Next week, New Leaf is putting on a pre-conference day about the religious landscape in Canada at a big Church Planting event in Montreal. As I work on conference details and think about packing my suitcase for travel from Saskatoon to Montreal, I’ve had a lot of things on my mind. But as I slipped to the restroom for what felt like the tenth time yesterday (the number is increasing these days now that I am 20 weeks pregnant), it crossed my mind that one reality of my upcoming travel is that I probably won’t have to wait in line for the restroom like I usually do at big events. The mens room will likely be more crowded than the ladies room.
I haven’t been to a Church Planting Congress before, but I have been to other church leadership and academic conferences on theological topics, and I am often in the minority as a women in the room. From a quick scan of the networking app for this event, which lists participants, it looks like women make up around 10% of the audience.
New Leaf has been asking questions like where are the women in church planting? Why would we bench half the team when approaching the missionary crisis in Canada? We even put on an event in the spring that explored and encouraged women and men in shared leadership in the Kingdom. There is a lot of work to do in Canada to shift the demographics of who is in the room when we talk about church planting, and that is an ongoing conversation that New Leaf is deeply invested in. But today, I want to reflect on my emotional reaction to this realization.
It was with a big sigh that I thought about how few women are represented at these types of events. It’s a reality that was represented by the Twitter storm in the spring that Sarah Bessey set off with her #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear (read how our Elle Pyke reflected on that). And the reception of female theologians was recently analyzed by historian Leah Payne in an Oct 2017 Christianity Today article. It’s not a new reality. But I still sigh when I think about how men and women are viewed differently in relation to calling and options for ministry.
Part of me wants to fight the systems and misunderstandings and bad theology that lead to women being made to feel small and silent. Part of me wants to just stop fighting, and just go on with my own call to influence in my own context. But I think the biggest part of me is overwhelmed by fear. Fear that I won’t be heard when I am moved by the Spirit to speak truth. Fear that I will be ignored when I have valid gifts to offer an obvious need. Fear that I will be silenced again, and the hurt I have experienced before at the hands of men in authority in the church will be repeated.
But here is the thing about fear in my life. Fear holds me back. And fear holds power in my life in ways that influence me into unhealthy patterns. My unhealthy pattern and fear was triggered lately, and I had a cathartic conversation about this trigger with my spiritual director.
Together we asked the question, what does Jesus want to say to my hurt, my pain and the power that this fear is wielding by bringing up old wounds. In the safety of the Spirit’s presence, I had a chance to revisit a moment of feeling silenced. My director walked me through reflecting on a time from years ago when I told my story and got a negative response from a man in authority. Ever since I have interpreted that moment as being silenced, and in that moment his response showed that he missed the point of my vulnerability altogether. As I relived that hurt, I heard Jesus whisper in my ear,
“Don’t worry. He did hear your story. He did hear the hurt in your life. That is exactly why he reacted with a knee jerk reaction, out of his own story. And no, the outcome of that encounter was not ideal. But you had people all around you supporting your story, and carrying you through. You can let go of the power that this memory holds. You can let go of the fear that you will not be heard when you speak up next time.
You are seen.
You are heard.”
So, as I enter into another large conference hall with mostly men, I don’t want fear to drive how I respond or how I speak. Women and men in the church is the issue that pushed on my heart these days, but there is so much fear permeating our world right now.
Fear of losing cultural power.
Fear for the safety of our loved ones.
Fear that our livelihood will be challenged or denied by government choices.
Fear that our deepest desires will never be met.
All I can offer is the remedy that I encountered this week – the gentle, loving Presence of Jesus, whose embodiment of Love casts out all fear.
And if you are a women planter at the Congress, reach out and connect with me and the New Leaf Network, or follow this link and sign up to help us build the We Lead Network.
Or maybe we’ll just run into each other in the restroom.