We were at church for the commissioning of a new children’s ministry team. There were all the usual Tanzanian positions: head teacher, teacher, secretary, treasurer, etc. The entire team was women, and the pastor commented on why.
Men were not excluded from being on the team, he said, but none came forward. Perhaps they were not available or not ready. He went on to speak of how he had travelled the world and been to many different churches. In these churches, time after time, he saw whether in Korea, Brazil or Singapore, that the children’s pastors were women. There is something there, a particular gifting that exists the world over. This is a work that God has for women. That said, he encouraged men to volunteer to join these teams that women lead.
The first thing that struck me about his comments was how clear it is that world Christianity is operating independently of the West. Of the role model churches that this pastor is looking to, none are the churches of white people or the traditional colonial powers. World Christianity is being shaped by Korea, Brazil and Singapore.
This is appropriate, because our western ways of thinking about things often don’t make sense here in Tanzania. Terms like complementarian and egalitarian are a poor fit. Tanzanians do not agonise about mutual submission. They don’t interrogate nature vs. nurture, or how social conditioning affects the roles we assume. They think gender blindness is a nonsense.
Perhaps because of the positional nature of authority (as opposed to supposedly merit-based models), they are able to say that God has given a particular role to women without that being a for-all-time thing or intrinsic to women’s nature. My observation is that all this leads them to speak less about what women can or cannot do, and more towards being thankful for women.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.