I recently saw a greeting card that shows a woman sitting in a business meeting with five men. The man at the head of the table says, “That’s an excellent suggestion, Miss Triggs. Perhaps one of the men here would like to make it.”
Men smile because the card catches them with their guard down. Women buy it because it validates their experience. A man repeats what a woman has already said, and others in the room act as if the thought has surfaced for the first time.
Who is Miss Triggs?
She might be a staff member or a volunteer. She may know the organization inside out and do the work of several people. Informally, the men she works with depend on her knowledge and counsel. But when the time comes to make important decisions, she isn’t taken seriously.
Miss Triggs is in a tough spot. She realizes that she is not being intentionally ignored, so she doesn’t want to complain and be labeled a troublemaker. But it’s difficult working and living on the blind side of men who can’t see and don’t appreciate her spiritual gifts. They see her carefully controlled and gracious demeanor without realizing that behind it is a woman who feels used and dismissed. She wants to be recognized for what she has to offer and included for the value of her contribution, but often she senses that men include her only so they can feel good about themselves.
What she is not told
Women who are ignored or gradually shut out are rarely told directly that their opinions are not wanted or needed. Instead, they read between the lines and learn that they are expected to know their boundaries, to speak when asked, and to live as if God made men to think and women to work. No leader tells them that women are needed in the bedroom but not in the boardroom. Yet many women believe that this is what men really think.
The history of a problem
The problem of men who watch women without seeing them has a history as old as the Bible. One especially provocative example shows up in the book of Esther. There we read about a self-absorbed king of Persia who threw a huge party and then ordered his wife to parade her beauty before his drunken guests. When Vashti refused to comply with her husband’s command, it was as if she had drawn a line in the sand between all the men and women of the civilized world (Esther 1:15-22).
In an all-male “consultation,” the king’s advisors urged him to divorce and depose Vashti before her example caused all of the women of the kingdom to lose respect for their husbands. To make sure that every man remained master of his own house, the king sent letters throughout the kingdom declaring that because of Vashti’s defiance, her royal position would be given to another (vv. 19, 22).
The book of Esther isn’t just about women. It is about leaders who deny the humanity of those they see as a threat to their power and authority. To reinforce control of their homes and the kingdom, the king and his advisors got rid of Vashti. For similar reasons of power and control, the same king later was drawn into a conspiracy to destroy all of the Jewish people of the kingdom—because they bowed to a higher authority than the king of Persia.
A different kind of leader
The Bible gives us another example of leadership. Jesus was also a king. But He wasn’t like the king of Persia. He turned traditional notions of leadership and headship upside down when he said, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’ But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves” (Luke 22:25-27).
The One who spoke these words was the Lord of lords. But he didn’t walk with a swagger. He didn’t ignore marginal people. Instead, he had a reputation of helping women, children, poor people, and even despised tax collectors to see their true importance.
A better vision
Because of the dramatically different example of Christ, He helps those who follow Him to see the difference between where we are and where we could be. The inconsistency itself can give birth to a dream of better relationships and healthier churches. In this vision:
The values of Christ are seen in the way His people work and worship together. Because He knew the value of the person, those who lead in His behalf show the same regard for both men and women.
People are more important than meetings. Relationships are more important than plans and budgets. And both men and women are given a chance to use their God-given gifts to make a difference in other people’s lives.
Men and women believe they can do together what both know they could not do by themselves. Both model their attitudes and behavior after the example of Christ.
Elders do not lord it over the flock (1 Peter 5:1-3). Women are not treated like second-class members. Both men and women take initiatives to plan their work, solve problems, and improve the quality of the services they are offering in the name of Christ.
In these churches both men and women freely share ideas that are accepted or rejected not because of who expressed them but on the merits of the ideas themselves.
Although there is probably a considerable gap between this dream and our own reality, a vision of shared ministry is so worthy and uplifting that any degree of fulfillment will not only enhance our own lives but also the lives of those who still feel invisible.
Father in heaven, You have shown us a better way. Forgive us for being preoccupied with our own power and control. Please help us to give both men and women the respect and honor that Your Son gave the Matthews, Marys, and Marthas of His life. —Mart De Haan