A range of differing roles are available to women, whether they are work- or home-related. However, the church oftentimes advocates a "one-size-fits-all" model for women's roles which makes them believe they have to adhere to a specific prototype, says Carolyn McCulley, author of The Measure of Success: Uncovering the Biblical Perspective on Women, Work and the Home.
In her book, McCulley, along with collaborator Nora Shank, explain the true meaning of female productivity, according to the Bible. They delve into the topics of feminism and being godly and ambitious while providing a blueprint to single and married women working in or outside of the home to understand God's purpose for their identity.
"I wanted to write this book to help women in all stages of life think clearly about the God-given gifts and opportunities they have, and how to invest those individual and specific situations in light of eternity," said McCulley.
An edited transcript of McCulley's interview with The Christian Post is below.
CP: How should we measure success?
McCulley: We should think as recipients who will one day give an account for how we managed what we were given. We are stewards of all that we have received, including our relationships. It is God who gives us the relationships, children, time, talent, interest, opportunities, and tasks that fill our days and years. We may be wives or mothers, but as important as they are, they are roles that end in this life. We may work in highly esteemed professions or we may not be paid for our daily labors. Those roles are not our identities either. They are merely opportunities to be invested for the glory of God. Those things God gives us in terms of relationships and opportunities, He wants multiplied for the sake of His kingdom. That's the true measure of success.
CP: It seems there is constantly a war of words around the topic of women's work. Do you think the discussion is misplaced or unnecessary?
McCulley: Yes. Women are in the crossfire of this war of words and they are weary from condemnation, criticism, and self-doubt. Nora and I hope that this book is a refuge for them, a resource offering hope and a fresh perspective. I've been very encouraged by the early feedback we have received. The phrase that we keep hearing is that this book offers freedom. We trust that is because we were deliberate in not handing women a template for success, but rather we offered a Savior who has redeemed the thorns and thistles of our labors and gives us a reason and a hope for our hard work.
CP: How does the Christian perspective of work differ from the world's understanding?
McCulley: When people pray and ask for their daily bread, God can and has simply dropped down bread. But usually He works through the farmer, baker, distributor, and retailer to answer that prayer. When we work, we are co-laborers with our God in loving others through our productivity. Our work matters because we do it for His glory and for the benefit of our neighbors. That concept profoundly alters the self-referential modern concept of maximizing a career.
If we see that work we do as a way to love others, it changes our motivation for working. It also changes our concerns about the location of our work. Love and labor happens at home and in the marketplace.
We also have to recognize the New Testament's teaching on being good stewards of all that we have received. When we realize that we are not in charge of what we have received, but rather we are to give an account for how we invested it, it changes how we think about the timeline of our lives and helps us not to compare ourselves one to another.
CP: Most women try to balance their work, home, spiritual life and friendships. What encouragement can you offer?
McCulley: I think both the church and the larger culture have failed women by largely ignoring the second half of women's lives. We have an intense focus about the first half of a woman's life and how she should be living it. If we would help women think through the entire arc of their lives, we would see that some opportunities can simmer until there is a better time to invest them. As we seek the Lord for His leading on the priorities in front of us, we will know when to go forward in faith.
The Bible clearly makes marriage and motherhood a very high priority, but it is not an exclusive priority. Married mothers also need to invest in the things that go on into eternity, the brothers and sisters in Christ who need their care, the people who need to hear the good news of the gospel from them, the neighbors who need personal ministry, the younger women who need their counsel, the hurt and abused of this world who need their faithful intervention.
CP: Many women have been told to aim to be a Proverbs 31 woman, something you say is impossible. How come?
McCulley: The Proverbs 31 woman is not a real woman. She concludes Proverbs, the Old Testament book of wisdom. She is a model of fruitful productivity over the entire arc of a woman's life. So once again, we have to note the timelines of a woman's life. This example is not a snapshot of a day in the life of someone, but the cumulative impact of a woman's productivity over the course of her life. Her example shows us that the Bible values women's work, our financial savvy, our business acumen, and our management of others because it serves others and brings praise and honor to God. We should emulate her example, but remember that it's a long-term goal and one that is enabled by the grace of God.
CP: For many, ambition can be a negative word, but you think otherwise.
McCulley: We all want something. That's the drive behind ambition. The truth is that we were actually created to be this way. God made us to be people who have desires. Jesus knows we have desires, this is why He came to earth. Sin corrupted our drive and desires. Jesus came to redeem that brokenness and to give us renewed desires. He doesn't tell us to quit being ambitious. He just tells us to quit amassing useless junk like those poor souls featured on a hoarders program. Go for the gold, Jesus says, the real gold.