The Geneva Push – a church birthing movement?

February 24, 2013

dali-eggI have recently heard about a new movement called the ‘Geneva Push’ – a consortium of christian leaders seeking to shape a church planting culture through endorsing and resourcing leaders with a particular emphasis on complementarianism and exclusive male leadership. If you’re interested, the extensive list of what they affirm, and the even longer list of what they don’t believe can be found at  http://thegenevapush.com/about/what_we_believe



Imagine if, at some point in the history of the church, the common wisdom had fallen in favour of women landing the lion’s share of love and leadership for the people of God, and providing the prophetic vision and protagonism for mission (note ironic disclaimer – this might actually not be far from the historical case, despite who draws the ecclesial salaries and fronts the crowds).

What if, not because of any mythologies of superiority or ‘fitness’, but simply on the basis of pragmatics, women were, as a general order, typically the leaders of the local church; the majority of speeches of any kind were made by women, written documents were prepared by women, decisions were made by groups mostly made up of women. Let’s suppose it ‘just happened that way’ because some influential bishops in the third and fourth centuries interpreted the Apostolic words about husbands and wives and submission and headship to indicate that women should serve – and serving meant ministry – and ministry meant facilitating community decisions and discernment, speaking on behalf of the community – all the stuff we know is hard work.

And what if the multiplication of new discipling communities was championed and facilitated by women. Perhaps, we would still have a church ‘planting’ movement…but we might as likely have coined the term ‘church birthing’. Certainly, if any of these women were close readers of the missional language of Paul, this term is just as apparent. In such an alternate universe, if there were to be a church-birthing network,  calling it the ‘Geneva Push‘  would be pretty amusing.

It makes me wonder, though, whether this word ‘push’ means something different when used as a catch cry by  a group of males claiming exclusive leadership authority, or when used as a collective descriptor by a group of females?

Think of the abundant imagery that missional initiators can draw from idea of ‘birthing’…

how much better prepared for the toils and ecstasies of mission – the drain of energy, the surge of aliveness and purpose, the invasion of personal space and identity, the depth of commitment and love, the nausea, the excitement, the enlargement of personhood -physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually,  risk, pain, sacrifice the long, long long haul of vulnerability and fidelity, and the sense that after having giving everything for another, it is you who are both the richer and the debtor.

The more I allow my memory of child bearing to feed this image, the more I agree with Paul, that it is an appropriate and fertile way of  thinking about mission and generativity in the church and of the church.

But one thing grips me more than anything else.

Church Planting – it sounds like something that we plan and prepare for and do – we put something somewhere and it grows. I know there are biblical images and narratives for this – though we ought to hear them carefully and consider how ‘out of control’ things get, especially in the seed planting parables of Jesus (Matthew 13 has a decent collection).

Birthing, for anyone who has taken this journey, is something that disespouses us of notions of being in control, or even being the major agents of generation.Implicit is the need for generative partnership. One does not birth. One must start with two, with collaboration. And beautifully though brutally, the process of pregnancy and birthing engenders in us the reality of life within us that is beyond us. Something happens in which we are inextricably implicated, but it happens in ways that can make us so aware of our own powerlessness in making it happen, or keeping it happening – so very complex and delicate is the relationship of life-giving connection.

Finally, birthing is truly humbling, and there is no woman I know who didn’t feel the point of death in the passage of bringing life. It is a posture appropriate to those who would follow Jesus, and who dare to take titles and tasks in the missio dei. The Geneva Push may only endorse and resource male leaders, but I think they would do well to make of them mothers and give them midwife mentors, and let their ‘push’ be one of birthing.

Phil 2:8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death


  1. Reblogged this on reddresstheology and commented:
    Thanks to Beth Barnett for bringing the feminine metaphor to life in relation to Christian leadership. ‘Pushing’ is also a part of ‘birthing’ as a woman works consciously with her unconscious body. This is very different to a male image of pushing with his body, of which I feel unqualified to reflect upon, other than I’ve been at the receiving end of both positive and negative expressions of it.
    Anyway, thanks Beth Barnett for your thoughts, they are worth sharing.

  2. I’m surprised and blessed to stumble upon threads of this conversation between two women I know a little, each a faithful servant – read minister and leader in the faith – of Christ.

    I lived in Geneva for a year as a boy, celebrated my eight birthday there, attended part of grade 2 in a French-speaking school, tried cross-country skiing, travelled around in an old VW combi van with my folks and sisters. But probably other influences shape my response to a plainly sexist ‘push’ by some male church planters (read the Uniting Church ‘Basis of Union’ pars. 13-15 for a start, http://www.uca.org.au/basisofunion.htm).

    I love Beth and Chelle’s descriptions of creating faith(ful) community as bring akin birthing (both Biblically grounded, and evocatively illuminated through personal experience). I remember well the agonisingly protracted labours my wife endured in order to bring both our beautiful children into this world, God’s good creation. Sure, in an ancient mindset I was the one who ‘planted the seed’, but she was the one who had carried each egg throughout her life, who nurtured each tiny embryo with her very being, and who puuuuushed – carefully, painfully, with hope and agony streaking her beautiful face – while I stood by, powerless, counting the seconds in order to give her a sense that time was passing despite her seemingly endless world of pain.

    She was active; I was passive. She was the one who had first felt the new life stirring within her; I could only listen from outside, and feel a bit of jostling from time to time. She was the one who knew when it was time; on the way to the hospital I grasped the steering wheel but I was only taking her to the destination built for her, and for the new life she carried. She was the one who decided when the next push was to occur, not me. She was the one who could nurture the fragile and robust little bundle of life that emerged from her very body; sure I could mix and heat infant formula, but that was only a poor substitute for the milk of life.

    So, come on ‘Geneva push’ fellas, what are you thinking? Which gospel are you reading, and living out?

    Are you pushing the spiritual leadership equivalent of baby formula onto the vulnerable and disempowered mothers in your midst? You can read the Bible and interpret the tradition in ways that support and reinforce your own prejudices, or you can read the very same Bible and discern the Spirit of love and freedom which is at the very heart of the gospel you profess (but deny and betray by your evident prejudice). Metaphorically speaking there might no longer be Jew or Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female (Gal. 3:28) – but back in the real world we continue to be born as physical beings with gender characteristics biologically and sociologically understood as male and female (and the richly complex non-binary landscape that more adequately reflects each individual’s nature and character drawing from these two foci within the wider ellipse of gender).

    I think the planting metaphor still has plenty of life in it yet, but when it is used to deny life to at least half the population then I strongly agree we need the corrective of a metaphor that sidelines the other half, and makes all of us the better for the deep personal investment and ultimate powerlessness that we each experience in bringing something new to life.

    • Great to have your voice here Rohan – thanks for fleshing the reflections out further.
      I agree that the planting metaphor has plenty of life yet; it is still is a favourite of mine.
      (and just to show how dear it is to me….here’s a little bit of ‘organic liturgy’)


      Part of the critique of the Geneva Push is over subscription to a particular exclusive model. This is in regard to gender relations as well mission.
      The diversity of images in the biblical texts is both a guardian and a liberator of our imaginations – so we don’t get stuck in the deficiencies of just one metaphor.
      Glad you found us (the reddresstheology and the multivocality)

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