I remember the first time I realized girls could be really mean. Not pull your hair, steal your doll or cut in line at the monkey bars mean, but deep to the bone conniving, manipulative, cutthroat mean. The kind of mean your mom is talking about when she gives the speech, "you can be beautiful on the outside but it doesn't matter if you're ugly on the inside" mean.
Then I remember the first time I realized Christian girls could be even worse. Not steal your boyfriend, tell your mom you snuck out of the house, or the girl who bought the same prom dress and looks better in it kind of mean. That was child's play; some of my church girlfriends in youth group made my non Christian public school girlfriends look like amatuers.
Throughout most of adolescence I was faced with a choice. Would I be a victim of the mean girls or would I join them? Too many times I found myself joining in their antics to avoid becoming a target. When I became their target, I learned how to pretend the arrows didn't hurt, but with each hit I learned who I didn't want to become and that words really can break us down.
Now, before you go feeling sorry for me or start forwarding this on to every mean girl who ever made your cry, stop pointing your finger and look at the three fingers pointing back at you.
We have all been mean girls.
We have all been mean girls in ministry. We've done the very things to others that once hurt us and we've done it to survive, to thrive in hopes we'd come out alive on the other side. When we're young it's part of growing up and the growing pains that come with learning conflict resolution, communication and social norms. We figure out how not to speak to someone, how to seek reconciliation and how to regulate our emotions in various situations. While it's never okay to be mean to anyone, there is a lack of self-awareness as a child that in hindsight makes us cringe with disbelief that we actually behaved a certain way out of ignorance.
As adults, we know better. We just don't always do better.
Over the past few months I've had the opportunity to talk with women serving in churches and ministries and we all agree on one thing: it's extremely exciting to watch women be welcomed into roles that allow them to unapologetically use their gifts for the Kingdom! We also have to acknowledge that as more and more women begin stepping into larger roles it means we must learn how to lead one another and submit to one another in ways that honor God and His Church.
We had to confess we're not always good at leading one another in truth, humility and love and we're even worse at submitting to one another with a trusting and willing heart. Some of us have a little PTSD when it comes to strong females in leadership roles. Some of us are straight up rebellious and don't want another woman speaking into our lives. Some of us are only satisfied if we're the one leading and many have never had to be led by another woman.
Then we had to ask the question...How can we expect men to respect us and our positions within the local church if we can't respect one another? How can we expect our brothers to know how to treat us when we are incapable of demonstrating with one another the very things we are demanding?
Driven by competition and comparison we easily regress to the high school versions of ourselves. We become the cheerleader who has to be at the top of the pyramid, the brainiac who has to get the highest score, the athlete who has to make the final shot, the popular one who has to have the most followers, the comedian who has to have the last laugh...the bully who tries to make everyone afraid. We get our tribe together and whisper and giggle, point and eye roll our way into making ourselves feel, once again, validated in a world we often feel has forgotten us.
And the Church suffers as we play our little games.
Women, enough is enough.
If it's true that most of our disagreements and misunderstandings come from a place of insecurity and past hurts that have caused us to lead and/or be led out of offense where do we even begin?
"Raise your hand if you've ever felt personally victimized by...." Fill in the blank.
Every single one of us has been hurt or deeply wounded by another sister. But it's not an excuse to become a mean girl.
We can't fight for equality and hashtag #girlpower on all our photos and use Deborah and Esther as our "girls in ministry" mascots then kill one another once we get onto the battlefield because we're afraid someone is going to get more attention than us.
We can't demand our brothers respect us and expect them to let us lead them anywhere when we use them as sounding boards and filters to "verbally process" our feelings towards another woman in leadership.
If we want to have influence, if we want to be heard, if we want to be examples to our daughters of how women can lead well we have to be aware of our own kryptonite. We have to know what can kill us, individually and as women serving together in ministry.
Women, here's a few things the enemy will use to take us down...
1) SUSPICION and ACCUSATION: We have to stop calling every woman who doesn't agree with us, "Jezebel". This is a pretty heavy accusation and if you've ever actually encountered the Jezebel Spirit you know it's ugly and perverted. As women we all have a desire to control something, heck sometimes everything, but that doesn't mean we're Jezebel. Not every woman is after you, trying to be you or trying to remove you. If there is a woman doing this, we have to believe she will be removed in God's timing from the situation. Jezebel is described as, "A strong adversary, an inhuman wretch, incapable of pity, void and empty from every drachm of pity." This is a pretty harsh accusation towards another sister. While we can admit we've had control issues or encountered someone else who has tried to influence us with their spirit of control, a true Jezebel spirit it vial and perverse. 1 King 16:31, 18:4-19, 2 Kings 9
2) DEFAMATION: We need to stop using spiritual lingo to mask gossip. If we're talking about someone in a negative way who isn't in the room to defend themselves and we're discussing this person with someone who cannot change our situation, it's gossip. Straight up. I want to be a woman and a sister who is trustworthy! I want to surround myself with women and sisters who will do the same.
"A gossip betrays confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret." Proverbs 11:18
We have to stop listening to women gossip about other women. Shut it down. Establish boundaries. Matthew 18 them all day long, challenge them to take their offense to the person they are talking about.
3) UNHEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS:We need to establish healthy boundaries in the relationships we have with the men we work with in ministry. We need to stop making them out to be male versions of Christian "sisters" who should be willing to entertain our gossip, emotions and personal issues. They aren't our husbands. They aren't our counselors. They aren't our pastors. These men are our peers who we get to serve with every week but they don't have a responsibility to promote, validate or defend us as women. For married women, it's our husbands job to do these things as well as other female mentors we have put in place. For single women, these men are possibly someone else's husband and if not, they are single men walking out their role in the church as a mentor and pastor to the men of the House. As women we cannot put men in the awkward role of "BFF" or "Office husband" or whatever other language we can use to justify these relationships.
God gives us spiritual fathers and brothers for many reasons and we work so well together when operating in a healthy space. They are priceless! We can't take them for granted for our own gain.
4) MANIPULATION: We have to stop manipulating people around us to get what we want. As women we can use our bodies, our hormones, our emotions to send some pretty strong messages. We can pout, play victim, cry foul, and cause discord by holding people hostage to our mood and behavior. We need to be know how to self-regulate and temper our emotions so we don't intentionally or unintentionally cause division among our teams or the body of Christ. Our lukewarm, "never know what you're going to get" personality can make us seem difficult or unstable and end up hurting people we lead and are supposed to be ministering to by example. I don't want to cause chaos and confusion! I want to be a voice and demonstrate peace to those I lead...
1 Corinthians 14:33 says, "For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints...."
We have been given such beautiful attributes from our Father and when used properly and when being led by the Holy Spirit we can show people Jesus! We don't need to manipulate people or situations to get things accomplished- He is moving on our behalf if we will only trust Him!
Looking back over the past twenty years of being in ministry as a woman I can only write about these things because I've been both a victim and a participant. I'm thankful the Lord healed me from past hurts and also convicted me of my own past behaviors where I've hurt others.
Because here's reality: Mean girls grow up to be mean women.
But when we as women walk in healing and forgiveness demonstrating love and respect for one another we teach the next generation to do the same. I pray for the day we stop allowing the enemy to build walls around us, the day we stop throwing stones at one another, when we understand our worth and the value of our sisters, and celebrate what God is doing in us and through us!
We're not mean girls. We are daughters of the King.
The moment we start acting like it, like the daughters that we are called and capable to be, we will be a force to be reckoned with for the Kingdom of God.
We are girls with swords. We just need to remember who our enemy is and point our swords in the right direction.
Natalie serves as worship pastor and songwriter at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, CO where she leads weekend services as well as their weekly women’s ministry worship, Women’s Engage. As a leader, speaker and pastor her heart is to see unity among the people who serve the Church, specifically women who have been called to lead together for His Kingdom.