Recently one of my graduating theology students from Hillsong College discerned that God wanted her to continue her studies, and to undertake a leadership degree at Arizona’s Thunderbird School of Management. Over coffee she explained to me that, because her background was Romanian and quite conservative, she had no model to follow. She thought she might be the first woman in her home church to ever imagine herself as an executive level leader. When she was accepted into this course, I was incredibly proud of her.
While reading online about this school and its program, I noticed that one of its distinctives is that each graduating student takes an oath at the ceremony, and promises to be ethical in their leadership. My student Betty was saying yes to pioneering a new type of leadership in two senses – one that was female, and one that was ethical.
I’ve thought about this decision a lot, and about oaths. An oath is a commitment, a formal statement that you decide to keep.
Although in the Bible we are warned against oaths (Matt 5:34), this seems to be not because oaths were bad, but the people were unable to (or chose not to) fulfil the words they promised. In contrast, God made oaths in Genesis (26:3) and kept them. So, it seems that the point is that the Bible affirms them as powerful, not pointless.
Similarly to the Thunderbird leaders, all doctors internationally share an oath probably written in the 4th or 5th century BC. Called the Hippocratic Oath, this statement addresses the way in which healthcare professionals conduct their work.
An oath is something that sets your stance in a situation before it happens. It is a commitment to act in a certain way. It is a promise.
For me, I think an oath speaks of resolve. In Luke 9:51 it states that Jesus “set his face as flint” as he traveled towards Jerusalem to face His crucifixion. In some versions, that verse in Luke is translated as “resolutely” and in others “steadfastly” or “determinedly” or “intently” and “with fixed purpose.”
For Jesus, it must have been incredibly difficult to continue, knowing what was ahead. But He was resolved to carry it out, with fixed purpose. It was a resolution.
Resolve confronts the future with a stance that determines its outcome. It wins the fight before the fight even begins.
The new year is often the time to create resolutions. This is where we resolve to act in certain ways. Many of these resolutions are left forgotten in February. But maybe because they were the wrong resolutions to make.
This has made me think that we need an oath for women in leadership, particularly as we enter a new year. Each new year always comes with a sense of the unimaginable or inconceivable. But it has to be one that we can keep!
Astoundingly, one of the most unjustly-served women of our generation, Anita Hill, recently stood and repeated the words of Martin Luther King Jr. who said, “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Surely, if she can stand up again and fight for truth, then we can too.
My student Betty was able to imagine herself in leadership because I and my Hillsong colleagues stood up and took our leadership roles. I’ll be honest, it’s not always easy!
But sometimes it helps to remember that, although we might be scared, every single time we take the pulpit; or lead the music; every time we strategise to strengthen the church’s finances; every essay we write for Seminary; every devotional we write for the church newsletter; every time we provide counsel to those behind us, we are providing our world an image of a woman in church leadership.
And that can change the lives of the women following.
This year more than ever, it’s time to take back any power we have given to those who oppose us. Instead, this year when we take our rightful place, all glory will go to God.
It is God’s world, and it is God’s mission. This year, sisters, let’s choose to partner with God in the reign of justice; as we resolutely take our place in the unshakable kingdom.
So this is my oath, which I speak out, thinking of all my sisters today serving in congregations right around the world. It draws upon the strength of women leaders including Mother Teresa and many other heroes of the faith. Despite what comes this year, this is our oath:
In this new year, we may at times find it difficult to serve the church. But we will serve it anyways.
We may receive sexist comments from people in the congregation. But we will love them anyways.
Somewhat worse, unclear comments may be made, making us very confused. But we will trust God anyways.
We may watch as our girlfriends are overlooked for roles for which they are overqualified. But we will encourage each other to apply for opportunities anyways.
We may hear stories of breakups and miscarriages, and longed-for children that never arrive. We may cry secretly, but light will break through the darkness anyways.
We may be overwhelmed at times by the amount of work that needs to be done. But we will just do one day at a time, and we will finish impossible tasks anyways.
Sometimes, White women may forget the more difficult battle for women of colour.
Sometimes, the rich may be unable to see others in poverty.
Sometimes, the able-bodied may forget their sisters who are disabled.
These types of intersectionality will remain a heavy burden.
But still sisters will praise together anyways, under the one name, of Jesus.
We may lay at night and think of younger leaders following us. Some will disappoint us, some will delight us. We will lead them anyways.
At times, we may be tired or sick. We will contribute anyways.
Sometimes the cost may feel too high. We will pay it anyways.
We may feel like giving up. But we won’t. Not this year.