Different voices open our hearts and help us overcome little biases that might be lodged in our experience and church traditions.
Three years ago, the Lausanne Network in Europe identified four muted voices in the Church across the region – young people, women, Central & Eastern Europeans, and the diaspora.
They worked hard to have these voices involved during the recent online conference, and many participants were encouraged by the range, ages and backgrounds of women. It was a great start to un-muting the voices of half the Church.
Organisers aimed to have women make up 35% of attendees. The actual figure was 32%, which is encouraging, but hardly revolutionary.
When you remember that all anecdotal evidence (there is very little hard data) says that women make up over 50% of the Church (and probably much higher if you look at active involvement), having just under one third female attendees across all European nations should be only the first step.
I understand organisers spent many hours finding suitable women, young people and people from diverse backgrounds to be involved in Lausanne Europe. Part of the issue is that we all tend to go to our usual circle of friends and colleagues when we are looking for speakers and facilitators, or even national representatives.
This ‘unconscious bias’ is simply choosing people “like us” because that is safer. The European Commission has said for over four years that all boards of companies should have 40% women . That proportion allows women to be more than token members and gives them confidence to speak up.
This must also be true for church and NGO boards. Women and men do approach issues differently: this may be a combination of nature and nurture but whatever the cause, men tend to be better at quick transactional decisions while women are more likely to negotiate, consider relationships and to compromise.
We can learn from these regulations , but we do not want to hear women’s perspectives because politicians and bureaucrats think it is a good idea. We think it’s a good idea because God made men and women equal and equally gifted.
The Cape Town Commitment of Lausanne, written eleven years ago, affirms that women and men are “equal in creation, in sin, in salvation and in the Spirit.” (p67) . No one is more blessed or more to blame, and all God’s people should exercise all the gifts in all areas of service”.
Janet Sewell, on the co-ordinating team of Lausanne, had this response to unmuting voices at last year’s conference, "I never once felt put down or not listened to by the team due to my age or gender (I was the youngest person on the team). I was made to feel welcome and I quickly found my voice and place within the team. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life”.
Growing the base of women at the Lausanne conference this year will help the pool of female talent to grow next time and will overcome doubts amongst some men.
It certainly helps to get women’s names and gifting more known, so that when Christian organisations are looking for contributors to boards, conferences and teaching roles, they can draw up lists that are much more diverse in terms of gender, age, ethnic background and church tradition.
Evi Rodemann, a respected leader and mentor from Germany, was encouraged by the ‘feel’ of the online meetings, “I felt it was a really balanced men/women ratio. It was not dominated by anyone. I was also glad as a ‘white European’ to listen to voices from outside Europe or new Europeans who raised concerns I might not have been able to. I was personally thrilled to hear Dr. Kate Coleman about God telling us to leave the upper room. As churches we need to be the ones to leave our safe spaces and dare and innovate what church should look like today and addressing issues instead of avoiding them.”
Different voices open our hearts and help us overcome little biases that might be lodged in our experience and church traditions. Women might read the Bible through a different lens, just as single people might, or indigenous communities.
Mary Evans, a well-respected Old Testament scholar in the UK, put it this way in a chapter she wrote recently on men and women in partnership, “I’m convinced that one of the reasons for any overlooking [women’s voices in the Bible] is the fact that almost all theologians and biblical commentators have in the past been white, western, male and classically educated. The background of Greek philosophy has led to a, largely unargued, assumption that what we really need to concentrate on, particularly when looking at the Old Testament, is the conceptual material found in the law and the prophets, with a second emphasis on poetic works.”
She says that the majority of references to particular women come in the narrative material, which is overlooked or oversimplified into children’s stories, and we miss the richness of women’s voices and experience. 
So, did Lausanne give us women’s perspectives?
There was one woman, Anne Zaki, who gave Bible teaching in a plenary setting - one out of four. On the ‘main stage’ 27% of all the plenary contributors were women, as part of various panels on a range of topics.
Elke Werner, from Germany, former member of the Board of Lausanne International and former Catalyst for Women in Evangelism said, “I was very encouraged to see how men and women shared in all that took place during the meetings: men and women facilitating together, female Bible expositors, workshops led by women, female voices from different countries. I was glad to see the planning committee working together as men and women, and making sure that this was reflected in the conference. The input of the female speakers was fantastic - just to mention two of them: Dr Kate Coleman and Dr Anne Zaki. They certainly reached the hearts and minds of men and women alike.”
In the 66 seminars, there were 96 presenters, from a great variety of nations and ages. 34% of the presenters were women.
Behind the statistics were the comments and stories aired in the seminars. In many contexts, women still struggle to be heard and included in church ministry, in leadership roles that go beyond children’s work, hospitality or prayer. Elke Werner led a workshop with Pastor Igor Feldy (Serbia) and Amanda Jackson (UK) on ‘Do men and women lead differently?’ She commented, “Patriarchy and a theology of submission of women to their husbands - or even more, to all men - is still common in European churches, which are strongly influenced by the surrounding cultures.”
So male voices still dominate but there was obviously a genuine effort to include women’s perspectives and to include topics that particularly impact women, like domestic abuse and women in leadership.
On the opening evening it was hard not to notice that all the speakers were men - what sort of message did that send? Does it sound grumpy to point this out?
Dr Michael Oh, CEO of the Lausanne Movement, wrote recently in a foreword to a book on men and women partnering for the Gospel, “Ephesians 4:12  exhorts (and rebukes) the church today to more actively and whole-heartedly embrace the equipping and activation of ALL the saints for the work of ministry. Any failure to do so leaves the body of Christ less than fully built up.” 
Three networks linked with Lausanne deserve mention. Hope for Europe-Women in Leadership, has been promoting women’s leadership and equipping in all spheres of life for over 25 years; Lead Now encourages young women and men in mission; and Rise in Strength is a network for women involved in international leadership who have a heart for the global Church. 
Lausanne Europe demonstrated, what was expressed in the Rise in Strength - Call to all Christians: "We commit to discerning the spiritual gifts of all women and girls, so as to draw upon resources God has given for the full health and strength of the whole Church, wherever it manifests across every sector of our society." and " We call on men and women of the global Church to act so that women, men, girls and boys can all embrace their spiritual giftings to strengthen the work of the Church, and Her witness to the glory of God". 
It is a huge credit to Lausanne that they want to assess how they are un-muting the muffled voices of young people, women and believers from all ethnic backgrounds and church traditions.
Clearly there is still room for respectful, humble and compassionate discussion; and if we fail, we fail the body of Christ and God.
Amanda Jackson is the Director of the Women’s Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance and is one of the pioneers of Rise in Strength, a network of international Christian women leaders.
She founded the global Christian network to end domestic abuse (CNEDA) in 2020. She also works with a mission agency developing female church planters in the majority Muslim world.
Amanda trains and serves women in leadership – teaching on Biblical equality and strengthening regional networks of women. She helps men and women to work together more effectively.
This article first appeared in the January 2022 edition of Vista Journal.
1. The Guardian newspaper (20 Nov 2021), EU to push for 40% quota for women on company boards https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/20/eu-to-push-for-40-quota-for-women-on-company-boards
2. The Lausanne Movement: The Cape Town Commitment https://lausanne.org/content/ctc/ctcommitment
3. Mary Evans, ‘Overlooked Women in the Bible’, in Co-Workers and Co-Leaders: Women and Men Partnering for God’s Work, edited by Amanda Jackson and Peirong Lin, 2021
4. Ephesians 4: 11-13a: “God gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers. His purpose was to equip God’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ until we all reach the unity of faith and knowledge of God’s Son”
5. See Co-Workers and Co-Leaders: Women and Men Partnering for God’s Work, edited by Amanda Jackson and Peirong Lin, 2021, P7-8
6. Contact Hannelore Illgen for more details of Hope for Europe-Women in Leadership; and Evi Rodemann for Lead Now; See www.riseinstrength.net for information about the network and The Call to All Christians