Christian women are a hot topic these days.
Over the past year, more and more Christian women have spoken out about what it means to be a woman in the public square. From the debate over Rachel Held Evans’ A Year of Biblical Womanhood and whether the Bible prescribes specific roles for women to the fascinating discussions about spirituality and sexuality in Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith, women of faith are wrestling with how to transcend sexism and patriarchy to cultivate their God-given gifts in the pulpit, at home, and in their daily lives.
To further this conversation, the good people at Q Ideas recently sponsored a Women & Calling event. In Christian TED talk fashion, 12 phenomenal speakers shared their thoughts on what it means for women to live in response to God’s call, to discern their vocations, to navigate the tension between family and work, to embrace their fears and ambitions, and to follow after God with abundant hope.
Unlike other Christian conferences where female representation remains the exception and not the norm, Q flipped the script by featuring the voices of 11 women and one man. Together, these 12 disciples described the fullness and joy of the kingdom of God when we are all empowered to live into our gifts.
Take Lynne Hybels, for example. As one of my favorite columnists in Sojourners magazine and an incredible champion of women and girls around the globe, Lynne has won the hearts and minds of many readers through her passion, wisdom, and courage. But she wasn’t always this bold.
At Q, Shauna Niequist—the daughter of Lynne and Bill Hybels—spoke about how her mother sacrificed to support her family and her husband’s ministry at Willow Creek, one of the nation’s leading evangelical megachurches. Along the way, Shauna’s mom lost herself. She stopped using her gifts. And she stopped dreaming.
“We had a good mom,” Shauna affirmed, “but we did not have a happy mom.”
Shauna’s mom eventually sought help through a counselor and started to discern her calling in her 40s and 50s. Now, at the age of 62, Lynne has found her voice and has awakened to her full self. Through this journey of discernment and transformation, she has become a better mother, activist, writer, spouse, and more.
“Everyone benefits when women use their gifts,” declared Shauna. From families to churches to businesses, everyone wins when women operate from their gifts and graces.
While Lynne’s story is encouraging, I can’t help but think of the other women out there struggling to faithfully live out their call. As Thoreau says, “Most men [and women] lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”
For far too long, women’s voices, bodies, and gifts have been devalued — especially within the church. In some denominations, women who are called to lead still cannot seek ordination, preach, or teach. In too many churches, scripture is twisted to privilege patriarchy and power over women. And in the kingdom of God, women and girls made in the imago dei continue to be regarded as second-class citizens.
What message are we sending to future generations by silencing these women? As Nicole Baker Fulgham explained at Q, a new generation of girls is relying on us to do better.
Christians have a responsibility to help guide and shape women and girls on their road to calling. What are we doing to ensure every girl has equal opportunity to express and develop her gifts? To ensure that her calling is not impacted by poverty, hunger, or violence?
We need to come alongside women and girls and support them in their vocational journey. Just like Angela, a Peace Corp worker who raised her voice at our Faithful Filibuster after her pastor told her that scripture prohibits women from preaching and teaching, young women need to be reminded that their desire to lead cannot be silenced by anyone—not even the church. Just like Malala, a Pakistani teenager who continues to advocate for girls' right to education even after being shot in the head by the Taliban, girls around the world are waiting to awaken to their full potential.
Through supportive frameworks—equal access to quality education, family support, exposure to sound theology—every woman and girl can flourish. When we invest in women and girls, we invest in our future as a church and as a society. Their transformation can be our transformation.
Acts 2:17 declares, “Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.” This prophetic vision is needed now more than ever. God is calling each of us to equally lift up the sacred worth, dignity, and value of every child of God.
For every Lynne, Angela, and Malala out there, will you answer the call?
Elaina Ramsey is assistant editor of Sojourners magazine.