Voices Break Silence.

Whispering. Roaring. Unwavering.

Use Your “Outside” Voice

As I’ve been writing these posts about the Help[H]er book and resources, and the potential danger associated with a particular type of woman-to-woman caregiving ministry, I’ve discovered I have lots of new friends. Many women have made contact and shared how my situation so closely mirrors what happened to them. When I hear their stories, I’m struck by how closely the patterns relate. In particular, Joy recently wrote regarding her experience as a volunteer, unpaid (and subsequently largely devalued) women’s ministry director.

When I read the words “unpaid staff” in her post, a flurry of memories came rushing back. I’ve been “volunteering” for churches since I was 28 (which, if you know the number of my birthday next week, was a reeeeeallllly looonnng time ago). Throughout those (many) years, my passion for ministry and caregiving for women propelled me to persevere regardless of a lack of compensation. Like Joy, I too was privileged not to need the income (thanks to my husband’s salary) and I was also content to, “Simply give my time and talent to the community[s] I loved.”

I think the shift in my thinking happened when I started seminary. I pursued education fully expecting that an MDiv degree would warrant a more official (read, “compensated,” “valued,” “recognized authority”) position. Imagine my surprise when my husband (MACC) was hired at one of the largest churches in our denomination and I was not. Our then Senior Associate Pastor took my husband and I to lunch one day and painted a picture for me of a tag along position, one similar to another senior staff pastor’s wife (one who didn’t have an MDiv, by the way). I thought, heck. I didn’t just persevere through full-time seminary (to the tune of $45,000[1]) so that I could (re)assume the position of a volunteer. One of our elders,[2] when he found out I wouldn’t be on staff, mused, “Sure, we can recarpet the sanctuary, but we can’t hire a female counselor.”

If one of the largest congregations in the PCA won’t hire a female MDiv,[3] who will?

I’ve said this before, but I think I need to keep saying it. My purpose in sharing these stories is not to complain. Each week, as I write, I wrestle. Hitting the “publish” button is a retraumatizing experience. It’s only after I’ve heard from readers that they are thankful I’m writing, and how my words are helping them form theirs, that I’m able to relax and take a deep breath. God has been blessing me with His words from Lamentations, providing language and insight to my circumstances. But He’s also giving me permission…permission to voice what happened. My speech doesn’t need to be winsome; my communication doesn’t need to be all cleaned up and pretty. God inspires Scripture’s authors to write authentic language steeped in raw emotion. It’s ok if we communicate our stories similarly.

But lament is not where I want to remain.

On the Safe to Hope podcast I tell our audience, “We help women see God’s redemptive thread throughout their circumstances, and then look for opportunities to join with Him in His transforming work.” I recently realized I’d done the difficult work of grieving many of the losses in my situation and was now looking for opportunities to steward my story well. But Bob helped me recognize I’d missed a step; I had forgotten to look for God’s redemption.

I hate when people use MY words back at me.

So where was God in our situation? Well, despite our pastor’s summary to our elders that my husband was in a “difficult position,” wanting “to support his wife,” but not “fully agreeing with [my] perspective,” Bob’s take on God’s intervention was that He rescued us. I agree.

Easily, one of the most significant things I feel God liberated was my voice. I didn’t realize how silent I’d become until those fateful last days while removing my membership. My husband and I were in sync regarding my speaking publicly, about writing or communicating my thoughts whether or not our leadership agreed.[4] The church was not. I previously mentioned that the Executive Leadership Team declined our request that I share with our session an impact statement and the reasons we could no longer worship with them. So, in order to have the privilege of speaking for myself, I sent my documents directly to the clerk and requested they be distributed to the elders.

Here’s where things get icky.

Those documents were, in fact, distributed; although, scooped right back up before the men were dismissed from executive session.[5] The clerk took great pride in informing me they “did as I requested.”

Sort of.

What I didn’t ask, however, was for the senior pastor to read my words from his mouth and then have our community pastor provide a running commentary as to what he thought should have been said instead.[6]

I wasn’t simply silenced in that meeting. My words were confiscated. Then regurgitated. Finally, in the end, leadership performed the ultimate act of dehumanization [7] by completely dismissing my words as inaccurate and replaced them with their own.

Your voice as a victim/survivor and/or woman caregiver in the church may not have been as dishonorably silenced in such a public way (although, I hear it happens far too often). However, I can assure you that the role theory laden complementarian environment we live and breathe in has contributed to the silencing of the lambs from its inception. For instance, have you ever found yourself in any of these scenarios?

You hear things said in a meeting you have questions about but doubt you have permission to speak up.

You hear things said in a meeting and you voice your questions, but you’re called out for an “insubmissive” attitude (or not “having all the necessary information”).

You have opinions during discussion of a process and your voice is “heard,” however the subject is immediately changed and the conversation moves on.

You are more educated (generally, or on a particular subject) than the men in the room but, when they’re taken aback by your boldness, you apologize (fawn, appease).

You measure every single word in mixed gender situations.

You’ve been instructed not to speak authoritatively.

You’ve been instructed to speak more winsomely.

When a man takes charge, he’s applauded for his leadership gifts but when you do, you’re called pushy, aggressive, or direct.

You hold back from joining the conversation until all the men have spoken.

You tend to never disagree in a room full of men.

We’ve had a difficult time at Help[H]er finding women who are confident enough to speak boldly into situations that involve men (specifically, in the church). Women have been conditioned to esteem the male voice to an unhealthy (might I add, unbiblical?) position. So much so that, even if we were to recover vibrant participation with our voices in conversations at every level in Christ’s body, there would still be those spaces wherein only a man can speak in order to achieve results. It reminds me of the voice my hubs and I chose on our vehicle GPS. I wanted the woman with the English accent, but when she directed our course, my husband consistently rerouted another way. We joked he’d only listen to a male voice tell him which way to go.[8]

May I share some encouragement? Can I inspire you to flex your voice in a wider variety of situations?

Please know, your story matters. Your experience matters. Your perspective matters. You belong at the table using your voice because God created you for relationship—with Him, primarily—but also with, “the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grow[ing] and build[ing] itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (emphasis mine, Eph. 4:16)

Show up in male spaces. Go to church leadership meetings. You don’t necessarily need to talk (at first), simply gain greater understanding of what happens during the “business” gatherings of the church. [9] This was such a helpful podcast for folks in the PCA. Do whatever you can to learn how decisions are made in your denomination. I guarantee this will help boost your confidence for when it’s appropriate to speak up.

Don’t cower when even the women in your circles silence your voice.[10] The allure of power can be irresistible. Women intuitively recognize men have it, so some will saddle up and ride shotgun just in case a portion of that power rubs off and they can participate in the control of others. Make no mistake, this is as abusive as any violence committed (physical, mental, spiritual) by a male authority structure. Power is a gift from God to be used for good; protecting, blessing, healing, encouraging, flourishing (yourself and others). Sometimes “good” means refusing to participate in systems that use power for their own benefit. Call them out, men and women.

This need not be done maliciously. Simply dominating dominators perpetuates an abusive culture. Instead, think in terms of not “backing down” by slinking off and ignoring what happened. Engage. Speak up. Seek perspective, advocate for yourself (or others), signal flexibility to hear, but then also state the obvious (the wrong done), confront moral superiority, appeal to common sense/moral responsibility/the calling as Christians to imitate Christ and have His same mind. Jesus demonstrates this when he confronts the church leaders in his day. He did not taper his anger (“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”), avoid criticism (of even his own disciples! “Are you dull?”), resist generalities (“And you do many things like that.”), or make sure he shared “the positives” prior to calling out their faults (ideas derived from Mark 7).

“If Christ had practiced the kind of love we advocate nowadays, he would have lived to a Ripe Old Age.” Dan Allender, Bold Love.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my previous life working in (typically) female led professions (hairstyling and interior design). Of course, I faced off to both men and women in those industries, [11] but what’s striking is I don’t remember ever measuring what I said—despite my livelihood being dependent on those interactions! I was direct, succinct, confident about my expertise, and not shy of sharing it. No one seemed offended in those conversations. I was never challenged to be more “winsome.” Somehow, when we (women) enter into the church’s doors, we’re expected to temper everything we say with some unwritten code of piety and deference to a fragile audience.

I’m wondering. What would it look like if we started using our “outside voice” inside church walls instead? I’m curious whether we’d encourage a different atmosphere in church culture, one where we’d be more confident to speak up when feeling threatened or coerced, voice concerns about decisions made that impact our well-being, [12] report abuse, call out misogyny, and assertively express our opinions? What if, as my daughters say to their young children when they’re struggling with communication, women would…

Use your words?

  1. Close to $100,000 once my DMin was finished.
  2. Sadly, one who ultimately did not stand up on my behalf.
  3. Which, even as I sit here and write those words, makes me shake my head in disbelief. The irony that a church who wouldn’t consider me for a staff position would then try to assume authority over best practices in the parachurch ministry I founded. It baffles beyond comprehension.
  4. Back to more bizarro. In one of the last meetings with our community pastor he mentioned he disagreed with a post I had written with Dr. Nate Brooks for the Biblical Counseling Coalition. He asked why I didn’t want “my pastors” to read my materials prior to public release. Now, mind you, that post was based on a paper I had written for my DMin and approved (in fact, praised) by a PhD candidate professor. It was written with my colleague, a PhD. And it was approved by the PhD who oversees the BCC. But somehow, I also need the approval of CCC staff before publishing.
  5. Thou shalt not keep any evidence.
  6. God actually has something to say about this.To deprive a man of justice
    In the presence of the Most High,
    To defraud someone in his lawsuit—
    Of these things the Lord does not approve
    . (Lam. 3:35-36)

    My “lawsuit,” accusing the church of an inappropriate response to an illegitimate out of order complaint, was an indictment of their unjust “shepherding.” Their response, depriving me from using my voice, perverting my words, and framing my intentions in a negative light, God says, of these things He does not approve.

  7. In Scripture, idols are contrasted with the One, True, Living God who breathes speaks, sees, and hears. To be fully human as a creature made in His image is to also breath, SPEAK, see, and hear.
  8. It’s a joke. Bob listens to women’s voices.
  9. Carefully. Keep your antenna up. See Kimrey Dillon’s, Female Seminarian’s Substack for helpful suggestions while occupying male dominant spaces.
  10. I previously wrote about the female colleagues men used to silence my voice, particularly in social media groups. Recently, I discovered yet another group of women swiftly deleted posts by myself and others who had highlighted a Help[H]er resource. The narrative these women choose to believe so significantly impacts the need to silence me that they are willing to censor materials for an entire denomination of women. Ask yourself, are you ok with a group of women (anyone?) telling you what you can or can’t read or hear? We all have the Holy Spirit and we each individually will give an account. Decide for yourself, this day…
  11. There are those who would suggest even these industries should have parameters regarding a woman’s authoritative voice…“What are the boundaries then?” DeYoung, Men and Women in the Church, 95…“Second, if complementarianism can be thick or thin, broad or narrow, then my perspective lands on the broad or thick side of the spectrum.” DeYoung,“Four Clarifying Thoughts.”

“‘Narrow Complementarianism” teaches that headship applies narrowly to ordination and to marriage. ‘Broad Complementarianism’ teaches that headship reflects a comprehensive set of differences between male and female that have broad implications for our lives together in the church, in the home, and in society at large.’” Denny Burk, Can Broad and Narrow Complementarians Coexist in the SBC? (2019 June 3) Denny Burk https://www.dennyburk.com/can-broad-andnarrow-complementarians-coexist-in-the-sbc/

Concerns like, common sense safety for at risk individuals are background checks for clergy!

New Releases
More Voices

It happened again. Only this time, Maggie had barely two hours to get herself and the kids ready. She ran through the house moving quickly from room to room. She...

What Women Wish Church Leaders Knew About Domestic Abuse and the Victims (part 2) By the time I got involved in Lisa’s case, she had left her husband seven times....

Missy slammed her fist on the counter. Tears slid down her cheeks. “What in the world are they thinking?” she yelled out loud. No one else was in the apartment,...

Site Navigation
Need a Book?

Please consider purchasing from our Reading Room. We are pleased to utilize Amazon affiliate links. Every purchase made through these links directly supports Help[H]er.

Looking Forward
  • Swag Shop of branded goodies
  • Remember my Affliction Advent devotional
  • Theology of Story II course
  • Remember Bible Study
  • Documenting resource for counselors