It was our fifth day in Israel, the Lord’s Day, and we went to the site commemorating the Upper Room, in Jerusalem. We were elated to pray and worship in the place where the disciples were first filled with the Holy Spirit.
When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:1-4 NKJV)
There we, a group of Pastors and ministry leaders from various parts of the United States, prayed and worshiped. The songs flowed from melody to melody. As I sat in the midst of my brothers and sisters, I was reminded of the contrast of that moment with the experience of the previous night.
We sat together.
We prayed together.
We sang songs of worship together.
Women and men together.
Wasn’t that one of the beauties and power of the first Pentecost?
Peter, James, John, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot; and Judas the son of James. These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers. (Acts 1:13b, 14 NKJV)
These All Continued in One Accord…With the Women
Tears welled up in me, as the presence of the Holy Spirit moved among us. There we were, hands raised, hearts open, being led by the Spirit from singing to praying to worshiping, back to singing. Some wept. Some spoke in tongues. No titles. No rank. No separation by gender. I felt encased in God’s love, secure and in place.
A seminary colleague challenged me recently. Knowing that I write a great deal about gender justice and train and teach women leaders, he asked, “why put the emphasis on gender?” I replied, “because there is still too much separation and inequality by gender.” He continued, “yes, I agree, but why focus on what is not here, and instead paint a picture of what is true in the kingdom.”
It occurs to me that what we experienced that morning does exist throughout many churches and ministry organizations. Yet too many Christian organizations and churches have created barriers to the full inclusion of women in leadership. What I experienced that morning was also a glimpse of what we need more of.
Yet, it would not have happened, had the leader of that trip not made a conscious and intentional decision to include women in a pastoral familiarization trip—a leadership trip. There were just three of us. Yes, we traveled with our husbands. Yet each of us, as women, are uniquely and distinctly called and gifted for ministry and ministry leadership. As women in ministry.
The Upper Room serves as a reminder for what is possible, when we allow the Holy Spirit to open our hearts to the full experiences and inclusion of women in leadership throughout all of our churches. We too are created in God’s image. We too are called to lead.
I tell a story in my second book, Leading Lessons: Insights on Leadership from Women of the Bible, that comes to mind now. While I was serving on the faculty at a university in Chicago, an administrative assistant who sat down the hall from me excitedly burst into my office one day. She wanted to tell me about a message a very prominent and popular radio minister had just given.
I’ll not mention his name, but according to my colleague, he had just taught, “When men are not in their rightful places, God has no choice but to use women to lead.” I quickly countered with, “Do you realize that to say God only uses women when men aren’t available is to suggest that we are the second string on God’s leadership team?”
I passionately continued. “Saying that God uses women only when men don’t do what they are supposed to do is to suggest that God uses women only as an afterthought. Do you realize God called many of us just because we are women?”
I thought of Queen Esther, the orphan girl of the Jewish Diaspora who was called because she was a woman. The King needed a wife! By moving into a position where she could accept the role of Persian Queen, she was strategically placed to intercede for a nation in peril. I thought of how God used Puah and Shiphrah, the midwives in Egypt, as redemptive leaders to save at-risk baby boys; they were called exactly because they were women. Women called into the birthing chambers during the critical time when Hebrew women were giving birth.
How about you? Are you sensing a call to leadership but are reticent to accept it because you are a woman and the traditions of your community don’t support women in leadership? Or the images of leader around you are all male, and you can’t see yourself in leadership? Or the discourse or writings on leadership that you are exposed to don’t include the voices and experiences of women?
What opportunities do you have to include women even though it may not be popular in your community or tradition? What choices and decisions are under your control that can support women in leadership?
What roles and positions do women not have access to in your organization because they are, well, women? What are the ways women are systematically excluded from leadership where you work or serve? Where are women serving in your organization or church, doing the same thing as men but not given the same title, pay, rank or respect? Or where in your organization or church do women who perform the same as men get judged differently, often less than, men.
God calls according to grace not gender
Jesus included women in his ministry.
The Holy Spirit equips women.
Perhaps you struggle with the gender issue—with the full inclusion of women in leadership. Perhaps you are not comfortable with the notion of women ministry leaders, women pastors, women bishops. I invite you to revisit the Upper Room.
I believe if the church is to be as strong as it could be, we must go back to the Upper Room experience and have the courage to include women in every level of leadership.
When exegeting the experience of the Upper Room, Peter himself used the words of Joel to explain the outpouring of the Spirit upon men and women and the prophetic call being placed on women and men.
“But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy Acts 2:16-17b, NJKV)
The unknown tongues that accompanied the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was the new phenomenon not the presence of women.
These All Continued in One Accord…With the Women
The Upper Room experience continues to be about God’s great outpouring of the Spirit that breaks down barriers that are socially constructed. The Upper Room experience continues to open our eyes to the realities of the Kingdom ushered in by Jesus and open to all who will believe.
© 2013 TransPorter Communication, LLC