For about ten years, my husband served on the elder board of a local church. After every meeting, he would describe to me some of the items discussed and decisions made. Almost every time, I would think of something the all-male board had not considered. “Did you check with the deacon of children’s ministry first?” I would ask. “Aww, no! We didn’t think of that,” was the reply. It became apparent over and over again that the thoughts, ideas and solutions of the women were absent and the church missed something as a result.
After God created the first man, he said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18 NIV). In his wisdom, God knew that the job of ruling and subduing the earth (Genesis 1:28) was so big, so dangerous and so complex that men would need help. Not help with cooking, cleaning and laundry, but rather extra hands to labor, an additional mind to problem solve, and an ally-warrior to battle the enemy. And for this help, God created a woman—one like the man but also unlike him. God’s solution for man’s aloneness was ezer kenegdo, a suitable helper.
Author and speaker Carolyn Custis James calls this unique partnership the blessed alliance: two image bearers—male and female—joining forces to advance God’s kingdom on earth. James suggests that we see this illustrated in unions such as Deborah and Barack, Priscilla and Aquila, Ruth and Boaz, and Mary and Joseph.
He [Boaz] becomes her advocate—a staunch ally for the vital mission God has given her. Instead of stifling Ruth by insisting that things stay the way they are and making sure he maintains his superior rank and leadership over her, Boaz becomes the wind beneath her wings. He doesn’t simply permit what she proposes. He embraces God’s call on her life and promotes her efforts, at increasingly great cost to himself.Carolyn Custis James, The Gospel of Ruth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 188-189.
Joseph, too, willingly forgoes his own plans and accepts the misunderstanding of others in order to marry a woman pregnant with a baby not his own so that she might fulfill the commission God gave to her. Together they carry out the greatest mission of all time—ushering the Savior of humankind into the world. (See chapters 19 and 25 in Favored, Blessed, Pierced: A Fresh Look at Mary of Nazareth for more on this.)
I have experienced two of these kinds of alliances. Over the years, my husband and I have become a formidable team. We recognize each other’s strengths and so push each other forward when it best suits the situation. I love studying and teaching God’s word. He knows how to listen, empathize and ask the perfect question. I defer to his wisdom in dealing with people and difficult situations. He pushes against traditional roles to encourage me to use my gifts and open avenues for me. For example, whenever he is asked to give a devotional or teach, he responds with, “I’ll do it if Eva can play a part.” Thus, we serve together.
My former pastor (I’ll call him PT) and I also formed a blessed alliance. PT recognized my gifts before I did. He affirmed that I could teach and encouraged me to “go for it.” When members of the congregation fussed about my roles, he defended me. By giving his approval, he opened doors for me to teach in arenas formerly off limits to a woman. He challenged me to study Scripture and expand my view. I, in turn, helped him in practical ways on the church staff. I listened and suggested how he might carry out to his ideas and vision. I helped him problem solve. I defended him when people complained. I tried to make him look good.
Christian men and women must be allied together. James warns us of the consequences if we are not:
When male/female relationships in the church are uneasy and distrustful, when we splinter, divide, and cautiously hold one another at arm’s length, we are sending false messages to the world of what God is like. When men are called to full-fledged kingdom living but the other half of the church is asked to sit on the sidelines, there is no Blessed Alliance, the bride of Christ limps, and we misrepresent God’s oneness.Half the Church, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 139-140)
Conversely when we function as a true blessed alliance, she says, “richer discussions result in better decisions, the elimination of blind spots, and a greater kingdom force in the world.” (Half the Church, 149)
Research confirms this concept in the corporate world as well. When at least 20% of the voices at the table are women, a company begins to change and flourish. “Studies show that when corporate boards reach critical mass, companies become more efficient, make more money and have to restate earnings less frequently.” (What Happens When Women Reach a Critical Mass of Influence)
This isn’t about men or women doing things better than the other. This isn’t about taking away responsibilities or opportunities from each other. We cannot say we don’t need the women or we don’t need the men. This is about men and women standing side by side as allies in battle for God’s kingdom, rather than facing each other, battling each other. This is the blessed alliance.
In what ways can the body of Christ fight better when it has the participation of both men and women?
Have you ever witnessed a man and a woman working together in a way that truly built up the kingdom of God? What was it like?
In what ways is your mission strengthened by inviting women to work alongside men?
Father God, thank you for creating men and women—same, yet different. In your wisdom, you knew that we needed each other. Teach me more about how to work with my brothers to advance your kingdom. Open more doors for my sisters to serve in the arenas best suited for their gifts. Break down the barriers of competition and patriarchy. Create unity and oneness in your Body, the church.