Life Support

Then He spoke many things to them in parables, saying:

“Behold, a sower went out to sow.  And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them.  Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth.  But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away.  And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.  He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” – Matthew 13:3-9

Jesus tells us this parable that many call the parable of the sower. Some suggest that instead it should be called the parable of the soils because it is really about the different types of soil and their ability or inability to sustain and grow the life contained in the seeds.   If Jesus would say, (and He would) that He came to give us life and life abundantly, it is important to consider the kind of soil that can support and sustain the seed that Jesus sows. It is important to consider leadership qualities that can provide a soil to grow good crop.

I have observed and been a part of an ongoing dialogue about women in leadership and the various social, cultural and even Biblical parameters of what roles women could and should play in leading the church. I would like to turn the dialogue a bit to consider why these conversations matter so much.

Contained in the person of God are traits that we would consider both masculine and feminine. When God created Adam in His image, the female, Eve, was yet contained in the soul of Adam until God removed her in a most unusual surgical procedure.  Masculine and feminine traits both originate from the nature of God.

Specifically God even has a name for Himself, El Shaddai, that clearly identifies Him with traits that are considered feminine.  Leanne Payne founder and influential leader of Pastoral Care Ministries, identifies for us the essential traits of masculinity and femininity. Giving a broad list of characteristics, she identifies the essential trait of each. While the central trait of the true masculine is initiative, she would say that the primary characteristic of the true feminine is receptivity.

I would like to propose another word to help us understand and even begin to think differently about an often overlooked trait that church leaders should develop. I would like to propose the word “nurture”.

You see receptivity isn’t simply about receiving, it is about being open, and welcoming. It is about receiving not just a possession, but also receiving humans and hearts, just as good soil receives seed. The word nurture, I believe, is a more helpful understanding of this trait that identifies the central characteristic of the true feminine nature. It also identifies a trait that I believe is essential to spiritual leadership.

The nurture of a mother allows a child’s character and personality to sprout and grow in the same way that good soil allows the potential of a seed to sprout into actuality. This feminine trait is the human characteristic that allows the life of another to grow into fullness.

The issue in church leadership is not simply about men and women, filling roles. It is also about the need for both masculine and feminine function to allow seed to be sown, but also to grow and multiply a hundredfold. The true masculine is necessary to get the seed sown, but without the true feminine, seed will wither and die.

Have you ever wondered why so many initiatives, or even disciples begin well, but fade, or wither? It may be too easy to blame this on their inability to sustain, but Jesus parable actually puts the weight on the soil, not on the seed. What if our primarily male church leadership culture has become the “stony places” mentioned by Jesus in the parable?

True masculine and true feminine are not necessarily bound by the gender of the leader. Women can take initiative and men can nurture. But when is the last time you read a leadership lesson on “nurture”?

God’s Self-Identification as El Shaddai is not merely a feminine trait, it implies specifically the idea of nurture. The word shaddai is directly related to the Hebrew word for breasts, implying sufficiency and nourishment. It is a name that identifies God as the Nurturing One.

The church has a greater problem than simply trying to identify whether or not women can serve in various roles or offices. The church must restore the trait of nurture to the very core of our mission to make disciples. If we do not we may sow a lot of seed that withers and dies.

Receptivity and openness are the context of true Grace, Grace says that God will not reject us if we come to Him with our weakness and failure. It is actually more powerful than that. Grace says that God will receive us if we come to Him in our frailty. The feminine trait of nurture is the very context that makes Grace powerful.

Not only do male leaders seldom consider the need to develop nurture, but our male dominant culture often subtly dictates that for  women to lead in the church leadership culture they should lead like men. Don’t be soft, be strong and initiate.

Nurture in leadership looks like this. It values people more than tasks. Nurturing leaders look people in the eyes and know who they are not just what they can do. Nurture communicates to and from the heart not just from the head. Nurture values more than strategy it values the bonds and relationships that are the mortar for all teamwork. Nurture makes a place for and fosters life and growth. It fosters being and not just doing.

I am convinced that we, the church must consider more than just the question “what roles can women play in the church”. We must consider why we have allowed the feminine trait of nurture to become so rare among us, when it is so central to the way that God brings us to the fullness of life.

Nurture is a fundamental trait of a spiritual leader. Life may be produced, but it cannot be maintained and multiplied without creating a culture of nurture.

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