By TD Smith
Our current culture has manifested a heightened awareness of diversity and gender issues which gives the church an opportunity to demonstrate and model clear and sacred responses amid the clashing secular voices. One area where the church’s beauty is displayed is in God’s design for men and women to be partnered in ministry to advance the Gospel and plant new churches. The North American church, currently comprised of slightly more women than men, has an empowered regiment of gifted women to be catalyzed on mission.
The Great Commission mandate is not gender specific; but rather, men and women are co-laborers and synergetic in community and mission. As men and women weave their giftedness together to embrace our collective mission, the church is empowered to exponentially impact the lost world.
There are other roles involved in church planting other than the lead pastor. It is possible to be a complementarian while at the same time purposefully developing women leaders in the vision and mission of the church.
We have an opportunity to model healthy complementarianism by cultivating a culture that celebrates how women are vital in the flourishing of the church and in the arena of church planting. Women are strategic players in the mission of God; this is part of God’s beautiful design.
For every significant male we see throughout the book of Acts, there is a significant female mentioned in the expansion of the Gospel and the church.
Paul himself partnered with women in his church planting efforts. Lydia was a businesswoman who became the first European convert; she led others to be baptized and the church in Philippi was planted in her house (Acts 16). Paul says Euodia and Syntyche “labored side by side with [him] in the Gospel” (Phil. 4:3), and Phoebe helped Paul along with many others (Romans 16). Women have always been leaders in the arena of church planting – from the very beginning.
We are at a significant moment in time where we can seek to catalyze the leadership capacity and power of women throughout the church and within the church planting arena.
Imagine the potential and possibilities of transformational impact by the church if we expanded our concept of church planting beyond the role of the main lead church planter to include all those involved – church planting teams, administrators, mobilizers, and outreach leaders!
If everyone in the church is to be involved in Gospel expansion and multiplication, then the church as a whole has a stake in the movement and the impact is exponentially dynamic – the apostolic church unleashed!
There is a significant shift rippling through leadership circles to spur women toward various expressions of their gifts in the church planting arena while remaining in alignment with complementation views. Across our SBC denomination, we see women in key roles such as church planting coaches, assessment directors, church planting catalysts, demographic researchers, strategists, city or regional network coordinators, and emerging leader directors – just to name a few.
What if the doors of church planting were swung wide open for a Samaritan woman at the well, a wealthy businesswoman from Philippi, or someone who has been sitting in your church waiting for a new pioneering opportunity?
We typically just don’t think about women when we talk about church planting because the focus is upon the lead church planter. But, practically, the church plant won’t happen without a core team of leaders – both men and women – who commit to live missionally in the spaces and places God leads.
If we expand our thinking of church planting to include other roles, then the power of the church is unleashed to include more of the body of Christ.
There are ways to integrate women into church planting and empower the church to function and flourish in new innovative approaches. So, how can we chart new pathways and widen the pipeline for female leaders? How can we expand our current thinking to incorporate women more strategically in the church planting aspects of the church?
A few points to consider
- Forge a synergetic culture. Cultivate a culture of modeling how women are strategic in the church planting efforts of the church. Make sure to include single women and not just church planter wives. Be purposeful and repetitious in demonstrating through words and action the value of the women leaders in your church and in various areas of church planting. Highlight the beauty of the body of Christ working together in synergy.
- Be creative. Look for creative ways to incorporate women into the various facets of church planting. The pioneering nature of church planting inherently fosters new opportunities and pathways for women to serve in their giftedness. Women are uniquely positioned in strategic areas of the neighborhood and marketplace to influence others for the cause of Christ. Use their platforms and relational webs for the advancement of the Kingdom.
- Increase visibility. Women should be visible and celebrated on stage in church leadership and in the multiplication of churches – praying, discipling, and serving. Elevate women leaders to thrive in their giftedness; and in doing so, teach and model the unity and diversity of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12) to the church and to the watching world.
- Amplify giftedness. Focus upon giftedness and character without regard to gender whenever possible. Seek out ways to open up new opportunities for women to infuse their gifts and talents throughout the ministries of the church, including the arena of church planting.
- Reframe. Reframe the concept of church planting to go beyond the lead planter to include teams and gifted leaders who help develop and grow the church plant; this will naturally open doors for women, but also for other leaders in the church who are not called to be the lead church planter.
- Purposefully Empower. Seek out and empower women to serve in the church planting efforts or on a planting team. This must be strategic and intentional because it has not been common practice. Just as you would seek out and cultivate male leaders in the church, look to do the same with women and purposely consider facets of church planting.
For the sake of advancing the Kingdom of God, how do we work toward normalizing female leadership, not as the exception or rare case, but as part of God’s design for the church to be on mission together?
Tony Merida powerfully encourages women by stating, “Missional women have always played a vital role in the advancement of the Gospel. The church—as the bride for whom Christ bled, died, and was raised — ought to be a place where women are loved, taught, respected, heard, and deployed for service. They should thrive as Christ’s ambassadors in the world, as they are built up in him.”
This exhortation can also be applied to the various facets within the church planting arena. We need more Lydias in church planting. Let us boldly move forward together for such a time as this.