There are a lot of controversial perspectives out there about women—in culture and in the church. I grew up in conservative circles, so even though I was wired to lead, for years, I shied away from it. I just wanted to be something easier, something better received.
Whether you consider yourself a leader or not, there is a dissonance that plagues many women. Feeling misunderstood, resisted, or hesitant—believing you’re too much and not enough all at the same time. If you’ve ever felt it, you’re not alone. As someone who follows Jesus and received most of her baggage from the church, I decided to go back to the beginning for truth. How did God design women? What I found was both shocking and wildly freeing.
I wrote this article over a year ago, not sure if I would ever post it. But this week, the topic of women is popping up everywhere. The legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg is being celebrated all over the country. Crossroads hosted its first women leadership event with Kadi Cole inspiring over 1000 female leaders to step into their gifts. And it was the birthday of the late Kathy Beechem—a Crossroads leader and mentor who empowered so many women in her life. The story below was the last topic we were processing together before she died. She pushed me to make sure I didn’t let it hold me back any longer, and I’m hoping it can do the same for others.
I’m Not Supposed to Be Like This
Anyone else a personality junkie out there? Me neither. But in case you’re curious, I’m an ENTJ (the Commander). If you’re into Enneagram, I’m an 8 (the Challenger). DISC? I’m nearly as high a D as you can score. That one with colors? Red. Elements in nature? Fire.
Impressed? You should be. These are good personality types, right? Strong. Powerful. It’s great news. Except for one tiny detail—I’m not a guy.
Every time I got my test results, something in me would sink. Shame would start lying, and I’d think, “I don’t want this one. This is the mean one. People don’t like this one.”
But what I think I really meant was, “People don’t like women like this. I’m not supposed to be like this.”
I grew up in a conservative church. The kind that really remembers those verses about women needing to be quiet and cover their heads. Then I went to a conservative Bible college. The kind where I wasn’t allowed in certain public speaking classes that were only for guys.
For a long time growing up, I navigated around it. Even though I wasn’t a great vocalist, I led worship because singing was a way for a girl to have a voice in church. I would lead from behind the scenes or if a male leader clearly allowed me to, and honestly, I was fine with that.
I didn’t resent it. I just didn’t know how to shake the dissonance between what I felt God was shaping me to do and the overpowering (sometimes paralyzing) waves of guilty nervousness that would rush over me whenever I tried.
I always had this nagging feeling, Don’t lead too big. Don’t come off too strong. Don’t get in trouble. I actually didn’t even realize it was influencing me until God recently brought to mind a memory I hadn’t thought about in years.
If I Lead, Is It Divisive?
I was sitting in a New Testament class during my freshman year of college, and we were talking about women in the Church. Of course, someone raised the question of the controversial verses—the ones about women being silent, weaker, submissive, etc. “Weren’t those just cultural responses for the time, not laws for all circumstances?”
It was a question I’d heard before. The church I’d grown up in dismissed it as liberal and unbiblical. I assumed the professor would answer as my church had: “Some like to find ways around it, but we believed the Bible just as it was written.”
Unfortunately, he said something that felt worse. This probably isn’t an exact quote, but what I heard was, “Even if it was cultural, Paul still found it important enough to write it in the Bible. His motive was to not cause division. He found female leadership divisive, so we should respond the same.”
I didn’t realize it at the time, but that statement sunk in deeply—if I lead, it’s divisive.
The problem is, I’m wired to lead. It’s taken me my whole life to admit that, but I am. I can command a room or lead a charge. I easily notice solutions to problems and see the path to the other side. I naturally recruit people to join me in a cause. I love to challenge the status quo and take on problems no one else likes to tackle.
But the word “divisive” reminded me of other verses—ones that were not debatable. I knew how much Jesus prayed for the Church to be one. That as far as it depends on me, I should keep peace with everyone. So when I heard that leading as a woman was divisive, I believed it.
I only spoke at events if no one else “better than me” was available. When I had to speak, I was incredibly nervous. I smiled as much as possible, so I seemed warm—afraid of coming off as too pushy or arrogant. I spent almost as much time messing with how I looked as I did preparing my notes. It felt more important (and honestly more doable) to be pretty enough (but not too pretty) than to be taken seriously.
I (mostly) only pushed for things if a man in authority over me had already approved it. When I was offered a chance to be commissioned as a pastor, I politely declined. I’m glad other women do that but too divisive for me, I thought. Not worth it. No, thanks.
All of the “be this, but not that” messages exhausted me. How I should dress to be well-received. How some “spunk” seemed appreciated but only as a novelty. How taking initiative was positive as long as it didn’t intimidate or make anyone else feel insecure.
Some strange cocktail of secular sexism and conservative Christian tradition had convinced me women should just be pretty and pleasant. So I stepped into that for a while. In a lot of ways, it was easier.
Thankfully God was not as easily quieted as I was.
God started showing me in all sorts of ways that He didn’t design me to live in dissonance. That He made me this way on purpose. That my wiring didn’t have to die to the religious confusion that has long weighed women down. Jesus died to set the world free—all of us, fully free.
I started learning the context of the verses that I’d always heard but never studied. I stopped dating guys who wanted the “pretty and pleasant” girl who’d follow them around. I met my husband who was primarily drawn to me because of my drive, not in spite of it.
I became deeply involved in a church so on-mission to change the world that my inner world-changer surfaced. When I began mentoring kids who needed someone to fight for them, I found the grit I had buried. I found mentors who called strength out of me and wouldn’t let me give up—who insisted on my healing and convinced me I didn’t have to play small.
Then I started coaching other women. I began to see how these misunderstandings from the Bible were deeply hurting women and marriages. Yes, those verses are there, but so are many others that wildly empower women, and we have to consider those too. When I gave birth to two daughters, I was so compelled to see them free, I found more freedom for myself while I was at it.
Here’s what I found:
From the beginning of time, God designed women with strength. Possibly the worst translation disaster of the Bible is when someone wrote “suitable helper” in Genesis 2:18 when God created Eve. Let’s be honest, that sounds like a secretary. Yeah, she’s “suitable” enough to help me.
Don’t get me wrong—there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being a secretary or having an identity based on helping. Helping at any level in any capacity is deeply noble, righteous, and it’s something we’re all called to do.
But that’s not what the original word (ezer kenegdo) meant.1
The vast majority of times that ezer appears are in reference to God, often when he is delivering his people. It’s a combination meaning “to rescue, to save” or “to be strong.” It has military connotations describing a warrior. It references help that comes from one who has power and strength to provide it. Ezer is a verb as well as a noun meaning “to defend, protect, surround and cherish.”
What became “suitable” or “fit” appears only once in the Bible. It means corresponding to, opposite, or parallel to. In later Hebrew, it means “equal.” God’s intention was for a woman to be a power or strength in every respect corresponding to man, his equal.
Now before you freak out—I’m not saying, girls rule the world; go be whoever you want, however you want, and never apologize for anything. In my journey to get free, I’ve swung from both extremes on the path to figuring out authentic maturity. I’ve felt shamed and quieted. Then in attempts to not be that anymore, I’ve overplayed my hand with too much control, intensity, and dominance. But as I’ve swung back and forth, God has reminded me again and again:
I don’t need to quiet who I am—I just need to mature in it.
There could be many other articles about how this applies to marriage, motherhood, femininity, leadership, submission, and more. I’m interested in those conversations, but this isn’t the article that goes verse by verse through all the relevant texts. I’ll recommend resources at the bottom that do though, and you should definitely check out.
For now, I just want to breathe some life into any woman who is wrestling with who she was made to be. However you’re wired, I want every woman to understand and believe that God designed us intentionally. I’m forever grateful to the women who revealed this to me.
If you’ve ever felt misunderstood, it’s true. You have been misunderstood. The idea that women can only help and never lead is an epic misunderstanding that has led to 50% of the population either quieting themselves or overcompensating by getting too loud. I’ve seen it create wedges and dissonance in marriages that I believe breaks God’s heart. We were made to be an equal warrior of strength and grace that stands eye-to-eye with men in healthy, mutually respected unity.
If you believe you have leadership in you, you probably do. You may or may not be a CEO, but there are probably places for you to lead. There are probably people who would benefit from you using your voice. Who need you to fully step into who you are with all the freedom and power of the God who made you.
If you’ve quieted yourself because something felt wrong, know that who you are is not wrong. You weren’t made by mistake. Mature in the gifts that were placed inside of you. No need to brag or prove yourself. Just become who you were made to be in all the health and fullness Jesus died to make possible for you. God designed you intentionally, and he will use you to change others’ minds where you are now or lead you to a place where people are ready for who you are.
If you live in fear of being called a b***h or you’ve made peace with the risk, I’m sorry. If you’re regularly wrestling with whether you’re submissive enough, let’s be clear: it is good to have a heart that desires to submit, but we’re all to mutually submit to each other (Ephesians 5:21). It’s exhausting and tainted to take your cues from changing culture or misunderstood tradition. Let God direct you instead. Check out women of the Bible who were honored by God for bold moves of courage and leadership like Abigail, Rahab, Deborah, Priscilla, Junia, and Phoebe.
If you’ve “received feedback” about being bossy, overly aggressive, or defensive, it might be true. You may have handled your gifts poorly at times. But maybe it’s because you’ve been bossed too aggressively. Maybe you’ve felt unseen or regularly offended. Becoming cold, controlling, “hard,” or distant is a natural response to hurt. There may be gender stereotypes or someone uncomfortable with female leadership. Or you may need to apologize and grow out of immature expressions of your gifts.
But even if it was your bad, you’re not bad. We all have rough spots as we navigate through this. It does not disqualify us. Let it just point us to the areas where we could use some healing. Then keep growing from an even healthier place with humble confidence.
Confession time: I haven’t figured this all out for myself yet. Part of why I wrote this article is to remind myself of the truths I still need to hear.
I’ve grown comfortable leading in certain settings, but not in others yet. Old fears sneak back in sometimes. I have to re-read God’s original design for me. I have to remind myself that I’m not defined by my gender or my successes or failures. I have to remember that I’m in the process of becoming like Jesus, and all I can do is let him use my life however he wants. Every time I do, I realize He wants more freedom for me than I even want for myself.
Whether you relate to my story or not, whether you consider yourself bold or gentle or both—you were intentionally designed. There is strength built into all of us.
We all reflect the nature of God in unique ways that can make the world better. Whatever yours look like, let them out in the world fully. If 50% of the world has been holding back even a little bit, imagine the beautiful, globe-covering change that could unfold if we all embraced the ezer kenegdo design within us and fully lived free.
Recommended Resources. For an overview of passages I did not cover in this article, check out:
- What The Bible Really Says About Women by Caleb Mathis (article)
- Men + Women Leading Together by Gravity Leadership (podcast)
If you’re ready to be an advocate for empowering female leaders, we recommend Developing Female Leaders: Navigate The Minefields and Release the Potential of Women In Your Church by Kadi Cole.
1 I first heard of the origin of ezer kenegdo from Jo Saxton. Be sure to check out her books (recommended at the bottom of the article) for more.