Growing up in the church, I was inspired to serve the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. When I was a teenager, I responded enthusiastically to the messages I heard in youth group—visions of the impact God can make on the world with the life on one courageous Christian; calls to discipleship; challenges to think biblically and boldly about ethical and moral dilemmas that are easier to avoid. I signed up for outreach opportunities, service projects, and leadership training.
When I became an adult, I realized the church must have been talking to the boys in the youth group. Because joining the ranks of grown women meant I stopped hearing those challenges, stopped having church-sponsored opportunities to reach out to others, do something difficult in the power of Christ, and ask myself tough questions about what it means to follow Jesus in this brilliant and terrifying world. I received a new set of messages from the church.
This is how the church challenges women: Attend the Christmas tea. Keep quiet. Being a mother is your highest calling. The best way to serve your neighbors is to indulge in shopping for fair trade items you don't need. Enjoy spa day, frequently. Be modest. Be sexy in a Christian way. Lose weight by praying and eating foods grown in ancient Palestine. Breastfeed or else. Your greatest accomplishment is being weak enough to be rescued and protected. Stay in the background. Spend all your time with other Christian women. You're too busy; let us make life easier for you.
We are the most educated, wealthy, powerful generation of women in the history of the world. We have the ears of politicians and media moguls. Advertisers hang on our every whim. Entertainment and product designs are shaped around our preferences. We are networked through social media in ways that our foremothers could not even have dreamed of. In many ways, we literally have the world at our fingertips. And some of us actually have time on our hands. Yet in the church, many of us hear a nonstop call to action, aimed only at men. Many women believe they must wait on their husbands' direction before mobilizing for God's kingdom. Every year on Mother's Day, we hear sermons praising mothers, and often women in general, for their great and loving deeds. On Father's Day, we hear sermons challenging men to do more.
No wonder so many women are weak, neurotic, and standing on the sidelines. We are educated, gifted, equipped, and called to shoulder half the burden God has asked the church to carry. And we are chronically underchallenged.
It's not that we don't have enough to do. We're definitely busy enough. We are taxed and weary and worried. But we aren't expected to do great things. We are overworked and underchallenged.
When people are underchallenged for long periods of time, they become bored, unhappy, and unmotivated. They stop growing, stop thinking, weaken, and lose their vision and courage for what they could and should be doing with the gifts God has given them. And they often leave to find a place that will stimulate them in a way that causes their neurons and their muscles to fire and flex.
I believe this is the general state of Christian women in our culture. We underestimate and undervalue our own contributions. We buy into the lie that our great Christian mission is the pursuit of our own spiritual comfort. That a Christian lifestyle means living the same way as the world around us, with the addition of a few items we purchased at a Christian store. We settle into the belief that our sphere of influence can and should extend only as far as own family and friends. And by doing so, we reject the mission God gave each of us when he placed us here, now, for the sake of his own kingdom.
We can't wait for someone else to change this; the ones to challenge women are women themselves. Those of us called to leadership in the church must identify the gifts we see in other women and give them a vision for how they might exercise those gifts. We especially need to identify ministries for which women are specially gifted or equipped. We must awaken and invest ourselves in things that will remain long after we're gone. We must expect more of ourselves and each other.
God has never called anyone to selfishness. He has not given us gifts so that we could neglect them. "God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline" (2 Timothy 1:7). We are called to carry the presence of Christ with us everywhere we go, so powerfully that the world is different (and better) because God placed us here.
Imagine a generation of Christian women pouring out of the doors of the spa and into the streets. Leaving the church armed with compassion and purpose. Building on their friendships to form powerful networks for cultural change. Being the church, arm in arm with their brothers in Christ, living for something that matters. Let's start with this kind of vision for ourselves—and translate that into action that makes a difference.
Amy Simpson is editor of GiftedforLeadership.com, a freelance writer, and author Into the Word: How to Get the Most from Your Bible (NavPress). www.AmySimpsonOnline.com