By Rhett Burns
At the most recent annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (my denomination), president J.D. Greear hosted a panel discussion entitled, Indispensable Partners: The Value of Women in God’s Mission. The discussion was standard narrow complementarian fare, neither very helpful nor harmful. It would have been unremarkable if not for one glaring omission. In a discussion about the role of women in God’s mission, no one on the panel mentioned motherhood.
The members of the panel are not anti-mothering, child-hating feminists. The three ladies on the panel are all godly mothers, and I have been in the room with Danny Akin as he encouraged mothers and families. Yet, the current trajectory of conversations in the SBC about sexuality and complementarity is such that it did not occur to anyone to bring up motherhood. Given the anthropological confusions of our culture, it was a gross omission. Christians should foreground and celebrate motherhood in the mission of God, not assume or obscure it.
It was a gross omission because motherhood is not peripheral to God’s mission. In fact, raising godly children is one of the primary means for discipling the nations. Parents grow godly children into sharp arrows, dangerous to the enemies of God, and then shoot those children out to the four corners of the globe to take it for Christ. Families are the building blocks of nations and civilizations. Therefore, the work of mothers building their houses cannot be separated from the eschatological vision of the kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven.
Motherhood is soulcraft, decade after decade of deep-dive discipleship. Christian mothers teach and rebuke, confess and repent, forgive and bear burdens. They do the work of an evangelist. And every Sunday morning, leading them into church by the hands, mothers suffer little children unto Jesus.
Mothers tell the truth about God to the world. They testify to God as Creator, bringing forth life from the dust of their bodies. They point to God as the source of our provision, feeding their babies from their person. Mothers make the Gospel visible, providing a daily object lesson in the substitutionary aspect of the good news. Following Jesus, the faithful mother’s mantra is my life for yours. My sleep for yours. My meal for yours. My time for yours. Like God, mothers are givers, first giving life, and then themselves.
Motherhood is glorious, but not easy. Motherhood is war. It’s a war against the flesh—their own sin and that of their children and husbands. It’s a war against the world and the devil, and the faithful among us will take up arms rather than go out searching for something they deem more meaningful.
What could be more meaningful than the eternal souls of your children, future kings and queens who will rule the world with Christ? To be discontent with this work, to demand more important tasks, to relegate motherhood to a lifestyle choice, is to bow to the spirit of the age and to doubt the wisdom of God. It questions the natural means our Father has established to bring about our good and His glory upon the earth.
The assertion that women are on the sidelines of God’s mission because they are not in visible key leadership or staff positions within the church demeans the faithful unseen labor of countless women. It suggests, as one writer put it, that work done for love is not as important as work done for money. That work done in secret is not as valuable as work seen by the masses. That work done for children is not as strategic as work done for the adults. But what if God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong? What if some of the most potent hands in the mission of God are the hands that rock the cradle? What if some of the most influential voices are those that are singing lullabies?
Of course, motherhood is not the only way women take part in the mission of God. Some ladies suffer the hard providence of infertility. They find other avenues to nurture and care for others, whether through adoption, fostering, caring for church or neighborhood kids, mentoring relationships, or a hundred other ways. Other women, especially after their kids are grown, have the capacity and opportunity to engage in many different activities to advance the kingdom of God. I am grateful for their work.
The point here is not to draw the boundary lines of service in the mission of God. Rather, we highlight and celebrate the central role that motherhood has in a woman’s vocation. We declare that motherhood is not a second-class calling, less valuable than a visible platformed role. And we applaud those women who bear the weight of glory in their wombs, and who give of themselves for decades to guide their children, by the Spirit of God, from one degree of glory to another.