by Alison Haupt
In my life, as a woman, I have played many different roles. I have been a follower, a leader, a daughter, a mother, a mentor, a wife, a campus minister, a campus ministry director, a chair of a board, a homeschool mom, a children’s ministry director, and many other things.
Gender roles, specifically the role of women, is a complicated topic, to say the least. For most of human history the roles that women could play have been very limited and in most places they still are. In the Western World we live in a different reality where women are allowed to participate in many different places in society (at least to some extent). This reality obviously creates a lot of freedom, but also can create confusion with women uncertain of what to choose. Do I stay home with my kids or pursue my career? Do I take a role within a predominantly male company or organization knowing the barriers I will face there? Added to these secular realities is the truth about the roles that women should play as the church perceives them, which, although changing are still largely traditional.
Christian women, therefore, find themselves in a unique position. Seeing the outside world and the way it has opened up for women, while looking at the evangelical church that is still more conservative and traditional — in the way it sees and affirms women’s roles in society and in the home. Obviously this is a gross generalization of the church which is a very diverse entity, but I believe it is true in a large enough sense to have a strong impact on women today and add some to the confusion about where we fit and what choices we should make.
As a woman living as a follower of Jesus, I have found myself in many different roles. After graduating from college, I began full time work with InterVarsity doing campus ministry as a single woman. I was planting a ministry at a college campus as the primary leader for a community of both men and women. I then continued to do work with InterVarsity after getting married and worked alongside my husband planting a ministry at another campus. A year later, I had our first child and continued to do work on campus with a baby. I would bring him with me to campus as I met students and working on teachings during his naptimes and after bedtime. After that, the need arose for an area director to lead the ministry in the Tampa Bay area on multiple campuses. I said yes to serve in this role which I continued in while adding another child to our family. In this role I served as a leader over a team of both men and women, leading ministry on campuses which included my own husband. After two years of that, I stepped back and took a role as a team leader on a campus. Then felt a call to step back from InterVarsity as I prepared to welcome a third baby into our family. I took a role leading the children’s ministry in our church community after leaving InterVarsity which gave me the chance to still invest and care for others while including my children more. My husband has continued to work with InterVarsity. I find myself these days in much more traditional roles as I still continue to lead the children’s ministry and work to partner alongside my husband and support him in the work he is doing while taking on the majority of the domestic responsibilities of our family as a way to serve.
On the outside it may look like I have sold out to traditional gender roles as I have aged and had a family. That once upon a time I was a radical woman leading both men and women in true 21st century fashion and now I have reverted to living as a 1950’s housewife. Through time I have seen the greater truth in all this, but it has come with much struggle.
With the birth of my first child, I ended up questioning so much of who I really was. As a single woman and even as a married woman without children, I was able to be a part of so many things and see my life used by Jesus in so many ways in ministry. As I accepted the gift of motherhood with it came so much change that was hard for me. Learning to come to peace with the amount of time that I could give to ministry outside of my own family was very hard for me. Still wanting to be a part of everything and play all the roles I had before, but learning to be ok with saying no and accepting the things I was able to be a part of. The deeper work in me was learning to find my identity simply in Jesus and not in the things I was able to do for him. This journey has been harder than I would like to admit, but in it I have found such joy and contentment learning to simply feel Jesus’ love towards me even when I can’t be a part of as many things I want to. I’m learning to see the fullness of his kingdom work which is not limited to my family, but certainly includes it.
Over time, my life has taken on more traditional gender roles, but I don’t feel defined by those roles the same way I have learned not to be defined by the more “progressive” roles I once played. In the end what defines me is Jesus and saying yes to him in the different seasons I find myself in. This is the fight I believe we, as women, find ourselves in when it comes to gender roles. We have to work so hard to silence the voices of the secular world, the church, our own families, and ourselves to be able to hear from Jesus about what we should say yes to in different seasons. We learn to say yes to serve whatever that looks like and not feel like we are a sell-out or a radical by anyone’s standards.
One gift that history grants us, as women , is the role of a servant. Throughout history, I believe that women have served in so many unseen and seen ways. As followers of Jesus we have to continue to walk in that legacy knowing that it is better to serve than to be served. For us to be willing to play whatever roles are before us, whether they feel mundane or revolutionary — both have kingdom value.
In the end, we have to fight to see past the gender roles and listen to Jesus on what he may be asking us to do in different times and for different seasons. May we continue to rise above the confines that our society’s gender roles place on our lives and instead seek to live as servants seeking the kingdom of God wherever we find ourselves. As women have done for so many generations regardless of the roles that they could or could not play. Women are leaders and servants everywhere they are found, in every role they play, may our generation continue to do the same.