For months Sharon prayed that her co-worker Stephanie might accept her invitation to visit her church. Sharon was sure that if her friend experienced the beauty and depth of their authentic fellowship, she might look deeper and find Jesus. For months Stephanie resisted, giving all kinds of reasons. Church people were phony, judgmental, hierarchical, and too political. But when Stephanie's mother passed away suddenly, she decided to accept Sharon's invitation. Sharon was elated, and during the first part of the service her friend seemed open and interested. She sang; she prayed. But then the pastor read Philippians 4:1: Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends. Stephanie stiffened; she shut down, and she refused to tell Sharon why at first. But after some coaxing she confided, "See, I told you the Bible is a sexist book. Why would I want to worship a God who writes encouraging words to men but leaves out the women." Ah, yes, Paul only addressed the men in that text, calling them "brothers"–or did he? For eons most Christians have done some mental gymnastics when it comes to gender terms. As a result, we don't hear what outsiders hear. Many Christians are clueless as to why outsiders might be offended by the passage the pastor read–but many are. And sadly, it's an unnecessary offense. Because a more accurate translation actually is "brothers and sisters". Yet scenarios like this occur often, spoiling hard-fought dreams of drawing women to Jesus. It's one of the reasons why more women than any other demographic are leaving the Church. With so many Christians intent on biblical accuracy, I can't figure out why Bible enthusiasts don't get this and fix it. Do you?
Well, some have. Kudos to the fine professors and Bible scholars at the seminary where I teach who worked meticulously on the NET Bible translation. They worked carefully to be gender-accurate and you can read a full explanation of their approach in the introductory section of the free NET Bible on bible.org. They are not alone. Yet, by in large, this issue is still ignored by many in the church.
Today the Church vigorously continues to train its people to win converts. We offer evangelism courses. We pair up and knock on doors with hopes of winning a few to Christ. Many churches end every service with an invitation and stuff every give-away-grocery bag with a tract. We pray for our neighbors. We practice friendship evangelism by grilling tons of burgers, attempting to influence them to consider the wonderful message of salvation. We lead neighborhood Bible studies and groups like Alpha where investigators can ask questions that might be roadblocks to faith. We serve the poor, provide medical clinics, and mentor boys and girls in hopes that they will experience the love of Jesus through us and become all-in Christ followers. We create colorful kid's curriculum for mom's to use in backyard Bible clubs so that we might reach God's precious children, hoping they will enter into a personal relationship with Christ. We travel to other countries to build churches, serve in hospitals, and teach vacation Bible schools. We strategize, we labor, we pray, and we love.
But we are sometimes blind to the unnecessary road blocks we erect that hinder outsiders from truly seeing the love of Christ. Our blindness to using gender accurate language in the Bible is one huge example. I'm not sure why. Maybe we simply prefer what sounds good to us, without considering how it might sound to others. Maybe the issue of "women" is so taboo that we simply can't bear to think about it, so we just do what we've always done regardless of the effect it might have on seekers. Maybe we are so sick of political correctness that we refuse to even consider this issue. Whatever the reason, we are shooting ourselves in the feet, and many of us don't even realize it. We neutralize all our efforts when we refuse to consider how our message sounds to others, especially the 60% of the potential flock that have been traditionally female.
As always, looking at how Jesus dealt with an issue is helpful. Matthew 12:46-50 reveals the heart of our Lord. In this account, Jesus was inside talking with a crowd of people and his mother and brothers showed up outside, asking to speak to him. The passage goes like this:
47 Someone told him "Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you."
48 He replied to him, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?"
49 Pointing to his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers. (50) For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother."
Mark also includes this account in his Gospel: Mark 3:31-35.
Jesus' sisters were not there but Jesus made a point of including women as part of his new faith family anyway. If He did, why can't we? It might just win more souls than so many of our evangelistic efforts that we sometimes neutralize by forgetting the power of biblical accuracy in God's Word.