Let Her Lead: Creating a Better Future for Women in the Church

This is a portrait of an 8 year old preacher's daughter bathed in the warm light coming through the church windows on a Sunda
This is a portrait of an 8 year old preacher's daughter bathed in the warm light coming through the church windows on a Sunday evening. Oak pews and paneling add a warm glow, and a few dust motes in the air complete the atmosphere.

My daughter Callie is 12 years old now, almost 13, making the ridiculously quick hop between girlhood and womanhood right before my eyes. Boys ease into puberty the way winter gives way to spring, as evidenced by my son, Abram, now 14. It's subtle. It's slow. It happens in fits and starts, flying under the radar most times. But girls? One day they're a mishmash of giggles, pigtails and pink swim floaties, and the next day they're full-on woman, see them flourish, hear them roar.

This transition has got me thinking not only about the 12-year-old "woman" who now resides in my abode -- and at five-foot-seven, Callie's frame, at least, is precisely that -- but also about the world she will inhabit once she enters adulthood for real. What kind of interests will she hope to pursue? What kind of friends will she choose to have? What kind of bosses will she wind up working for? What kind of people might she lead? What kind of faith community will surround her?

We're going to have a conversation about a topic -- women in leadership -- that is touchy for many people, especially church people, but I'm not trying to be provocative here. I'm not trying to pick a fight. In my new book, "Let Her Lead," I actually want to defuse this topic that has been infused with such vitriol along the way by simply revisiting a few themes that have been sidelining women far too long.

But I also want to begin by admitting that, as a dad, I cringe at the thought that in 10 or 20 or 30 years, my bright, capable daughter could have doors slammed in her face for the simple fact that she happens not to be male. If she is cut out to be a corporate CEO, then I hope she'll be hired. If she is cut out to be President of the United States -- perhaps even the first female one, if Hillary doesn't get there first -- then I hope she'll be elected. If she is cut out to be a professor or a lawyer or an engineer or a horse trainer, then I hope she'll be chosen there too.

And if she is cut out to lead within the church, then I hope she'll be invited to lead.

If I were to boil down my desires, dreams, assumptions and plans for the type of world that will embrace my daughter, they'd fit into two simple manifestos: Let her be her. And let her be heard.

This isn't just my vision for the world 10 or 20 years from now, when Callie is a bona fide adult. It is my vision today, here, in our present culture. There are 30- and 40- and 50-year-old women who want to engage in leadership now. What I want for Callie is the same thing I want for them: to be seen and heard, acknowledged and valued, loved well and led well -- and learned from by both women and men.

We've been turning an important corner at New Life Church, in Colorado Springs, Colo., where I've pastored for almost six years. For the first time in our church's nearly 30-year history, women are excelling in senior-leadership roles. Licensed female pastors in our body are preaching the Word of God, teaching what Christ-followership means, baptizing new believers, counseling troubled souls, dedicating new babies to God's purposes, praying over those both near to and far from God, administering the sacrament of Communion, leading, serving, prophesying -- in essence, doing everything female leaders did in Scripture. And they are doing these things incredibly well.

Now, depending on your upbringing, your predispositions and your denominational bent, you are either heartened or horrified by this news. Trust me, regardless of which end of the spectrum happens to reflect your perspective, I understand your view. It occurs to me that if I were caught in the church of my youth even hinting at the idea of women preaching and teaching and leading, I'd be deemed a heretic.

However, despite the rigorous language used during my youth to convince me otherwise, men need to get out of the way of women leaders so they can walk in the freedom that's been theirs all along. Female leadership in our homes, in the workplace and in the church matters. It happens to matter a lot.

Maybe a brief story will help.

In his memoir, "The Pastor," Eugene Peterson tells of his young mother -- she was only 23 or 24 at the time -- taking toddler Eugene with her every Sunday night to churches where she would preach the Word of God to miners and lumberjacks scattered in small, out-of-the-way settlements throughout the Rocky Mountain region, all year long, during hot summers and cold winters alike.

It was the Depression era in the United States, and Eugene's dad, determined to "put bread on the table and meat in the pot" at the Peterson home, would spend those evenings working long hours to build his self-started butcher shop. Eugene writes, "I have no idea how this young woman with a child as her chaperone managed to gather a congregation of working men from those logging and mining camps to sing gospel songs, listen to gospel stories, and let themselves be prayed for on those Sunday nights in the thick of the Depression."

The part of the story that Eugene left out of the book but will tell you in person is that a few years into his mom's mining-town ministry, a Pentecostal pastor from a nearby community -- a male pastor -- told Eugene's mother that as a woman, she had "no business" leading worship services. He commanded her to stop.

Tragically, she did.

See, this is the sticky part of the subject regarding "women in leadership" in all its forms: We try to hang our hats on customary interpretation while avoiding what's happening in real life. We raise signs that shout, "Can't Teach! Can't Preach! Stay Silent! Sit Down!" but then read a story like Eugene's and go, "Wow. What a woman she was."

It's perplexing, to say the least. But despite the myriad questions -- why the genders? why the squabbles? why the how-much-should-women-do confusion? -- here are two things I know for sure: Women are valuable to God and therefore must be valuable to lovers of God. And secondly, when the history books are written, I want my name to appear on the side of ledger of those who sought to see women freed.

At this writing, one-third of the 56,000 students in seminaries accredited by the Association of Theological Schools are women, compared with one-eighth 10 years ago and almost none 20 years ago. Three out of 10 seminarians today are women. Follow the trajectory to its logical conclusion, and women will be the majority of seminary grads soon. And who knows what new realities that one actuality will usher in. Frankly, I'm open to what unfolds, as God swells wisdom, enlarges capacity, expands minds. In the meantime, I rest in the knowledge that the Grand Answerer to all of our questions is not up there wringing his hands.

So, let's take a look at what God intended for women, back when Eve burst onto creation's scene. Let's look at some modern-day realities surrounding women and ask what God intends for them now. And let's see what answers we can find.

Pastor Brady's newest book, "Let Her Lead," can be found as an e-book on Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com or in the iTunes bookstore.