Today, please welcome our Book of the Month winner for May, Mary-Elsie Wolfe. Mary-Elsie is a communicator, Faith Builder, and passionate leader focused on investing in people’s potential. With leadership experience in both corporate and not-for-profit environments, she has a natural affinity for people and networking.
Her doctoral dissertation tackled culture, leadership and global impact. Mary-Elsie loves to steer people toward good questions about God and have them consider the life impact of their answers. Her two daughters, both competitive dancers, make her a dance mom! They, with her husband, keep her humble, busy and inspired.
Mary-Elsie is embarking on a new project with her best friend and husband, Grant, in Orleans, ON. She holds a DMin from Fuller, an MDiv from Tyndale and an undergraduate in politics.
Mary-Elsie, welcome to Interviews & Reviews!
Your book, Becoming His Story was overwhelmingly voted by I & R readers as their top book of the month. Is Becoming His Story about leadership in general, or women in leadership?
My book is about shared kingdom leadership - that is male/female leadership, looking at the model of Jesus, leadership theory, and Biblical examples of how Jesus called women teaching us how to be followers.
What inspired you to write it?
My daughters.... and a hope to communicate how we miss out when we bench half our players!
Is there a message you want your readers to grasp?
Leadership isn’t about fighting for authority. It’s about servanthood. That’s what Jesus modelled.
Secondly, we don't want to miss out on the fullness of God's revelation to us, and cheat ourselves out of what God is speaking to us in this season—in what I think is a defining period in Christian history. The fullness of God’s revelation pictured in Revelation 7:9 happens to be within the context of all voices (male/female) from all nations and languages.
What did women in leadership look like in the early church?
So glad you asked! It was commonly understood in the 18th and 19th centuries that the early church was egalitarian and only “supplanted to hierarchical leadership in the second century.” Some would call it even a truism that Pauline churches and some parts of the Jesus movement in Galilee were egalitarian. The early church in the first century believed that the work of Christ was fully at work and alive within the faith community. Witherington III lists seven church historians who have surveyed the period from 80 AD to 325 for further evidence on the relevance of women in the early church. There is no indication of patriarchism until the second century. What transpired in the early church is the evidence of both genders in leadership in a culture where women were not encouraged to lead.
But 1 Timothy 2:12 says women shouldn't teach or have authority over men. What is your response to that? Can women lead men?
Absolutely! I’m so glad that you asked that question. Here’s the thing, if the Bible overwhelmingly calls and affirms women throughout the old and new testament, often in very suppressive cultures, what do we do when a couple of passages don’t comply with God’s overall statement on that subject? In other words, we need to know that God is the same God yesterday, today and tomorrow. He is consistent, and true and he doesn’t contradict himself. So … if there are a couple of passages that aren’t consistent with everything else he says about a particular subject, dig deeper, read deeper, explore harder, listen harder. There are many people who have given their lives to researching the culture and context of some of the letters we read in the Bible. God gives us people with the gift of teaching to help us understand by His Spirit when things don’t jive or make sense to us. So, on this point, there are a number of good scholars, but let me mention Cynthia Westfall, who is an acclaimed theologian on Paul and on some of those passages that sometimes bog people down. But let me say this, if anyone is building their whole theology by extracting a couple of verses, be suspicious. You see, we were created to rule together at the beginning of time and then came the curse… and oppression.
And then, came Jesus! Jesus who destroyed all walls of oppression!
I want you to think with me on the final words Jesus spoke... Jesus said, “It is finished.”
So, the question is asked, “What is finished?” Because as N.T. Wright tells us, the words are pretty significant. They are words that are translated from a single word in the original language. Now, if I borrowed $5 from my neighbour and then I gave it back, she might take the IOU I gave her and rip it up—because the debt is paid in full. The word used in the Greek for “It is finished” was just like that. It was what was written on a bill after it had been paid in full. It was fully paid – it was finished. So as followers of Jesus, we want to know that answer – what was finished? Furthermore, we need to ask ourselves, do we want to live in that place that moves us to the finished work of Christ or do we want to live under the curse pre-Jesus?” I know where I want to live.
Let me leave this question with a quote from Philip B. Payne:
“The titles that Paul gives to the women he mentions imply leadership positions: deacon (Rom 16:1), leader (Rom 16:2), “my fellow worker in Christ Jesus” (Rom 16:3; Phil 4:3), and “apostle’ (Rom 16:7). Furthermore, Paul describes them as fulfilling functions associated with church leadership: they “worked hard in the Lord” (Rom 16:6-12) and “contended at my side in the cause of the gospel.” (Phil 4:3) Over two-thirds of the colleagues whom Paul praises for their Christian ministry in Roman 16:1-16—seven of the ten—are women. His partner Luke adds that women “prophesized”, (Acts 21:9) and Priscilla “explained the way of God more accurately” (Acts 21:9).”
This is eye-opening! How is your book important for the church today?
I believe that through history, God realigns the pendulum if you will, to help us get back on track when we have lost focus on some of his essentials. Many leaders and some historians believe that we are in one of those periods of history. We may just look back 50 years from now and say, "Ahh, that's what God was doing back then." So I strongly believe that we need all hands-on deck, using all spiritual gifts, in order to catch the fullness of God's message to the church today.
Amen to that! What did Jesus show us about women in leadership positions?
Clear evidence shows that women were commissioned as agents of the word, even personally by Jesus. These women were enlightened to God’s truth, personally. More importantly, they demonstrated spiritual discernment that benefited the other disciples. Furthermore, the stories of these women are, in themselves, teaching tools for our insight and instruction.
Mary models two attributes of leadership, exemplified by Jesus, humility and strength. Jesus says in Mark 10 that many who are first will be last and those who are last will be first. Mary of Bethany is the “prototype” if you will, of costly followership and faith leadership. Martha’s confession of faith is fully developed. Her words closely resemble and have been compared to Peter’s confession in Matthew 16:16. It isn’t just a generic confession. She says, “Yes, Lord…I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God” (John 11:17–27). Martha gives a powerful example of one who professes faith and then puts that faith into action. Mary and Martha’s examples are critical to redemptive history. These women have taught us something about Jesus and, more importantly, what He requires of us.
This has been most illuminating! I think a lot of women in the church today will find your book refreshing and freeing. I wonder - what is your favourite scripture verse and why?
If you were to ask me this question tomorrow, I would probably have a different answer. I find that my favorite verse changes with what God is speaking to me at any given time. But Proverbs 16:9 is a verse that often brings me comfort:
"A man’s heart plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps."
We can get caught off in different activities and move forward with plans but our assurance comes in knowing that ultimately, God is leading and directing our steps! Isaiah 43:1-3 is also a verse that has brought me reassurance through the years and also happens to be the verse prayed over me at my ordination!
Thank you so much for stopping by today Mary-Elsie. I know many women will find your book refreshing and encouraging.
"Shared Kingdom Leadership"
As followers of Jesus, we want to immerse ourselves in this living story while learning from Jesus, living like Jesus and leading like Jesus so we may apply his principles and become transformational participants in the best story ever told. Gaining God’s full blessing in partnership with what he is doing in our world today needs everyone engaged—not just some! It becomes our duty to help instill a sense of identity and worth in both genders in a Biblical way that will lead us to the full uninhibited potential of Christ’s church as we carry out his mandate. With a view towards helping us understand these principles by first identifying our own worldview, and better understanding the culture in which Jesus lived, the author applies the values of Jesus to the model for leadership today.
Mary-Elsie Wolfe offers us a vision for the future that is leading-edge yet moderate, traditional, yet progressive. Drawing upon key Bible stories of women in Jesus’ day, our view of the future is enlarged as believers as she looks at the prominence of women in the early church and then applies key principles in an effective way for our day. If we want to lead like Jesus, as Jesus defines leadership for us, we must apply these foundational leadership principles to our times while still wrapping everything in the truth of the love of God for his people and his work.