by Nicole Phillips
In the parable of the talents, Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms that God gives us individual talents and that he is glorified when we grow those talents. But what if we, as members of the church, are stopping others from using their talents to serve the Lord and his people? As a 20-something woman who has been a Christian since childhood, I remember as a girl being told repeatedly to memorize the verse, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phillipians 4:13) But as I grew, I became frustrated when, regardless of the talents I had, I realized that most of the church members who used to encourage me when I was young really seemed to mean that, at least inside of the church, I could do all things and use the gifts God gave me as long as that meant that I served in childcare, on the hospitality team, or in assisting a male church member in his ministry.
While it is possible that maybe only a handful of churches in the Western world would openly preach that woman should only serve within those three ministry opportunities, unfortunately a great deal of churches live out that message in practice. Although the results may be unintentional, they are devastating. I have found that many of my female friends who have careers in fields that are more traditionally associated with men (like the fields of business, politics, engineering, math, and science) are not just feeling frustrated, but are in many cases leaving the church because they don’t feel that the things they do best and care about are valued in the church. While I would describe many of them as self-sacrificing and nurturing, over the years, these women have been worn down as they have read between the lines and started to feel that the church not only does not accept them, but it does not want them for who they are.
So what are we to do to combat women from feeling this way? The source for a new model may surprise you.
GoldieBlox is a toy company that makes toys specifically for little girls to explore interests beyond those typically assigned to their gender by providing them with play sets that encourage them to use problem solving and creative thinking skills the way most “boys’ toys” already do. In the first-ever small business Super Bowl ad, millions of viewers watched in 2014 as dozens of little girls worked together to gather their traditional toys (baby dolls, Easy Bake Ovens, castles, pastel bikes, pink laundry machines, strollers, stuffed animals, and pageant crowns) so that they could build a rocket ship. A chorus of girls sang out in unison (to the tune of Quiet Riot’s “Come on Feel the Noize”), “Come on get your toys, girls make some noise, more than pink, pink, pink, we want to think! Gonna build, gonna grow our minds, let tell you, honey! Right now is our time! … So come on bring the toys, gonna build like all the boys, time to fly, fly, fly!” As a young female voice announces, “GoldieBlox, toys for future innovators,” three girls use GoldieBlox brand toys to launch the rocket and all of the girls shriek with delight over their accomplishment.
The toy company’s CEO Debbie Sterling, who originally launched the idea for the toys on Kickstarter, stated in an article for Forbes that, “Girls are inundated with princesses, pop stars and decorating kits. Meanwhile, boys are surrounded with math and science games, construction toys, puzzles and brainteasers. These toys develop spatial skills and get boys interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) at an early age. Girls are missing out. I decided I would put my engineering degree to use by designing a construction toy for girls.” In her Kickstarter video where she worked to gain funding for GoldieBlox, Sterling urged parents, “As much as she likes dress up and princess stuff (don’t get me wrong, I like that stuff, too) there is so much more to her than that. She can explore every opportunity to become anything she wants when she grows up [because] any girl you know is so much more than just a princess.”
It turns out that Sterling’s strategy for allowing girls the opportunity to grow in more gender neutral skills may also be the key to preventing many women from feeling alienated in the church in three significant ways.
First, GoldieBlox asks parents, and other gift givers, to challenge their perception of how little girls “should” be and encourages them to realize that they may have abilities in addition to and beyond those that are traditionally associated with their gender. Likewise, many girls and women could benefit from the church recognizing that by limiting opportunities both to minister and to be ministered to based on gender, we may be doing them, and the church as a whole, a huge disservice. Instead, we should challenge ourselves to constantly consider and separate out what might be a God given talent from what we choose to foster and hinder in our youth based on our culture’s ideas about gender.
Next, GoldieBlox provides a role model for girls. As anyone who has spent even an afternoon with a child can tell you, kids learn by watching and emulating behaviors. The toy company realizes that many little girls look up to Barbie and other hypersexualized characters and dolls, but might not have someone to identify with who is who is valued beyond her care taking skills or looks. To combat this, Goldie, the company’s mascot and main character, is a bright young woman who loves solving problems and invites little girls to join her. Similarly, in the church we need to consider the disconnect that happens when we champion little girls, but then fail to provide them with female role models in leadership roles in ministry. Therefore, if we truly want for our next generation of girls to have the opportunity to discover their God-given skills within the church, we need to let them watch a grown-up woman not only work in the church, but be listened to and supported by other members so that they feel safe in leading as well.
Finally, GoldieBlox provides a tangible way for girls to explore activities that have previously been available primarily to boys. Within our churches, we need to consider and possibly re-evaluate practices that create gender barriers and cause women to disengage from ministry, whether as teachers, leaders, or participants. What that looks like for each church may vary, but whether it’s expanding topics of Bible studies beyond the home, allowing women to lead in church services, or even just finding ways to give equal value to the female voices and experiences, it should be an ongoing conversation for each church to find ways to actively create opportunities for women of all ages to be included and involved.
Because God has entrusted talents to every individual and the body of Christ is made up of many individuals, we owe it to each member to create an environment where they have the opportunity to multiply those talents for his glory. By taking these first few steps, I believe that we would not only benefit individual women, but that the entire church would benefit and grow. Expanding what is acceptable for girls and women to do in the church is not teaching them that there is something wrong with women in children’s ministry or using domestic and more traditionally feminine skills. Instead, by expanding the opportunities for girls to serve and learn in the church, we are not condemning traditional roles, but rather submitting to the reality that God’s plan is likely much greater than any cultural norm that we could create.
Nicole Phillips lives in Nashville, Tenn. with her husband J.L., where she teaches writing at a local Christian university and writes for various local websites. She blogs at www.maybeimamazed.com and Tweets @maybeimamazed.
by Nicole Phillips