Christians for Biblical Equality

Rev Philippa Lohmeyer spoke at our November 2016 Breakfast. Philippa is a School Chaplain at Mentone Girls Grammar School in Melbourne.

Thank you for this invitation to speak at a Christians for Biblical Equality Breakfast.

I have been encouraged by CBE’s activities over the years.

Many years ago I remember the launch of CBE – Melbourne branch where a number of women spoke, including the Rev Anthea Mc Call who is here today, and I was blown away by how encouraged it made me feel inside. Here was a woman being herself and speaking mightily and gently about God. It was very feminine and bold and courageous and ordinary.

So I am particularly honoured.

But also – I am embarrassed.

I have struggled with leadership.

I’ve doubted my skills.

I can always think of someone who is better educated and more able to speak on a topic – any topic.

I find dealing with people’s expectations and then my own expectations overwhelming.

Originally reported in  a Hewlett Packard internal report and then repeated many times over is that if a job is advertised with 10 criteria and the female knows she meets 8/10 but is not too sure of 2 she hesitates to apply while a male who meets 7/10 the male will think the job is his!

But let us think some more about what is going on in the demands of leadership.

As I reflected on the various incidents of leadership that I have experienced, and one or two I still find embarrassing because I didn’t handle things well, I suggest that I did not have the strength of vision to carry me through tough times and so I frequently opted out!

Embarrassing – yes

And also – this hints at something else going on in ‘leadership’ which I want to address today. That is – the importance of holding true to your faith in Christ and stepping out in trust.

And the need for women to gain experience in whatever their key endeavour is.

A follow up study reported in the Harvard Business review observed that women didn’t apply for the jobs in the above case because they didn’t think they met the criteria(46%) or they didn’t want to waste the interviewers time( 20%) or they didn’t want to put themselves out there if they were going to fail (20%).1

My one point – may each and every women you have connection with be encouraged to enjoy her godly gifts, be equipped to use them well and step out in faith, using those gifts as God inspires her to do. And if each woman does that then each will be the leader that this world so desperately needs.

So when we think about the topic “Growing young women into leaders” there is a wide variety of questions that arise – what do you think that they might be/what questions do you have?

  • What sort of leaders do we want?
  • What would drive a young woman into leadership?
  • What keeps a women going and leading through the tough times?
  • how do I encourage them?
    how do I advocate for them?
    how do I protect them?
    how do I ensure that they do not become too demanding of their “right” to leadership, but trust in others to recognise their leadership?

So to repeat - may we encourage young women to ENJOY their God-Given gifts? Enjoy being themselves. Enjoy being the person that God made you, and wants, you to be (eg Ps 139)

We are blessed to be a blessing. (2 Sam 7:29)

29Now be pleased to bless the house of your servant, that it may continue for ever in your sight; for you, Sovereign LORD, have spoken, and with your blessing the house of your servant will be blessed for ever.’

But a major problem emerges at this point – how does a young woman enjoy being who she is when she’s not sure of her gifts, she doesn’t know which group of friends she belongs with or wants to be with and she has no idea what she wants to do next year and so to think even 2 years ahead is just ridiculous?

Let me say a little bit about my school context.

I have been for 10+ years. Currently I am working at Mentone Girls’ Grammar by the Bayside. Before that I worked as a Head of House also a key pastoral role.

My job involves teaching Religion and Values to 3 year olds in the ELC, then through Years prep to 12. I also lead and conduct worship services for all the school from prep to Year 12. I am ‘ the God-person’ as some call me.

So when I speak about Girls, Grit and God – growing young women into godly leaders my focus will be primarily on the late primary school high school years – that is from ages 10 – 20.

Michael Carr-Gregg suggests 3 key stages of transition over the teenage years – that is from approximately 10 to 20 years with key questions at each stage.

  • Early Adolescence – Am I popular? ages 10-13??
  • Middle adolescence – Where do I belong? ages 13-16??
  • Later adolescence – Where am I going? ages 16-18??

Another psychologist whose book, I’ve just read, and I think is very helpful – Lisa Damour, suggests a slightly different way of approaching the transition from 10-20 embracing the observed reality that most people move from childhood to adulthood through a variety of stages at different rates and in different orders and times.

  • Her stages include –
    1) Parting with childhood
    2) Joining a new tribe
    3) Harnessing emotions
    4) Contending with adult authority
    5) Planning for the future
    6) Entering the Romantic world
    7) Caring for herself.

So in encouraging young women to enjoy being themselves and so growing them into the young leaders this world needs I wish to address 3 questions

  • Question 1: How do I enjoy life when my body is changing and I feel out of control?
  • Question 2: How do I enjoy life as given me when I don’t feel I belong anywhere?
  • Question 3: How do I embrace my gifts or talents when I don’t know what they are or where I am going?

Back to Q1: How do I enjoy life when my body is changing and I feel out of control?

Teenage women are in a state of immense physical change – recognise it!

And yes – it doesn’t grow in a linear fashion where you can keep track of all that is going on.

Not all of that change is welcome.

Some girls find it quite confronting and wish it wasn’t happening.

Some get excited about it.

My encouragement to Teenage women is you are in a state of immense physical change – recognise it!

That your body is growing and changing is fantastic.

Physical changes are scary and a new aspect of hygiene to be managed.

I wish to spend a bit more time on the emotional changes.

There has been quite a bit of publicity about boys, certainly in the late teens, having very little frontal lobe development and so making poor judgments and exhibiting risk taking behaviour.

But less publicity has been given to the impact of other parts of brain growth and how that affects a teenage girls. Lisa Damour writes ‘updates to the limbic system heighten the brains emotional reactions with research indicating that the feeling centres beneath the cortex are actually more sensitive in teens than in children and adults. …emotional input rings like a gong for teenagers and a chime for everyone else.’ P85

Emotions tend to have a bigger importance in girls than boys although do not dismiss emotional development in boys.

Emotional upheaval can scare the child/teenager.

They may dump their emotions on you.

They may dump their emotions on you and then feel terrible and wonder why they can’t behave normally.

They may privately think they are going crazy.

At this point in time all teenagers need adults in their lives. They need adults to be adults.
That is:

Unacceptable behaviour is always unacceptable. If they swear at you, yell, or something worse then your response needs to be measured and factual. For example: We do not speak to each other like that in this house. I’m sorry – such language is not acceptable in this school. Would you kindly refrain from using such words and terms.

Accept that their emotional turmoil will also cause you distress. When your daughter has experienced a friend being unkind and tells you then it will be such that you may well feel churned up inside and hurt also. That is what Paul describes in Galatians 6:2 bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ. But you can be the adult here. You can acknowledge the hurt she is experiencing and teach her that it is ok to sit with this hurt for awhile. Maybe she needs to apologise; maybe she needs to play with someone else for a while. But don’t rush into solving the problem. Paul doesn’t write bear one another’s burdens and then solve them for them…. No – just bear them.

Do not tangle yourself up in your child’s/teenagers problems.
Most girls in year 6 at our school have a phone. That is most 11 year olds now have their own phone. This means that just as certain hormones that initiate physical changes in the body begin charging around and just as the brain begins this massive development including changes to that part of the brain that harness emotions, so too girls get access to technology.
So something goes wrong at school – the teacher speaks harshly to them; or they forgot their sports gear or a friend says something nasty to them. So what do they do – send a quick text off to Mum!! And if Mum brings in the phys ed gear – what does the daughter learn – doesn’t matter if I forget my sports gear. But what if Mum responds to a text involving a friend who did or didn’t do something? Yes – a third party has become involved, complicating matters.
Girls turn to digital technology to manage painful feelings instead of finding ways to ease their own distress or seeking support of kind, non-virtual relationships.
Girls can turn to their phones every time they feel lonely.
Girls can use the phone to avoid sitting with the pain instead of learning how to initiate friendships, go for a run or read a book when feeling a bit low.

Helping girls to cope with everyday life as their body changes is part of equipping them to handle the tough times which will come in their professional lives.

You are putting in all the little links which make up resilience in a person.

I’m a bit tired of hearing about resilience. So let me talk about it in chemistry terms – yes I used to teach chemistry and I like this analogy.

Resilience can be seen as a chemical term to describe the ability of polymers/plastics to bounce back.

Polymers are long chains. If you put lots of links between these chains they become a thermoset. There is no give or bounce. When hit with a hard enough force they shatter. But if you put in the right number of links, some of different lengths between the chains they give and take. The chains are able to slide past each other and then return to place.

If you wrap girls up and don’t let them experience and work through their anxieties, problems and concerns then they stay as they are like a mass of polymer chains with lots of little links that will shatter when hit with a big enough force hits it.

But when lots of little links of shared burdens, clear goal posts, grace, trust and forgiveness exist then the young person develops resilience.

Let me explain a bit more.

When the goal posts are clear – so what is right and what is wrong is known and clear then it is like a boundary line on a sporting oval. If you do something wrong, there is a consequence. That’s the rules. So you learn how to play the game within the rules.

So teenagers need to know the limits on social behaviour. Their moral compass needs developing for the complex world they are engaging in in a far more significant and complex way.

They might still do the wrong thing because rebellion is part of being fallen human beings but they too will accept the consequences and in doing so know the truth. Remember Jesus said “The truth will set you free. Jn 8:32

When you share their burden, not solve it for them, but walk with them, they learn that they are not alone. They learn about a good shepherd who guides his sheep.

When they admit that they did something wrong, maybe to you their parent but frequently not their parent, and they face the consequences and come home and are embraced they know forgiveness from the heart.

We will have strong godly leaders when they have these bands of resilience and experience of grace. When our young people experience us sitting with them through a painful experience they will learn that it doesn’t last forever. They will also know that they are loved and others hope in them.

Question 2: How do I enjoy life as given me when I don’t feel I belong anywhere?

I want to tell you about Annie. She is a young girl, religious, average academically, loving family enjoys being a girl. Then she turned 13. Her friends turned 13 too. She wasn’t the most popular girl – that didn’t worry her. But there were others who started putting other girls down. They were aggressive – saying who could be involved in this activity and who couldn’t. They sent text messages about the girls they didn’t like. Sometimes saying quite horrible things. They even told Annie that she was going to hell. So Annie made sure she was friends with these girls who ran the roost – these ‘so called popular ones’. She started misbehaving in class – talking back. It was one of the hallmarks of being in this group. She didn’t have time for homework because she needed to watch the phone so her work was not as good as it had been. And then her sleep started to become affected.

In young people’s minds the terms popularity and leadership get mixed up.

So a good key question to ask is “Is she popular or just powerful?”

For many teenagers there are 2 different kinds of groups.

Group 1:

Disliked but popular – this is the group Annie was joining with. They were demeaning, aggressive, used cruelty to gain social power and appeared to have ‘many friends’. In her mind joining in with them was about minimising payback. Getting through with minimum of harm. This group was particularly ‘powerful’ although their power was gained by fear mostly.

Group 2:

Liked but unpopular – this is the group that is kind and trustworthy. Frequently they are small in number, not even noticed and can be recipients of the Disliked but popular’s jaunts. This group is not seen as powerful at all. Indeed they can come across as weak.

If a girl has even one good friend, she can navigate these times with success. It will not be easy.

Can I remind people – these are all little girls inside. They are all struggling with the question – where do I belong in this world? They don’t just want to be someone’s daughter – they want to be themselves, whatever that is and be successful at something.

Encouraging girls to try different activities is fundamental to them growing up.

Now adults here – this is where who you are and your faith is so important.

To be a teenager in Melbourne today requires courage and faith.

Courage to hold to what you believe is true in a society where other things become more important. You see for Annie above, it wasn’t about faith, it wasn’t about holding to her religion. She just wanted to survive the year unscathed. But in the process her faith could be one of the pieces of equipment she was ready to discard. And this is where she has to work out is it her parents faith or her own faith?

Hence when teenagers see the adults in their lives acting in faith and being courageous because of what they believe then they too are inspired.

Teenagers see through adults facades. They have an innate sensor for our insecurities. So when we speak out because of an injustice or decide to welcome the stranger because that is what Jesus would do, and do it with a sense of enjoyment and blessing, then they too are affirmed.

There is a third group – liked and popular – and those who fit into this group have usually had to deal with a serious obstacle and also exhibit a clear sense of right and wrong and don’t suffer fools. Their moral compass is firmly in place and they have self-confidence. If I think about this over the years – the girls who fit into this group stand out and they seem to be emotionally and intellectually gifted in this way.

And this brings me to question 3.

Question 3: How do I embrace my gifts or talents when I don’t know what they are or where I am going?

Girls need experiences at using their gifts and they also need support and equipping. They need help to do things well.

Don’t put girls in front of a group of people to read something unless they have practiced reading it beforehand.

Don’t ask girls to pray in front of a group of people unless you know they have written them down and practised reading them.

Over the years I have had many wonderful faith Captains. All very different. One I remember was not the top student.

But she was comfortable in herself. She knew she liked the spiritual – her peers had affirmed that in her.

And somehow she helped the girls to love.

She was not comfortable speaking in public. So we practiced her and I. She would write out her prayer and then we would rehearse or her form teacher would rehearse with her. And so she led 600 plus girls in prayers regularly. And 600 plus girls were encouraged to pray and see faith as something which was to be admired and aspired for. Wow!!


You asked me to talk about growing godly young women leaders.

I haven’t spoken a lot about leadership but rather about helping girls navigate adolescence and the role of adults to support them. This is because I maintain that if we help our young women navigate adolescence well and help them grow a strong internal core, experienced in God’s grace and mercy and filled with the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit namely then we will have grown disciples.

Philippa’s definition of leadership

A leader – is a person who articulates a vision and influences a wider group of people to take up this vision and strive together for its achievement.

There are many issues facing our world today. I firmly believe and I see and experience God raising up young women to care for and lead this world in many and creative ways. There are women who know and have experienced overcoming obstacles; they have worked through the horrible tribalism that seems to be a hallmark of Years 8-9 and they enjoy being themselves and working with others. Their generosity of spirit and vision for the way forward is evident. But they too need encouragement to take a lead. They also need a 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th go.

I hope the women who leave Mentone Girls’ go out and can help address and bring about changes so that Indigenous people experience justice and mercy; refugees are treated with compassion; Australia increases its refugee intake; lawyers work with integrity and fairness and some of the women go on to be outstanding leaders in the church teaching and preaching what Christ has done in restoring humanity.

Before I finish I wish to spend a few moments reflecting on what it means to be a Christian leader in a school which affirms the practice of Christianity but is made up of many staff and students who are not sure what they believe and certainly feel their culture is very different to church culture and frankly don’t see any overlap except for shared values.

It’s tough.

Don’t misunderstand me. I love my job as School Chaplain.

I really enjoy the staff and students that I work with. The staff are wonderful, professional brilliant teachers. Our classes make teaching look easy. I mean – our girls are very well behaved. So this could be considered teaching heaven.

But the challenges as a Christian Leader are there – busy lives, Christianity seen as culturally old, disconnection with God, and then the various stages of adolescence getting in the way of faith.

But I am the recognised “God-person” This brings both privileges and responsibilities

As Chaplain I see two key areas in which to work:

  1. Teaching about God as revealed in the Bible and through Jesus Christ.
  2. Serving the community by prayer, worship and challenging where appropriate.

I don’t make judgments on who is Christian and who isn’t. That is not my job but God’s. But I do encourage the primacy of God’s word – the Bible. Interestingly, this then proves a determining factor in how the staff and students perceive of themselves as Christians or not. When I teach I do not proselytise or say you have to believe this. The Bible is well written and God can speak for himself.

I firmly believe God works through his word.

It is good and appropriate to read bible stories together, think about the context, the nature of the story and its meaning. This is good teaching and it empowers the text (?) and God works.

Praying for our schools and their leaders is fundamental to mission. I have my ‘praying mums’ as I call them. Wonderful godly women who meet with me regularly to support me and pray for the school. Do not underestimate a group of praying mums. They are God’s gift to me and the school.

I love worship. I love the rhythm of the liturgy, the heartfelt singing and the celebration of Holy Communion. Celebrating HC is a way of proclaiming the gospel. Because they are young people I stress that by participating you are acknowledging what Jesus did on the cross is for you. I have the freedom to do this in an Anglican school but it is so powerful!

Worship also needs to be fun. The singing needs to be great and I need to get students on side. They need to rehearse. It takes my time and my energy and my persuasion and God keeps raising up musicians for me.

One challenge I have had to work through at school is the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness has been embraced by the wider community as a technique to still the insides and schools likewise use it in their classrooms. My school has a program …….. A recent catalyst episode showed how the regular practice of mindfulness changed the brain and improved the health, breathing and concentration, of said participant. Mindfulness actually comes from various religious practices. So how can we recapture aspects of this back into Christianity?

So as Chaplain I both disciple, promote the gospel and encourage Christian belief and practice. It is a privilege for which I am thankful to God.

Thank you.



Further Reading:

Untangled - Guiding teenage girls through the seven transitions into adulthood by Lisa Damour
(London: Atlantic Books, 2016)

The Princess Bitchface Syndrome by Michael Carr-Gregg ( Maryborough, Victoria: Penguin, 2006)