#ThinkerThursdays is a new series of interviews with Christians whom we believe are writing thoughtfully and gracefully in today's public square. You will likely have read articles by these Christian thinkers as they grapple with today's cultural, political, economic trends and issues. We hope to illuminate what goes on "behind-the-scenes" of their writing and thinking (I conduct the interviews with Michael's help). This is the fifth of the series.
Sharon Hodde Miller (PhD), a writer, speaker, wife, and mother, is a regular contributor to Christianity Today’s blog by women, Her.meneutics. She has written for Relevant, (in)courage, Propel, Gifted for Leadership, LifeWay’s Collegiate magazine, and The Gospel Project blog, in addition to her own blog, SheWorships.com. She also contributed to the recently released NIV Bible for Women. She completed her PhD at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. She is married to Ike Miller and is the mother of Isaac and Coen; they live in the Raleigh/Durham area.
Q. You wrote a blogpost on how we tend to envy other people’s gifts, instead of asking what particular influence God has given you. You end it by asking, “Where do you feel called to exercise influence?” How would you answer that question for yourself?
That’s something that I’m still figuring out. When I think about who I feel called to influence, I tend to think of women like my friends – women at my church, in my neighborhood, young moms, women who are a lot like me. However, what makes my call sort of interesting is that, even though I feel called to that audience, I have this weird amount of academic training. I have a PhD, and I like studying and talking about more academic things, so my challenge is to take some of those lofty ideas and make them accessible to the women who are around me and in my world.
Q. What kinds of ideas specifically?
I really want to draw women deeper in their faith. When you look at many of the messages that are oriented towards women, there is a definite self-help vein, and it’s easy to get stuck in it. Don’t get me wrong -- that has its place and is important. There are a lot of women who have real wounds, and they need to know God loves and affirms them. But I would really love to see women get past that point, where they are not just surviving or using faith as a lifeline, but also thriving, living as “more than conquerors.”
Q. Interesting – do you feel that women receive these “surviving” messages more than men?
I do, and I think part of the reason is that when you look at female writers, pastors, and speakers, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that their platform is often based on their “story”—it’s usually based on having survived or overcome something very difficult. Whereas with men, that’s a lot less common – their platform is often based on the fact that they went to seminary, and that’s what gives them their authority.
When I think of messages directed at women, another analogy that comes to mind is that of running the race of faith. There are a lot of people who are on the sidelines, because they have been wounded. They need to be cared for and healed before they can get back in the race. But there are a lot of women that are ready to run. They need to be equipped, encouraged, and challenged to run the race. The thing that gets me excited is challenging women to run that race.
Q. Could you give me an example of something you wrote that exemplifies this “run the race” message?
I wrote a blogpost called, “Stop looking in the mirror,” that was about how a lot of Christian teachings for women tell women to look at themselves “through” Christ: “this is who you are, who he made you to be, who you are in him.” This message can become self-focused. It’s like you’re looking in a mirror with a Jesus tint. When you do this, you aren’t fully focused on God, but on yourself. My mission, then, is to help free women from themselves, from self-focus, and to be focused on loving God and loving others.
Another thing that I’ve written about periodically on my blog, which is something I’ve really wrestled with, is dealing with issues such as racial reconciliation, issues that are bigger than our immediate world. When you have small kids, it’s easy to feel like you don’t have time to deal with all that’s going on in the world around you. But I don’t think having kids is a “get out of jail free” card from caring about things outside the home; we are still called to care about the broader world because God cares about it. It’s not an either-or.
That’s why I’ve tried to periodically leverage my influence within my own audience, to get them to see issues that I’m not always sure they are seeing. I’ve been nervous about doing that, and it’s taken some courage, because I’m afraid people won’t care, and that they’ll stop reading.
Especially with racial reconciliation. Most of my readers are white, so I do worry they’ll tune out. But I’ve really challenged myself to write in a way that is accessible for women who are like me, and shine a spotlight on things that really matter. That way I’m not just telling people to run the race; I’m trying to exemplify it myself.
Q. What was the reader response when you wrote on racial reconciliation?
I’ve been really, really encouraged. The majority has been positive. One thing that has really blessed me is hearing from African-Americans who appreciate what I’m doing, and take the time to contact me and say that what I’m doing is important, and that they feel heard. To me, that’s like 90% of the battle. I’ve gotten positive responses from my white friends as well, who maybe wouldn’t have thought about issues of race before, and that’s really encouraging too. When it comes to racial reconciliation, I can’t turn the Titanic in a day, but it makes me feel like I’m doing my part; I’m stewarding my little corner.
Q. What are your current questions?
For my doctoral research, I interviewed women at three different evangelical seminaries and talked to them about why they were there, and what encouraged them to get their MDiv, especially since not many evangelical women enroll. The heart behind my research was this: How do we identify and cultivate the gifts of women?
The women I interviewed were all enrolled in seminaries that do not support the ordination of women, and I did that intentionally. I was afraid that if I interviewed women at more progressive seminaries, a conservative church might think, “Oh, those findings aren’t relevant for us.” All along, my agenda was not, “How do we get more women ordained?” but instead, “How do I help women use their gifts in whatever tradition they belong to?”
One thing that was really encouraging was that a lot of the women were in seminary because their pastors had identified their gifts and encouraged them to go to ministry. I was happy to shine a spotlight on pastors who are working within the boundaries of their tradition, but are still affirming women.
Once I completed my research, I discovered that the number one reason women went to seminary was their church. Most of the women I interviewed had people in their lives who identified their gifts, and were willing to pour into them and grow their gifts. I think that is consistent with what Scripture says about the church: that God gives our gifts for the benefit of the body of Christ, and it’s the role of the body of Christ to manage those gifts.
Now, my question is, “How do I get this information out there?” Most of all, how do I get it into the hands of pastors, because they have the most influence. On the ground, it’s pastors and church leaders who have the biggest impact on whether or not these women decide to pursue ministry. I want to help church leaders know the breadth of their influence, and steward it well.