Women and Work: Overlooked in our Congregations?

A look at our “diverse perspectives” core value would not be complete without asking our pastors to consider the question, since more than half of our congregations are women, how are we pastors supporting them and their work?

Sadly, the question is vital because research paints a dismal picture. In 2015, Barna released a study that reported 17% of women feel “very supported” at their church. With increasing tensions between what they would like to do and what they actually have time for, 72% of women feel stressed out, 58% are tired, and 48% say they are overcommitted. Moms with children at home report even higher percentages. Yet the findings also reveal that even though only 5% of women chose church as their highest commitment, it is also the area that women most desire to improve. Barna suggests this indicates that “many women find their desires for church engagement to be at odds with the constraints of their everyday realities.”

What is behind this data?

Could it be that we as pastors have neglected to affirm the work women do? Could it be that we as pastors avoid entering the hard conversation between women who work at home and women who work in the marketplace?

Thankfully, female voices are rising in the faith and work movement. To help us get our bearings, Courtney Reissig does a marvelous job tracing the roots of today’s “mommy-wars” in her recently published book Glory in the Ordinary: Why Your Work in the Home Matters to God.

In America’s pre-Industrial Revolution agrarian society, everyone did at-home work, including children. Because of the Industrial Revolution, productivity was shifted from the home to the marketplace and factories, and by the 1950s, a single-income family with a house-wife was a status symbol. The home shifted from a place of productivity to one of personal identity. By the 1980s, The Feminine Mystique author Betty Friedan’s call to freedom launched an unexpected war between women – the mommy wars. In 1990, Newsweek chronicled the shift from women fighting men in the 1970s with the women’s movement, to mothers fighting mothers in the late 80s and 90s. At the time, 56% of mothers worked outside the home, while 44% were stay-at-home moms. In a near 50-50 split, the mommy wars were a full-on battle.

And there’s still been no cease-fire. The truth is, moms are tired. Moms are weary of the pressure to live up to expectations and ideals that no human being could ever attain. Either we hear that our work at home is the pinnacle of greatness (leaving the woman who works outside the home feeling inferior) or we hear that we are letting down women everywhere by staying home instead of taking advantage of the strides women have made in the workplace (leaving the mother who stays at home feeling inferior).

Knowing this history better equips us to offer a theology of work for women today. In our earlier review of A Woman’s Place: A Christian Vision for Your Calling in the Office, the Home, and the World (2016), we applauded Katelyn Beaty for inviting women of all callings and vocations — whether it be in the home, office, church, as a single woman, married, mother or not — into a conversation grounded in the resounding good news that women can find joy and purpose in every vocation. Because we bear the image of a God who works and were commissioned to work alongside him in the garden, we are still commissioned to work with him to advance his Kingdom shalom in and through our various vocations.

To further bring this theology of work for at-home work, Reissig adds,

If we are going to recover a theology of at-home work…we have to further explore two key ways that we misunderstand work: “work must be paid to be meaningful,” and “work must accomplish something great to be meaningful.” The work of the home is not always in the spectacular…but it is always for the world. If work is a means of loving God by loving your neighbor, then every act of faithful work that you do is accomplishing just that.

Your work, whatever it is, is the site of God’s faithfulness. Our goal is not to find a new purpose for our work, but to recognize that the work we are already called to, the work that is right in front of us, is God’s good means of spreading his glory throughout the world. You are his image bearer, tasked with loving his fellow image bearers through the ordinary, faithful work that greets you every morning. This is for the good of the world.

The theology of men and women as image-bearers is not new as Genesis 1:27 reminds us that “male and female He created them”. But perhaps Beaty and Reissig have offered us a different lens to see this theology a bit more as God intended…a bit more holistically.

So again, since more than half of our congregations are women, how are YOU supporting them and their work? 

 

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