I did a search for “women in the Church” on Google this week and 1,230,000 results came up. In the first 4 pages of results, nearly all were about controversial things like, Can women lead, Why women can preach, Why women can’t preach, and gender roles.Women and Men as co-workers
A search on Twitter brings up the same ideas but with more vitriol – some tweets are polite and measured; the majority – and it tends to be the anti-women comments – are ugly and threatening.
Is there a way of dealing with the landmines of divisiveness without a. getting embroiled in the explosive wrangling or b. vaguely wandering away from the danger zone?
A new book called “Co-workers and Co-leaders: women and men partnering for God’s work” hopes to do just that – and I am proud to be involved as an editor and contributor.
The introduction to the book says,
“Imagine if men and women could contribute equally to serving and leading the Church. How much stronger and heathier the kingdom of God might be.”
There are two key ideas here. Division and argument weakens our good news – we set off landmines in the fields rather than growing crops of goodness. And the divisions don’t just impact women – limiting their role and value – but they have a negative impact on men too – encouraging unhealthy models of leadership that set off unwanted explosions.
Peirong Lin and I chose the word ‘co-workers’ because it is a word Paul uses. He had no disciples or assistants: he had associates, friends and co-workers, with whom he laboured side by side. Some were co-or-fellow prisoners. And the thing is that Bible teachers like FF Bruce point out, men and women from different backgrounds are included in that special group of beloved friends who labour with Paul.
It is not as if the women are in the kitchen helping with hospitality – they are ‘striving’ (synathlēo), fighting, teaching and sharing prison cells with their brothers in faith. (see various articles by Marg Mowczko)
The early Church welcomed men and women, Jews and Gentiles, wealthy patrons and fishermen. Surely we should do the same.
Dr Samuel Oluwatosin Okanlawon, theologian from Nigeria, puts it like this,
“Women and men are the two halves of the “body of Christ” and the world. Therefore, when women are denied leadership in the church and community, it results in the decapitation and crippling of the other half and so creates a dysfunctional body and dismembered world.”
If you have questions about the Bible’s narrative about women, and if you want to read trusted authors whose words heal rather than divide, this book is for you. Jay Matenga, from New Zealand, an expert in missions, has the book’s final chapter and it is his task to see the way forward. He writes, “The key for healthy relationships in-Christ [is] siblinghood. In Christ we are more than partners, we are family. A holy family whose ethic is love, which manifests as: ‘joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control’.”
And if you want to read practical insights on healthy relationships and what women and men have learnt about leadership, the book has eight brilliant stories.
We need this book, not just because I am involved (?!), but because we need fresh language to address unhealthy divisions and genuine questions. We need to have great leadership models that reflect the dynamism of the early churches.
You can download the book for FREE here
You can buy the book on Amazon (only from Amazon.eu at the moment but it will be available more widely soon) or from a global issues series here
Watch a taster video with Peirong Lin, Andrew Barlett, Samuel Oluwatosin Okanlawon, Madleine Sara and Evi Rodemann here
Watch a longer video interview about the book here