Following soon after the avalanche of tweets that was created by the #thingsonlychristianwomenhear, last week an article in Christianity Today Women caused another furore. In basic summary, the article suggested that that Christian women bloggers lead their followers astray because of their lack of accountability to church authorities. Feelings were still running high about the institutionalised sexism in the church, and so it seemed like another attempt to silence women, to make people doubt them, and to make them doubt themselves. These two conversations (if we can call 140 character exchanges conversations) got me thinking about women's relationship to the systems and structures of the church institution.
It is easy to criticise and critique the church, after all, it is a fallible and human institution. To some of us its faults seem obvious, it is easy to highlight them, and we struggle within its systems. I can see the problems of an institution out of step with people, their lives, and Christian's vocation to live prophetically in our society. But what is the answer to these struggles? I have been prodding away at that question for years.
As I continue to think, pray and write about this, I find that I am becoming more convinced that the answer does not lie in the renewal of existing structures, the re-imagining that the Holy Spirit is initiating will come outside of current structures. It will come from where we least expect it, and it will look very different to the local church institutions that we are used to. The question of what the new will look like (and what my part in it will be) keeps nagging away in the back of my mind and it formed a backdrop as I read through all the tweets of the last few weeks.
I was amazed and inspired by women's tenacity. Women who despite being silenced, having their gifts denied, not being encouraged, being limited because they were women, were searching until they found a deep connection to God.
Women who hung on to God and found their way to a stronger faith and often a stronger voice and vocation. As I prayed through the pain of all that these women shared. I felt a stirring inside. I know that the Holy Spirit is at work and that he is going to re-create a people for himself. I look at these women who have persisted in their faith, in their vocation, in their leadership, in using their gifts in spite of everything that the church is and was and I see a strength and tenacity that we need for the people of God going forward. I feel the Holy Spirit stirring in these women, I see the future that the Church so desperately needs.
I have concluded that women are uniquely placed to lead the church into a new future.
Women are the future yet in so many ways our ability to listen to the Holy Spirit, our trust in our vocational call, the opportunities to use all our gifts and to find our voices is so often repressed. For some, it is overtly repressed, by the church or by the society or culture in which they live. For others it is more covert, more the cares of juggling children, work, household responsibilities and a society that still doesn't always support the growth of strong women.
Women have less invested in the way things are, because so often it has hurt them or limited them. Because the existing structures and systems don't benefit them as much as they benefit white men they can more easily critique them. Many women have had to find a way to follow the Holy Spirit outside of what is offered by their local church. The Spirit is leading them into many exciting ventures and new fields (like the blogosphere).
To women in the Church and those around the edges (and especially to women bloggers) I want to say to you: "You are the future, be silent no more, find your voice, use your gifts because the Holy Spirit is calling you to be key in the prophetic re-creation of the Church."
There is a dream inside you, a vision that lies deep within. It is a vision murmured by the Holy Spirit. Perhaps it is a vision that you repress because it has been stamped on so many times, because you doubt yourself, because you are not sure it fits within your local church.
That is the dream that you need to bring to life, that dream is the one that you need to re- discover. That dream that lies deep inside you - that is the future of the church. That dream is how the Holy Spirit is going to re-create his people. Find a quiet moment even if it is in the dark of the night, while your children sleep. Dig deep, think hard, pray with fervour, little by little you will uncover that dream inside you. I know that it is scary, I know that it can be hard to uncover, but find that dream, the vocation that the Holy Spirit has given you. Perhaps for some of you, that dream may start with taking the time to become more healthy. Share it with someone you trust, share it with us here on the blog. It needs to come out into the light, it needs to grow, it needs to become reality. You will need to find some supporters who can cheer you on and encourage you as you try and find your passion and vision, who can be a buffer for the problems you will encounter.
It may take time for you to hear the small voice of the dream in the noise of life. If you are serious you may need to prioritise the time, you may need to give up some things. You may need to learn how to say no, to say no to all the busy work of the local church, the committee meetings, the baking, the serving because 'someone has to do it'. Start to say no to these drains on your time and energy so that you can start to find the dream of prophetic re-creation that the Holy Spirit has given you.
I would love to hear your dreams and how you have pursued them