So How Do I Move Forward?By Jamie Tanner
I arrived at the cafe to meet a woman I had never met. Jessica had emailed me a story about a crushing experience with her male church leaders. She had approached the pastors and elders with a genuine concern after several months of prayer and waiting on the Lord. The church leaders, rather than treat her a co-laborer and equal protector of the flock, handled her as a wolf. She ended one email with a perplexing question: “So how do I move forward?”Although we had never met, Jessica’s story and question resonated with me deeply and personally. How do we move forward after stifling interactions with people we expect to love and respect us the way we love and respect them?Unfortunately, Jessica’s story is not uncommon. Being female disciples of Christ has often meant stifling of female voice and misjudgment. Let’s examine Jessica’s story and compare it (and ours) to the experience of another female disciple of Jesus, Mary Magdalene. Then, using Scripture, may we process our experiences more completely in light of the plans God has for His daughters.Jessica had been an active member of her church for nearly two decades. She faithfully used her spiritual gifts to serve and build up the body teaching Sunday school, leading women's Bible studies, and even using her professional expertise as a therapist to provide free help to individuals and couples in the church. Jessica trusted the male leadership of her church and never felt the need to raise her voice.Life changed when the church promoted a male leader who had been convicted of sexual misconduct only a few years prior. Jessica didn’t understand why he was put into a position of power when there were several more qualified candidates.Jessica, experienced in handling trauma cases, was on high alert. After months of watchful prayer, confidentially consulting other trauma and abuse professionals, and more prayer, Jessica met with her church leaders to talk about the new hire. She genuinely and respectfully affirmed church leadership, but given the nature of the criminal background, expressed her thoughts about the dangers and risks of the new hire. Jessica offered research, statistics, and other resources to help the male leaders understand the inadvertent hardship they were causing victims of abuse.Jessica expected her leaders to hear her voice, trust her judgement, value her professional opinion, and treat her as an equal co-laborer for the gospel and protector of the church. After all, she had served faithfully year in and year out without fuss. She had built up that body and with it a meritorious reputation.
Painfully, the male leadership thought Jessica was divisive and condescending. They questioned why she had not voiced her concerns sooner. They accused her of ulterior motives and reprimanded her as if she were a petty, immature child.When I met Jessica at the cafe, she had been wounded by her leaders who misjudged her and the entire situation.Many of us are wounded, misjudged women in the church today. We have been strong armed, coerced, and we feel small. Like Jessica, when we brought our voice forward in compassionate concern for the church, were classified as wolves rather than shepherds. We were accused of destruction when our hearts were set on construction. We communicated the message God put on our hearts to speak out of our mouths only to be met with a shaking head and indignant eyes.So how do we move forward in grace, love, and mercy in a church where we feel we are rejected and outcasted by leadership? How do we reconcile with our fellow siblings in Christ who strong armed and coerced? What can we learn from Scripture?Mary Magdalene was one of many female disciples of Jesus. The female disciples were the first to proclaim (preach) the gospel, the resurrection (Luke 24:1-10). They were told, by Jesus, to deliver a message to the other followers of Jesus. The male disciples had spent years alongside Jesus, having this very cohort of women minister to their needs daily. Surely they would have trusted these women who Jesus uplifted and valued. Instead, Luke tells us in v.11 that after the women voiced what Jesus had instructed them to voice, “...[the women's] words seemed like pure nonsense to them, and [the men] did not believe them.”1) Our church leaders are disciples of Jesus, faulty like the original disciples of Jesus. We may have served faithfully, ministering to the needs of the church just like the women ministered to Jesus and the apostles. We expect the leaders to recognize our fruit is of the Spirit. But like Mary Magdalene and the other women, our words are not received. Or are they...“But Peter got up and ran to the tomb. He bent down and saw only the strips of linen cloth; then he went home wondering what had happened” (v.12).2) Though not the majority yet, after hearing truth, some people are investigating and “wondering.” Even though we feel like our voice doesn’t matter, there are some who listen. There are some who hear His voice in our voice and they act.Jesus appeared to some and then many, and the men confessed the women knew first: “some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us...” (v.13-24).3) Friends, if we are disciples of Jesus, we just have to do what Jesus says and move forward when He says so. Others will move forward too if they walk with Jesus. Mary Magdalene was not responsible for moving her anyone forward. She was
only responsible to deliver His message. The apostles loved Jesus and had a heart for Him. Jesus met these men on the road to where they were going and walked with them.Jesus traveled down the road to Emmaus with a couple of His disciples who still hadn’t grasped the gospel. These men still didn’t understand who Jesus Christ was and what He did. Jesus talked with them, even rebuked them for being “slow to believe” (v.25). Finally, it was Jesus who had the power to open their eyes to the reality of Himself: “When He was at the table with them, He took bread; gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him...” (v.30-31).4) One day, every disciple of Jesus will see the same thing. If “history repeats itself” and there is “nothing new under the sun,” then surely there will be a day all of our eyes will be opened to recognize Him; to see truth. That day just may not be today.“They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, ‘It is true! The Lord has risen...’ While they were still talking about this, Jesus Himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”5) We cannot make anyone understand truth (not even ourselves). Therefore, we remain powerless to make anyone stand with us in truth. However, we are not without power. It is the work of the Spirit to enlighten our eyes and teach truth (Ephesians 1). Jesus says, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses...” (Acts 1:8).When we put our faith in Jesus, we receive power from the Holy Spirit who indwells us. He is the down payment, the promise of things still to come (Ephesians 1:14-16). He helps us know what to do and when. For today, we can only respond to His leading by going to that place at the right time to proclaim truth to those people with power using our voice. Just like our sisters, Mary Magdalene and Jessica. Trust the Lord will tell you the direction you must go, when you must do it; whether it is to stay in a church body you have faithfully served for 20 years or to lead you to a different church to help build that part of the Body of Christ for a season.So how do we move forward? Move forward toward Him: “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20). Keep praying, keep studying Scripture, keep grieving what grieves God, and loving who God loves. Keep going.