Female Leadership: Is the local church lagging behind?
This article is our attempt to portray the status of women in our communities, respectively the Palestinian Christian and the Messianic Jewish ones. We share with you our heart in hopes that this will be a call for prayer and action towards bettering our roles in these communities. We do not seek to be an obstacle or merely a complaining voice, but rather a voice that reflects reality and is trying to raise awareness.
If you ask scholars, they would tell you that Palestinian and Israeli women have made many breakthroughs in gender roles in their societies. The most obvious would be their roles in the struggle against one another. Israeli women, unlike in many other countries, share their part in the military by serving for 18 months of their lives. Palestinian women, unlike many other Arab people, have taken a role in the armed struggle to fight for their freedom. These women broke their gender role as caregiver, to become a life-taker on both sides.
Israeli and Palestinian women also frequently break free from typical gender roles in their wider societies. Women are playing a more significant role in the workforce and have taken upon themselves managerial and leadership positions such as directors of companies, hospitals, schools, businesses, etc. However, in both the conflict and in society, women are often still given support roles rather than leadership positions and do not earn the same respect or salary as men.
Our communities’ impact on women is confusing in this region because this appearance of equality in some areas can mask the need for significant improvements. Both Palestinian and Israeli societies are, in reality, very patriarchal and often critical of powerful women, despite some areas in which women succeed. This is an even more significant issue in the church, which is why having an outlet for women to voice their observations and opinions is so important to us.
Despite the patriarchal society we live in, we see many new opportunities available to us as women in terms of education, careers and other social functions. However, we see little progress within the church or congregation.
Both Palestinian Christian and Messianic Israeli communities tend to have very conservative views of gender roles. We have observed that, as women, we are usually relegated to traditional roles of childcare, cooking meals and secretarial duties. Yet we step into leadership roles in worship, working with youth and women’s ministry, often using a diverse range of giftings. Yet, even in these roles, we often remain in the background and are not given a place of input into the overall decision making being made in regard to the ministry or congregation.
Another area that we see significant contribution from women is in partnership with their husbands. It is quite common for a man to take a leadership position and his wife contributes her gifts and education towards his position. It is a blessing when husband and wife can work as a team in such a way, but it should not be the only path for women to influence, especially considering the vast number of single women or even married women who have a legitimate calling from God to lead in other ways. These women should receive similar support and encouragement in their callings.
However, as women, we often refuse ourselves any title of leader, in spite of the great amount of commitment we have shown. We are willing to take upon ourselves the functions of a leader, but refuse any title of a leader. As women, we recognize that we can be our own obstacle by doubting our unique skills or callings, or understanding of the Bible. We often assume we are doing something wrong by stepping out into leadership in our areas of strength.
This is partly because, too often, when women have accepted the title of leader or stepped out, we are seen as a threat or treated as secondary, rather than being encouraged in our calling. This has marginalized many women’s voices and discouraged them from taking public leadership positions.
In the great majority of board or leadership meetings, there are few, if any, women present, despite that they represent around 50% of the church’s attendees. As a result, our communities are suffering from the lack of participation that is possible from all of their members and the contributions they could make. This has caused the church to become short-sighted and imbalanced and has led to a growing number of people feeling increasingly isolated from the narrow vision being offered.
While the background serving and support roles that many women dedicate themselves to are valid and necessary functions in the Body, not all women are called to these roles and they are not all that women can or should be doing. If a woman has managerial skills or advanced education, for example, the Body can and should benefit from her expertise. Women and men should both be utilizing their skills that they have for the Body to be in an optimal place.
And some women feel called to leadership, and as a body we should enable every member the space to fulfil their calling. Since the Body is supposed to be made up of a diverse group of people with many functions (Romans 12:4-7 & 1 Corinthians 12:12-30) and many callings, then we women also have a variety of strengths that we can be called to step out and take leadership in. Many women truly have a heart for the church and its members and, to demonstrate that commitment, often rise to any request given. They may translate when there are guests, come early to set up seats or decorate and even prepare the communion bread and wine.
We feel that female leadership in the church continues to lag behind, mainly encouraging women in traditional roles. We have observed some progress in churches where women have been made into elders or placed in other leadership positions. However, these are a minority. We, the authors, are an outcome of the Palestinian Christian and Messianic Jewish communities and we hope to see these attitudes change so that all members of our believing communities are being encouraged to grow and fulfill their gifts and callings, whether they are man or woman, single or married, Palestinian or Israeli, to more perfectly reflect the unity in Christ we are supposed to have (Galatians 3:28).