By Melissa Lee Emerson
When my pastor mentioned that he had just read and endorsed a manuscript about women and work, I naturally had to ask him to tell me more. I almost stopped listening after he told me that the title was A Woman’s Place, but I stomached the visceral reaction, asked for an extra dose of grace, and pre-ordered my copy from Amazon.
Thankfully, Katelyn Beaty writes in a posture that pauses Christian women to gently consider how they view their work.
Where our society dictates that a woman’s place is to struggle with a force majeure between motherhood or marketplace employment, Beaty invites 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.
The reason she can say that? Because God says it too.
Convinced that “most of us have inherited a flawed view of why women or men work at all, ” her book opens with the herald of Psalm 8:5-6, which reminds us that “we work in order to live into God’s purposes for all of us: to reign over all of creation as his image bearers and representatives on earth.” 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.
But because of the Fall, work on this side of the Garden is not what it was supposed to be. Narrowing in on our historical cultural context, Beaty paints the stark reality of how American history and its modernity has shaped the fragmented story of our work today: women encounter confusion and shame in conversations on calling; women still face discrimination and bias on numerous fronts; women face pressure to choose between careers and children; and some women even fight against a double barrier because of their gender and race.
This is not the way it is supposed to be, and Beaty continues through the four-chapter story of the Bible to remind men and women that the biblical story of work is told within the bookends of Scripture. The biblical story of work declares that every vocation is purposeful in God’s kingdom, including the diversity of vocations held by women. And if the church does not begin to address this, then the stories of “pain and frustration that arise when (women) find few outlets” to reign as workers for the Lord, will continue. Beaty implores the church to combat tainted paradigms of work and extend the biblical invitation to women to be fruitful in the various callings that God has called them to.
As a bi-vocational pastor, I have been caught in the undercurrent of these tainted paradigms. I have been told that because I am a woman, the gifts of pastoring and shepherding that God gave me should not and could not be deployed. I have faced the bias that because I am a woman, I make a great administrator in my events coordinator role. I have journeyed beside many sisters in ministry who are reprimanded for preaching and teaching. I have shouldered the burden with many other sisters who feel guilty for either staying home or choosing to work.
As I read Beaty’s book, I was pleasantly surprised that my reading was not accompanied by additional visceral reactions. And I was proud that my pastor had even read the book, much less endorsed it.
I too add my endorsement. It is no wonder that as more women are entering the workforce, as Beaty notes, “more are turning to mainstream culture to honor those ambitions and speak into their daily lives” in comparison to the church.
In both reading this book, reflecting on the pastoral ministry entrusted to me, and working as an events coordinator at Made to Flourish, I can personally testify that a biblical understanding of work is an absolute necessity for women to ingest and the church to proclaim.
At Made to Flourish, I hear about local churches across the nation who are taking great strides to impact our culture by embodying this understanding. I hear testimonies of congregants who are visited by their pastor at their workplaces and assured that their pastor truly does care about their life outside of church. I hear pastors share how offering a benediction that includes language about serving God at their workplaces as reawakened a sense of discipleship. I hear how pastors are learning vernacular specific to various occupations so that they could better engage with their congregants.
All of this is good. And all of this I desire for my sisters too. So male pastors, as your sister, I ask that you read this book to step into the stories and lives of the women in your congregation, and sisters — read this too. It’ll refresh your soul.
Reprinted from Made to Flourish by kind permission.
Thanks so much for this fine, insightful, and heart-felt review. It’s an important reflection and those of us who have been pushing Ms. Beaty’s great book are glad for Melissa Lee Emerson’s support. The review is very nicely put. I have to say, though, that I almost stopped reading when I saw the admission that the author ordered it casually from amazon. So odd, ordering a book about normative and just practices in the workplace from such a controversial place, legendary for their greed and bullying of publishers, their anti-women porno, their skewing of the marketplace, their abuse of workers, many woman, of course. They obviously do not care about this book or this topic and there are women-owned and/or ethical indie booksellers who have staked their lives on trying to promote this kind of Kingdom stuff. So it felt really odd, hurtful, even, that the writer – who works for a ministry promoting flourishing — felt like that was an okay thing to admit publicly and that the editors didn’t feel they should edit that out. Complicity in structural injustice shouldn’t get a pass, especially in The Green Room. Insofar as we are working to reform the workplaces and marketplaces or our fallen world, we simply have to reform our own shopping habits and economic choices. Still, kudos for this otherwise beautiful and important piece. I only wish I could share it.
Byron, this is Jennifer, and I would have replied sooner to this comment, but was sick this weekend. Since I had to choose between reprinting the piece in its entirety from MTF or not reprinting it at all, I chose the former because everything else it says is, as you say, incredibly important. I cannot speak for the MTF editors. I know that I frequently respond to comments by saying “Write a post about that!” but I mean it: a post on why the faith and work movement shouldn’t support Amazon would be very welcome.