Adapted from A Missional Mosaic: Working Towards A Robust Theology Of Women On Mission, 2016 Encompass World Partners, used with permission.
by Louise Klawitter
Author’s note: The subject of fear is mentioned in both Paul’s earlier article on non-authoritative, gifted wo(men) and in Gary’s interview questions. This is my take on the issue of fear with regards to developing biblical convictions and practices.
Since starting this project, it seems there is a sort of social media “global warming” as the debate among evangelicals on gender issues heats up once again. In pulling the discussion back to seeing and hearing metaphors, I would like to look more closely at the fear factors involved, in order that we might better hear what the Master is actually asking of us.
What are people afraid of in trying to understand the biblical framework and implications of gender and possible gender roles?
- The slippery slope that leads us out of historical Christian orthodoxy
- The difficulties of understanding the Old Testament both culturally and theologically
- The difficulties of understanding the New Testament problem passages
- Overextending the biblical testimony that leads to stereotyping, misunderstanding, and incorrect conclusions
- The influence of current cultural trends regarding gender, sexuality, marriage, procreation, abortion, and other issues on our reading of Scripture
- The possibility of facilitating injustice (abuse of authority, gender inequalities
in the workplace, physical and psychological abuse, sex-trafficking, etc.) through incorrect or overdrawn conclusions
- The loss of biblical womanhood and manhood in practice
The loss of parts of Scripture as we emphasize one aspect over another
There are some others:
- Militant feminism, the bossy woman, the emasculating of men
- Male authoritarianism, the macho man, the demeaning of women
- Authority in general because it is always abused
- Powerlessness because it always represents injustice
- Offending a holy God who has the right to make the rules
All of the above are legitimate in some way, but not all have the same importance. However, is our ultimate motivation to be a reaction of gut-level, don’t-take-risks kind of fear?
What if we also considered…
The parable of the talents in which the servant who was given the one talent, and then hid it out of fear. “‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man…So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’” 
We know that the master was not pleased with the servant.
Many voices in the current conversation/debate on gender roles are legitimately asking the question of whether Christian communities are neglecting their duty to multiply the harvest (the passage itself mixes metaphors between banking and farming, an interesting point) because they are so afraid of offending the master. Do both our theology and practice regarding women and their roles hold up to the harvest heart of the Lord or do they unnecessarily hide the gifting and talents of women who seek to be on mission in the Lord’s harvest?
I will overstate the question for emphasis: Are we so afraid of our hard master (expressed in legalism, perhaps?) that we misunderstand his intentions? Do we hide the talent for fear of doctrinally offending the hard master?
How do we keep the tension between a biblical fear of the Lord and a risk-taking faith that trusts the Lord, even to correct well-intentioned mistakes?
“Scriptural truth is perfect; my understanding of it is imperfect.”
If you concede that point, then a way forward is to study the Scriptures as the whole counsel of God and not frame such an important theological position as the role of women on a few, selected passages—whether 1 Corinthians 11, 1 Timothy 2, or Galatians 3—to the exclusion of the others.
Honest exegesis and sound practices can come from looking at the relevant passages throughout the Bible and seeing the development of themes through a biblical theology approach.
The Bible presents an extremely rich mosaic of teachings, stories, wisdom, and doctrine concerning half the Church that is comprised of women—equal in value to men, reflecting the image of God together (and one can say complementarily, in the sense of being an integral part of the whole image, and not merely a decorative addition).
One of the goals of A Missional Mosaic: Working Towards A Robust Theology Of Women On Mission is to stimulate study and informed conversation among those in a position to influence the theology and practice in their local contexts. Shouldn’t faith in a missional God who is motivated by love for men and women, be guiding us, more than fear of a harsh task master whose punishment we dread?
- Are we asking the right questions? Can we trust the Holy Spirit to guide us into truth and yet humbly accept people who disagree with us?
- Can we trust God for our spiritual leaders to seek God’s truth?
- Can we trust our Lord to give us wisdom as we seek to please Him in our understanding, and to correct us when we are wrong?
- Are we concerned enough about the Master’s intentions to multiply the harvest to consider whether or not we are just trying to play it safe?
To finish on a very personal note: One of the most discouraging things I have encountered as a woman on mission (not often, but even once is too much) is when a male spiritual leader mistakes my zeal to use my spiritual gifts for the Lord as a desire to usurp authority. Most Christian women I have been involved with would never want to be perceived as bossy, power-hungry women, and so they too hide their talents for fear of being misjudged.
From my perspective, I see many women and men who want to multiply the talents they have been given—calling, gifting, context—in a God-honoring way. My concern is that we unnecessarily limit their possibilities out of misplaced fear.
 Matthew 25:24b-25, NIV
 Paul Klawitter based on Paul Hiebert’s work
A Missional Mosaic is the product of more than 18 months of work by the WoRTh Project (Working towards a Robust Theology), a core group of missional leaders on the role and dignity of women. The anthology was edited by Encompass global workers Louise Klawitter and Becky Schwan. The book is available in paperback or electronic versions at encompassworldpartners.org/item/5085- missional-mosaic.