She had received a mixed message: Be a strong pioneer, go cross-culturally, be innovative and bold for the Lord — but not too bold or assertive in front of the men.

I was brought up to believe that ALL Christian women should be quiet and demure, gentle and sweet. These women know to sit back and let others shine but they also know when to jump right in with a plate of snacks or an encouraging word. An over-emphasis on the virtue of a “gentle and quiet spirit” may have unintentionally diminished other needed virtues so that direct, strong, and assertive women aren’t well-accepted or upheld as godly.

In turn, my tradition taught that Biblical men are rational, brave, decisive leaders. But these qualities also describe women who are gifted by God as passionate evangelists, effective church planters, and brave fighters of injustice, like Beth.

Over time, I began to acknowledge that I had an implicit bias about what Biblical women (and men) should look and act like. Differentiating between culture and Scripture can be difficult.

For instance, the “Proverbs 31 woman”—often held up as the Biblical ideal—is described in most translations as virtuous, noble, or excellent. However, this same Hebrew word, chavil, is translated as valor, brave, or mighty when describing Gideon and David’s fighting men. Why would valor be reserved for just men when we find other brave and courageous warriors for justice such as Deborah, Jael, Ruth, Esther and Mary of Nazareth?

Also, consider compassion as Beth describes it:
Sometimes compassion looks like nurturing—a more traditionally feminine quality that is soft and quiet and gentle. But sometimes compassion looks like protection that must be fierce and stable and brutally honest. Both can be kind. And both can be cruel. Gentle and quiet can be a form of self-protection and conflict aversion that refuses to get messy on behalf of another, and it can be destructive as fierceness that runs over people.

What might gentleness look like on a man or woman who makes their best contribution with few words, by listening easily with intuition and sensitivity, having no need to direct the action? What might gentleness look like on an enthusiastic, extroverted man or woman who makes their best contribution by engaging conversation and action easily?

Ultimately, God desires the many fruits of the Spirit for both his sons and daughters, including gentleness and compassion. He distributes all of the gifts of the Spirit to both men and women in His Body, according to His pleasure. In reality, we are each a wonderful combination of gifts, talents, personality, life experiences, calling, gender, and more. So gender is a beautiful piece of all God designed into each of His human masterpieces! Still, male or female doesn’t define all we are, but rather a glorious piece of the tapestry that makes us who we are.

So back to Beth. Turns out she started and led an organization that supports anti-trafficking efforts in a country lagging behind others in rescue efforts. Her highly competent, high-output personality was well suited for her unique role. She was God’s woman for this demanding calling!

  • Describe your agency’s paradigm for the ideal Biblical woman? Where does this paradigm come from?
  • In what ways might this paradigm have precluded gifted women from taking their place as potential leaders, visionaries, and directors of others?