How can the men and women of the Evangelical Church work together effectively for the Kingdom and honor of God and the scriptures?
Amanda Jackson, head of the World Evangelical Alliance Women’s Commission, and Dr. Peirong Lin, the first ever female EAJ Deputy General Secretary wrote a new resource, Co-workers and co-leaders: women and men join forces for the work of God, which seeks to answer this question.
They talk to Christian Today about how evangelical men and women can work together as Jesus intended.
CT: How can we approach the issue of male and female leadership without it immediately dividing?
Amandine:The book explains how we can, at any level, work together more effectively without always having that nervous reaction because we are working with the opposite sex. Peirong and I wanted this book to go beyond the usual divisive Bible verses. We wanted to try to have a different and more holistic take on what the mission could be like if men and women worked together effectively, recognizing that we are different and yet incredibly similar! And that we can actually move forward and accomplish things for the Kingdom of God. After all, this is what we all want to do.
CT: What is the message for the WEA family?
Peirong: I think first of all about removing fears or prejudices when it comes to working with women. We are not strange creatures! We are all here for the Kingdom of God and to serve and be open about it. I think the appointment of the EAJ to this post sends a very strong signal. The WEA is also engaged in the leadership of women throughout the Kingdom of God, it is not just a movement led by men for men. It is a movement of broken humans trying together to participate in the Kingdom of God because we love Jesus together.
CT: What part of the scriptures do you think really deals with this issue?
Amandine: Peirong’s chapter examines Genesis and how sin affected relationships between men and women. I think we accept that the relationship is broken in some ways, but there is a lot of blame, instead of realizing that we are redeemed. And of course we’re not perfect, so it’s going to have to struggle and forgive and laugh along the way, but we have to recognize that Genesis 3 doesn’t really take hold of the relationship between men and women anymore.
Having said that, I think my favorite chapter would be Romans 16. When I was young I always thought that Paul didn’t really like women and there were all these verses that we were told about ‘women. can’t do that ‘and’ women can’t preach ‘and’ women must be submissive ‘.
But Romans 16 shows Paul greeting his friends and colleagues in the church around the world, and he presents this wonderful picture of men and women playing all kinds of roles. He uses the word “co-workers” and the word “apostle” a lot to refer to both men and women. Some were thrown in prison, men and women; others suffer for the gospel, men and women.
I think it’s just a nice picture of Paul’s real attitude and his understanding of what the Church can look like when women and men use their different gifts together.
CT: Peirong, the section of the book you wrote is called “Equal Partners”. How can we be equal while balancing our differences and our different gifts?
Peirong: I think what’s important is to be equal in value. We may have different roles or gifts, but that doesn’t mean we are less than the other. There is always the need to have mutual respect and love, which makes us equal. We are all sinners and human, and we all have a God to whom we rely for our redemption. We are not looking to a man or a woman for our redemption.
CT: Amanda, it’s interesting that you brought up Romans 16. Do you see a role model for us in the early church that we can learn from today?
Amandine: If you want to be radical enough, you could say that the early church was not very hierarchical at all, it was totally gift-based, and what we have created today is a Church with a human structure. Of course, this is necessary in many ways – we need structure. But it ends up being pretty hierarchical and just copies what the world is – and that traditionally means men are at the top of the hierarchy.
And something else that’s been creeping into the Church in the last generation is famous Christian leaders, which I think is really dangerous. They often run mega-churches, they put out books, they speak at conferences, and we put them on these big pedestals – they’re almost like little gods. And I don’t think it’s healthy; I don’t think Jesus lived like this. In fact, I think he deliberately avoided this precisely because it is dangerous.
What we have seen so much in recent years, even with highly respected Christian leaders, is their downfall and often that downfall has been linked to gender. So one response is to say, “Well, I’m not going to have anything to do with women because it’s dangerous!” A much healthier view is to say: let’s work together and have healthy relationships that are based on respect and understanding and which allow us to overcome this problem of seeing ourselves only in terms of our sex and our gender.
So I think the early church is just a wonderful model of people going out and doing things and getting in the Spirit. We see it in so many churches around the world in Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, places where there is no church tradition. It’s a bit like the New Testament again. There are men and women who discuss God with each other and form house churches, and see the growth, and see the amazing works of the Holy Spirit.
CT: Amanda, your chapter is called “More Than Kindness” and explores Jesus’ encounters with women. What do you think Jesus modeled for us in terms of his encounters with women that we can apply to the Church today?
Amandine: We all know the story of Jesus visiting Mary and Martha, but we often ignore the astonishing chapter where Lazarus dies and Jesus is apparently deliberately absent for three days. Martha rushes over to him and they have the most amazing conversation about faith and who Jesus is, and it’s almost an exact copy of what Peter said about Jesus a few chapters before. This chapter on Peter is often used to show Peter’s faith and how he understands who Jesus is and yet here is a woman, Martha, a few chapters later saying the exact same things and showing the same amazing understanding. Jesus confided this truth to her, and so did Mary.
I’m struck by the number of times Jesus has these pretty rocky conversations with women. Not just with the Nicodemas or the tax collectors but with the women. And that’s not treating them like second-class citizens or an object of pity. It is Jesus who treats them as women who can grow in faith and understanding, and who indeed will become a powerful part of the Church.
Things have changed in recent years, we now see quite a few Easter sermons talking about women. But I think the Church, by treating women gently as mothers and housewives, misses out on other roles and gifts of women.
Jesus said ‘I have neither mother nor brother, you are my mother and my brother’. We are greater than our role as mother or wife or father and husband; we are workers in the Kingdom. And it’s very liberating for both men and women. It’s liberating for men because they don’t have this huge burden that they have to do everything and be tall and righteous all the time. When the Church distorts history, it is not good news for men either.
CT: Peirong, are there any encounters between Jesus and women that particularly strike you?
Peirong: I am thinking of the fact that Jesus often hung out alone with the women, for example with the woman at the well. When I was growing up, the youth group was fully dedicated to the purity gospel and never hung out with a boy alone. But Jesus never spoke of women as sexual objects; he considered them humans worthy of his time and attention, and he had no fear of them. He was very respectful of all kinds of women and it reminds me that above all, my identity before God is not only as a woman but as a child of God, someone he loves as a woman. human being and not for my gender.
CT: The AEM has not yet had a woman as general secretary. Do you think WEA is still ready for this?
Peirong: I think it goes back to what Amanda said at the General Assembly in 2019, that women need to know that they are on a long road when it comes to being evangelicals in the church. . I think this continues to be the case because WEA represents a large number of Christians. This should not be too discouraging, however, since our service is to God and not to men.