Do women experience their relationship with God differently than men do?
If so, in what ways?
And what does that mean for our churches? For our ministries and our sermons? And for the way that pastors lead?
Of course, “the role of women in ministry” has received much airtime in Evangelical circles. It has been thoroughly, even hotly, debated for decades. But that is something different entirely and is not the issue I mean to address.
I am asking a more fundamental or foundational question, a question that has perhaps been overshadowed by the related raging rhetoric. I am not asking, what can or should women do in their service to the church? But rather, how do women uniquely relate to God—and perhaps even more importantly, how does He relate to them?
I first began pondering this question several years ago when my husband and I were going through a “Job season.” Painful experience after painful experience kept knocking us off of our feet. And I was struck—again and again—at how differently we responded to it all and how it affected our faith.
As I began the work of healing, I ran back to the book of John, longing to reconnect with the Jesus I knew I would find there. When I came to the account of the Samaritan woman by the well (John 4), I sat there with her for some time, captivated again by the Christ who sought out that unlikely woman despite all of the cultural mores against such action.
He engaged her in conversation, meeting her right in the midst of her daily duties.
He spoke truth to her—with so much grace—when she tried to hide behind her labels and the corresponding lies.
He generously offered her living water, which alone would meet her deepest desires and needs.
He affirmed her vulnerability and gently redirected her gaze, from her own understanding of religion to His person and eternal power.
Finally, He revealed His identity and deity to her when He knew she was ready to see.
What makes this encounter all the more poignant is how it stands in such stark contrast to Jesus’ conversation with the Pharisee Nicodemus, recorded in John chapter 3. With Nicodemus Jesus is very direct. He describes entrance into the kingdom of God, using the metaphor of being “born again.” But when Nicodemus expresses confusion at the imagery, Jesus responds to his ignorance with some measure of incredulity. Then Jesus allows Nicodemus to slip away with no record of his response.
I continued reading through the book of John and then moved on to the other Gospels as well, looking specifically at how Jesus loved women, longing to know that love myself, knowing that it was through Jesus that we best understand the love of God (1 John 4).
The more I studied, the more the Gospels confirmed that the Nicodemus/Samaritan Woman contrast in John 3 & 4 was not an isolated comparison.
Throughout the Gospel accounts, Jesus engaged women differently than He did men. Sometimes the difference was subtle. Sometimes it was stark. Always it was profound.
Author Janet Davis expressed a similar stunning observation in The Feminine Soul: Surprising Ways the Bible Speaks to Women. She writes that “women have a whole different way of experiencing God than men.” In particular, of Jesus and His encounters with women in the Gospels, she says:
[T]hough Jesus often rebuked his disciples and the Pharisees, he never rebuked women. Instead, he wooed and drew out women, using penetrating personal insight and positive affirmation to move them toward repentance. Though He often steered the male disciples away from ideas of self-importance, He moved women in the opposite direction, toward a greater sense of self.
Jesus still passionately pursues the heart of women in these same powerful ways. May this understanding transform the way in which we pray for and preach to, counsel and serve the precious women in our midst.
Kelli Worrall is an author, speaker, and Communications Professor at Moody Bible Institute. Her new book, Pierced and Embraced, digs deeply into seven encounters that Jesus had with a wide variety of women in the Gospels to show how His love can be equally transformative in our lives today.