From Tokenism to Mission

Look around. Do you see a woman who can lead? Look in the mirror. Another one? Read on as Tara Beth Leach calls each and every one of us forward into God's mission.


From Tokenism to Mission

By Tara Beth Leach

When I was a teenager, I had an arch rival; let's call her Sara.

Sara was tall, and so was I; Sara played the cello, and so did I; Sara was a swimmer, and so was I; Sara was out-going, and so was I; Sara lived on a farm, and so did I. Sara and I competed in virtually everything, and we both wanted to be the best in everything. Reflecting back to those days, I think we both believed deep down that there could only be one of us - that is, one good cello player, one good swimmer, and one fun-tall-farm-girl. So we were rarely kind to one another, and our actions proved that we were constantly jealous of one another and always in opposition to each other.

I was surprised when I discovered that the church sometimes behaves similarly - that is, there can only be one female at the table, or one female leader, or one female teacher, or one female board member, or one female executive, or one female preacher.

What happens, then, is women set themselves up in opposition to other women who are successful, and we tend to believe that if one woman has opportunities, that must mean I'm not successful.

If she's the leader, that must mean I'm not a leader.

If she's teaching, I'm not a teacher.

If she's influencing, I can't be an influencer.

If she's successful, I must not be successful.

If she's making an impact, I must not be making an impact.

If she's starting new ministries, I must not be worthy to start a new ministry.

This sense of opposition is heightened in a culture of tokenism. Not only do we buy into the myth that there is one seat at the table, but the church at best welcomes one female at the table, while the rest of the women fight for the seat. So instead of celebrating the gifts of one another, women are in opposition; and instead of coming alongside of one another to grow in our gifts, women compete.

As a pastor who deeply believes in the mission of the bride of Christ, I say let's get on with it.

Dear sisters, you have been called to join in the mission of God.

You are gifted.

In other words, this isn't an elitist thing, or this isn't about competition, or this isn't about the best competing for the best, or it isn't about a fight for fairness, or it isn't about winning.

No, dear sister, it's about mission.

And the marvel is that all are invited to join the mission. All gifted women who are willing and passionate can participate in the redemption of all of creation. We can all live towards the very people Jesus pursued, and in pursuing them, we point to the goodness of God the father, the faithfulness of King Jesus, and the empowering presence of the Spirit. And when we do this, others discover new life, family, freedom, resurrection, and eternal life. As I say to our dear congregation in Pasadena, we get to do this. And the mission of the church is so critical that women not only join in with their sisters, but also their brothers. It's time that the church condemns the spirit of tokenism that reeks of competition, and instead celebrates the gifts of all women.

We need all capable hands on deck reaching out to the next generation, pulling them to the table, pushing them to the pulpits, teaching them the Bible, speaking words of wisdom in them, coming alongside them in leadership, and instilling confidence in them. What we do with the next generation has a ripple effect for our daughters, and their daughters, and their daughters. Who will you, dear sister, embolden today?

From - Emboldened: A Vision for Empowering Women in Ministry

Tara Beth Leach is senior pastor of First Church of the Nazarene of Pasadena ("PazNaz") in Southern California. She is a graduate of Olivet Nazarene University (BA, youth ministry) and Northern Theological Seminary (MDiv). She is a regular writer for Missio Alliance and has contributed to other publications such as Christianity Today, Christian Week, and Jesus Creed. Her most recent book is Emboldened: A Vision for Empowering Women in Ministry. She also wrote Kingdom Culture and is a contributor to The Apostle Paul and the Christian Life. She lives in California with her husband and two children.

© Elisa Morgan 2020

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