Nancy Beach, Women and Ministry

Nancy Beach, Women and Ministry March 4, 2013


Almost 30 years ago when I started serving on staff as a church leader, my role on the Management Team was somewhat pioneering, at least for our church. As the first female on that team, and later, the first female Teaching Pastor, I sought to do the work of ministry as best I could, hoping that my gender would actually not be a big deal or a barrier.  I am deeply grateful for the opportunities I had, for the adventure of learning in the trenches of leadership, for the men and women who opened up a place for me at the table and made room for my voice.  If you would have asked me way back then what the landscape of women in church leadership would look like by 2013, here is what I would have predicted.

By now, I thought we would see a much larger percentage of women serving as Senior Pastors, Executive Pastors, Worship Pastors, etc.  Women coming out of seminaries or the marketplace, according to my forecast, would discover several opportunities in local churches to fully express their gifts, to lead with boldness, to teach from the pulpit on a regular basis.  I thought that men of my generation, and certainly those younger than us Baby Boomers, would be enthusiastic advocates opening doors for women, recognizing the value of hearing the female’s voice both strategically and through teaching.  While historically, women have found places to lead in Children’s Ministry and Women’s Ministry.  I’m sure I thought by now that those options would be greatly expanded, building on those arenas and spreading to areas like Evangelism, Spiritual Transformation, Church Operations/Finance, and the Board of Elders.

I am fully aware of the barriers to this vision – theological positions, tradition, culture, denominational policies, etc. But hey, I’m also an optimist.  I thought we would see tremendous openness to exploring these barriers.  I thought more churches would open up studies and dialogue and wrestle deeply with the issues, digging into Scripture, and risking the inevitable pushback and controversy in a passionate search for the truth.  I did not think all churches would see a wholesale transformation to the egalitarian view.  But I had hoped to see movement – significant steps to empower women as far as any church’s theology would allow.  And to be completely honest, I thought my male counterparts of the day would challenge and disciple other male leaders to  display greater courage, take more risks, go out on a limb to open up whatever doors they could, to share the power/authority and seats at the table.

So what does reality show us now in 2013?  Certainly not what I envisioned and prayed for.  More women than ever are going to seminary, comprising 51% of students in divinity school.  The “Faith Communities Today” 2010 national survey of a fully representative, multi-faith sample of 11,000 American congregations found that 12% of all congregations in the United States had a female as their senior or sole ordained leader. For Oldline Protestant congregations this jumps to 24%, and for Evangelical congregations it drops to 9%. Of all conservative Protestant congregations, 1% are led by women; of African-American churches, just 3% are led by women.  And what has surprised me most is that many of those in the younger generations – both men and women – are even more devoted to a hierarchal position on women in ministry than their elders.

I rarely hear of a women serving as a Senior Pastor (with the exception of some mainline denominations), Executive Pastor, primary worship leader, CFO, or consistent Teaching Pastor (teaching from the pulpit at least once a month or more).  I hear from women on a regular basis about their loneliness and frustration, their disappointment about not finding ways to fully steward the gifts they have been given in the local church.  It hasn’t turned out the way I hoped. Young women who are bursting with leadership and communication gifts are still not seeing the local church as a primary option for them – too many of them who have sensed a heart level calling on their lives are heading instead to academia, the arts, or the business world.

So yes, I admit I am disappointed. But I do not despair.  Why?  Because of women leaders like Jeanne and Tracey and Barbie and Suze and Caron and Nancy and Andrea and Heather and Kimbra and so many others who show up every day at their local churches and lead with boldness and grace.  The statistics may not give cause for celebration, but remarkable exceptions fill me with hope.  Sweeping change on any issue is not the norm for local churches and denominations.  And yet…one life at a time, one team at a time, one church at a time, some are discovering and benefiting from the outstanding contribution of a godly, gifted woman whose voice becomes vitally significant in meetings of a few and in gatherings of hundreds or thousands.

Recently I was at a small dinner party where I met a businessman who attended our church 25 years ago.  Now he lives in another state, but he took a moment to look me in the eye and tell me what it meant to him and his wife to see me lead and teach all those years ago.  He said it was especially validating to his wife, who also has gifts of leadership, and he expressed thanks to me.

To every woman who is showing up day after day to use your gifts as best you can, I simply want to let you know that you have no idea the impact you are having.  There are men and women who will be enriched by your voice and perspective. Young boys and girls also have their eyes on you – you show them what is possible and redefine what is “normal” in church for them.  When you wonder if it matters, when you want to give up and stop putting yourself out there, taking risks and reading the negative emails, when you feel lonely at the table, when you are not sure if you are even doing the right thing…please don’t give up. Remember your church needs your voice, and your presence is providing a richer, fuller, truer representation of the God who calls us all, male and female, into the life-changing work called full-time ministry. The wider church needs to see more and more examples of how your contribution matters.

And to the male leaders reading this…I implore you to ask yourself if you are doing all you can to be an advocate for the women in your setting.  Are you open to how God wants to use them? Are you willing to courageously explore this issue and listen to the Spirit and to your community, seeking where God would have you land?  Are you clutching to a male-only, boys club kind of leadership team; are you unwilling to share the pulpit – or are you humbly holding all of that loosely enough to make room for your sisters to join you at the table, to brainstorm at the flipchart, and to express their voice to your people?

This post was a risk for me to write, because I know how volatile the entire subject is, how divisive it can be.  I invite your feedback – whether you agree with me or not.  I only ask that we all learn to communicate our perspective with grace and care.  We’ve had enough angry rhetoric on this one.  Let’s just take a breath and try to humbly explore it together.  I know I could be wrong on any number of points.  I just want others to admit the same…and move toward greater understanding.  It’s my sincere hope that in 30 more years…in 2043…the picture of women leading and teaching in the church will look vastly different than it does today.  A girl can dream…

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  • SuperStar

    Thanks Nancy for reminding us that women are great leaders too. It’s unfortunate that this post was still a risk for you to write. We obviously have not come far enough as a faith community. Nancy has written a great book on this subject: Gifted to Lead

  • RJS

    This is an interesting post. As most who read here will know I am a woman, have a Ph.D., and am a university professor in the physical sciences, and probably somewhere close to the same age as Nancy (I finished my Ph.D. about 27 years ago).

    I struggle with some of the concepts here though – not because I am against women as teachers, counselors, pastors, or leaders on any theological or biological ground. I struggle with the post from the first line – “Almost 30 years ago when I started serving on staff as a church leader, my role on the Management Team was somewhat pioneering, at least for our church.

    Management team? The fact that she chose to use this in the opening line bothers me. For me, at least, it sets the wrong tone for the whole discussion.

    Church is not about management and power and authority or about equal “rights” and diversity. Until we realize that (1) church is the family of the people of God and (2) Jesus meant it when he practiced table fellowship and when he said that servanthood and love are the key virtues of leaders (and other Christ followers as well) we will miss the boat. (Something I think the church has almost always tended to do on this issue through the failings of human ambition and ego.)

    This may get things going in an unintended direction – but it really bothers me. Someone on Mark’s post Saturday noted that “the paradigm itself is flawed” – and I think this is the root of many of our problems. The paradigm for church leadership is deeply flawed (my personal opinion).

  • Vicki

    I agree with RJS (#2). While inviting women into leadership is needed, it does not get at the root of things. We need to not only re-envision leadership in the church but also identity formation of men and women in the church. While Beach is responding to a visible outcome of change, (having more women in leadership) the church often neglects addressing root issues. Changing leadership paradigms in the church is one issue. Identity formation of men and women in the church is another.

  • Susan

    As one of the 12% (I’ve been the pastor of the small church I serve for 5+ years, was associate before), I’m thinking two things in response (and thank you to Nancy for her pioneering). In my view, we need to say not that any particular woman brings a woman’s voice, but that a woman brings HER voice, and that to rule her voice out by virtue of her gender is to tragically miss out on what God was bringing in her experience and gifts BECAUSE of prejudice and fear of her gender. No one woman brings the voice of all women, any more than any man speaks for all men. To advocate for me to serve because I bring a woman’s voice feels diminishing; all I bring is my voice, which I pray God uses to speak to the hearts of individual men +women. Re: RJS’s comment – Nancy didn’t choose that nomenclature, and I agree that imitating business practices is dangerous, since Jesus would not have been hired as CEO . BUT I bridle every time someone suggests, in response to the issue of “women in ministry,” that what we need instead is a new paradigm. It always sounds to me like some would rather un-ordain men + burn down the building before they’d ordain women. I doubt that’s RJS’s opinion, but I have encountered some for whom that is an apt description.

  • If denominational or church structures are what they are how do women fit into the leadership of those structures? There might be a need for new structures (and that is a different conversation IMO) but let’s be honest the current structures are not going away anytime soon. This article is about how room is made for women in current church leadership? I disagree that Nancy started this conversation with the wrong tone. She is writing from within a context which happens to be the context for most women in Church in North America. I for one appreciate this conversation and think it is an important one to continue. It is difficult for women to advocate for mutuality, biblical equality or any other way you choose to describe it without someone trying to shut it down because the church is not about ‘equal rights’ again I would disagree. If the gospel isn’t about equality and freedom for all then we have surely missed the point. There is a need for men and women to make room for women at the table and depending on your ecclesiology that table could be a senior management team. I think women can be servant leaders and set at any leadership table without loosing who they are. Men have done it for centuries. Maybe we could cheer for Nancy for pioneering and advocating to have women at the table?

  • This is the challenge for everyone and one that would change a lot of things for the better for both women and men: to take “significant steps to empower women as far as any church’s theology would allow.”

    God’s design for his male and female image bearers to advance his Kingdom together is more than “making room for women” to use their gifts. In Genesis the alliance between God’s male and female image bearers rises to the level of a kingdom strategy that the Enemy has managed to disable. According to Paul in Ephesians, the healthy functioning of the Body of Christ (and of each member within his body) depends upon it.

    Thanks Nancy for this honest and courageous post! I share your grief that the pioneering phase seems so endless, but also your commitment never to give up.

  • Marla Abe

    I’ve been a pastor for over thirty+years as well, and I feel like the writer…so little has changed. When I applied for positions several years ago, after finishing a 22 year ministry at the same church, the last years as the only pastor, I requested interviews to be a senior pastor. I was told that those churches already had a woman associate and the church couldn’t have two women in leadership. When my husband and I tried to find a senior pastor position as co-pastors, and I said I would be the one who made decisions because my husband doesn’t like to, interest waned.
    Still, I continue to realize that somehow the term “woman pastor” evokes fear or reaction. But knowing the individual changes that. At one church, I was the interim pastor, and they begged me to stay. But when they went to look for the next pastor, most said, “Absolutely not, no woman pastors.” My dad, a superintendent, made congregations interview female candidates whether they wanted to or not. Many picked the woman, because she became a person, not a scary title.
    Sometimes I think all of this is an old habit, rarely challenged or asked to re-consider. We come to the ministry as individuals with varying gifts, not as “male pastor” or “female pastor.”

  • Rhonda

    I agree with Rose. Let’s not sidetrack this important post from Nancy by talking about leadership structures and imposing what we think they should be. Every church has its structure and women’s voices and leadership need to be welcomed no matter what the structure, even if it is a management structure.

  • Nancy thanks for the post, and Scot thanks for making it available. I would have missed it otherwise and am really glad that I did not.

    As one who has spent a lifetime in ministry hoping to see our leadership structures become more “familial” and less “corporate,” I want to be sure that we do not use that value as an excuse for failing to confess and repent that we still are far short in allowing our sisters to fully utilize their leadership gifts. The “glass ceiling” is real and evident in most levels of “up front” leadership in most churches. Those of us who use doctrine to justify this oppression do so in a very inconsistent manner since we ignore in the same passages the commandment to “honor the king” and to “serve our masters well as slaves.” And, those of us who see the trajectory of the New Testament as pushing us toward genuinely honoring the gifts of our sisters usually do it better in theory than in practice. We should not pat ourselves on the back for saying something is good and not doing it – I think Jesus and James both said something like that right?

    Some of the best sermons and most life challenging teachings I have ever heard have been by women – including one by a 25 yr old just yesterday. (I am 70 yr old; so the age gap can also be overcome by the Holy Spirit working through the Word.) Nancy is right; let’s pray for more and repent for how far behind God’s curve we are at present.

  • Your perspective is so richly valued and appreciated! Thank you, Nancy, for being a pioneer and leading the way for many more of us to step fully into all that God has for us.

  • Joe Canner

    I was raised in the Plymouth Brethren tradition, which discourages both formal leadership structures (no ordained clergy, no paid pastoral staff, etc.) as well as women’s participation in ministry. Thanks to the helpful guidance of some friends and older mentors, I now strongly support the idea of women participating fully in the ministry of the church, according to their spiritual gifts. Integrating this with the Brethren model of leadership, I have come to the conclusion that the gender issue would not be such a big deal if we didn’t invest such responsibility and power in one person (or a small group of people). Reforms in this area would be good for their own sake as well as for the sake of getting more women involved in ministry.

    All that said, however, I agree that we need to repent of our failures in this area, regardless of the established power structures. Most people are OK, both practically and theologically, with having a female supervisor or listening to a speech given by a woman, but for some reason grasp at Biblical straws to find reasons to limit this in the Church. On the other hand, only 3.6% of Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs, so it’s not like the secular world is ahead of the curve in this regard.

  • Dawn

    Thanks Nancy. I had an opportunity to preach and be a pastor on a staff. When our 2 male pastors left to pursue new ministry settings it left me as the only pastor on staff. So they hired a part-time interim guy and called him the “Lead Pastor”. It was never stated but the implication was that I was capable of preaching and being a full-time pastor but a male needed to be the lead. A male pastor had something intrinsically special about him that a female pastor did not have. He didn’t know our congregation at all. He bullied me endlessly until I agreed to step down. There goes one of the 9%ers you mentioned. I loved my job and I loved the people. I never would have left had it not been for the private bullying tactics I endured for 8 agonizing months. Leadership would just say “this is temporary.” Temporary or not, no one should endure abuse in the hope that some day it might end.

    Finding a new job in pastoral ministry? Possible, but not likely at 55 years old. My highest degree is a D.Min and am ordained, but the ageism issue for women is another ceiling women face as well as men. My research shows that women over 50 have less than a 1% chance of being a new hire as a pastor. The church wants the image of youthfulness rather than wisdom. So I am praying that this next generation, that has grown up with women in all sorts of jobs, will recognize the value and giftedness that is being wasted all around them. As another gifted and unemployed woman pastor said, “why are we handicapping the army of God by removing 62% of the soldiers?” What a waste of gifts and talents.

  • Adey Wassink

    Thank you Nancy for expressing what lies in the heart of many of us. Thank you for very helpful statistics that are quite demoralizing. Thank you for daring to have hope and invite us into that hope and reminding us of wherein meaning lies.

  • Dori

    I would also like to thank Nancy for writing this article. I was one of those little girls whose dream it was to work for the church. I wanted to be a pastor. I had excitement, and I told someone. They told me I could not be a pastor, but I could lead in Children’s Ministry. The excitement deflated a little, but I was still pleased to be serving, and from a very young age, felt the call to ministry. But it left in me the feeling of “I can’t” and it was not “I can if I work hard” and it was not “I can if I have permission”. It was simply “I can’t because I am who I am”. Later this became “I can’t because I am a woman.” I am only going to be 40 this year. Thankfully I have grown out of the “I can’t” and I am doing what I feel God is calling me to at this time. My point is this: If that is how I took it, I know that I am not the only case. I know that there are other little girls out there who heard similar, and actually changed the course of their lives because of it. And churches missed out because of what they believe to be the right answer and the way they translated those FEW passages in the Bible that specifically called women out.. I am not about to jump on a soap box with the words “Exegetical Fallacy” written all over it.. So I will stop there. I am not a feminazi, but do believe that God wants equality. So again, for all those little girls who had a different dream, I hope and pray that there will be a day when we are having to plant churches because both the women and men called to the ministry need the room…growth is a good thing.

  • Dianne P

    Some years back while attending a women’s session at Willow Creek’s leadership conference (irony anyone?), I was privileged to hear Nancy Beach speak. At that time, I was pretty new to my non-denom church and a bit confused about the whole “no women” thing. It was very encouraging to hear and see that was not a universal practice. Thank you Nancy for being confident, compassionate, engaging, and willing to take on all the hassles of a leadership role.

    Does anyone else see the interesting juxtaposition of this post with Mark’s just a few days ago? The story of the pastor who was worn out from all the expectations that he felt were put on him? So just a couple of quotes from today that jumped out at me.

    RJS, exactly.
    “Someone on Mark’s post Saturday noted that “the paradigm itself is flawed” – and I think this is the root of many of our problems. The paradigm for church leadership is deeply flawed (my personal opinion).”
    I spent many years in corporate America, in pharma research, a field laden with engineers, scientists, and statisticians – not to mention celebrity doctors -mostly men. While we few women learned together how to function in that context, we were continually re-evaluating the paradigm. It’s not an either/or situation. Over the years we brought changes, some big, some small, to the corporate management paradigm. Please, good friends here, one does not preclude the other. There are many layers to this important discussion. And we can do more than one thing at a time.

    Yes, Caroline… Yes, yes, yes.
    “God’s design for his male and female image bearers to advance his Kingdom together is more than “making room for women” to use their gifts. In Genesis the alliance between God’s male and female image bearers rises to the level of a kingdom strategy that the Enemy has managed to disable. According to Paul in Ephesians, the healthy functioning of the Body of Christ (and of each member within his body) depends upon it.”

    And for those stressed out pastors as discussed in Mark’s post a couple of days ago, Caroline’s beautifully written words (of course:) show the basis and the benefit of a new paradigm. For God gave each of us gifts so that we might be a blessing to others.

    I’m grateful that my daughter and her family, including 2 beautiful little girls, attend an Episcopal church where there is a woman rector and a woman bishop (WOW!) I cherish a picture of my sweet, beaming, 4 year old granddaughter poised with cross gripped strongly in both hands – taller than she is, leading the way from the children’s service all the way up the aisle and up the stairs to the altar. She has no idea that there are places in church that are forbidden to her, and I pray she never does.

    Thank you Nancy, for your courage to persevere. Stay strong in the Spirit.

  • RJS

    Rhonda (#8),

    But isn’t part of the problem that churches are consumer driven businesses – and thus what the consumer wants will rule?

    I am doing pretty well these days, largely because about 20-30 years ago leaders declared (and pushed to ensure) that women would have opportunities. It has been at times a tough slough with a lot of resistance. It was a top down effort making opportunity for talent. Even today though some of the consumers (aka students) don’t like have women as professors (especially in the hard sciences and a few other areas) and it shows in course evaluations. But the students don’t really have a choice (especially as I am part of a large institution).

    Churches are not the same.

    I don’t see change in the church happening from a top-down push (there is no top to push down). And it is going to take another 50 years or perhaps significantly more before the culture has changed enough to make it unthinkable for a church to be as male dominated as many are today.

    I really think that the only way productive change will happen is if much of the paradigm changes. Actually if we move away from the current trend to think about churches as businesses and start thinking of them as the family of the people of God, and then start thinking about what it means to be a leader in God’s family.

  • As a Willow Creek person I’ve always had the highest regard for Nancy Beach’s ministry and leadership. And I can’t argue with comments encouraging her and suggesting perseverance in her tangible efforts now and hopes for the future. She is a stellar exception to a pattern in Evangelicalism with which I disagree.

    But if you substituted race for gender in some of the above stories about ministry no one would suggest that such disparate treatment was just an unpleasant idiosyncracy.

    I defend the prerogatives of those who read Scripture as requiring such disparate treatment, and I would be loathe to question their intentions. Professor Mark Noll’s “The Civil War as a Theological Crisis” details antithetical dueling positions among people all of whom affirmed the authority of Scripture. There were, I believe, biblically faithful believers on both sides of that divide. And I think the same is true of those on both sides of this divide.

    But I consider it a matter of conscience not be a part of any church that embraces such disparate treatment. I regret not having reached this viewpoint sooner in my life in the Church.

  • Elizabeth

    Thank you for this, Nancy. I agree very much with Rose’s (#5) and Rhonda’s (#8) comment.

    RJS: While we are waiting for 50 or more years (your time line) for the paradigm and culture to shift, can’t women who are called to be pastors practice humble servant leadership within the current structures of their churches?

  • Elizabeth

    RJS: I didn’t mean for my comment to sound mean-spirited. I hear your concerns about top-down, business culture in churches but I guess my point was more practical: What are called women to do today? I think we agree on the issue of women in leadership, I just didn’t pick up on the same tone in Nancy’s article.

  • LHR


    It is useful for me to think of the comparision of gender issues with issues regarding creationism.
    If your analysis regarding churches being consumer driven is true, a high percentage of them are choosing to believe in Ken Ham style Young Earth Creationism. I think a lot of them believe that because that is what is presented to them by church leaders as the only way to believe in the authority of the Bible. They are really not presented a choice in many churches.

    I have so appreciated your entries regarding the compatability of scientific understanding of the origins of the universe and the Genesis account. Your words carry more weight because you are a scientist. Unfortunately, very few prominent evangelical pastors and leaders follow Scot’s lead and present this point of view. They are often told that the only way to be a true Christian is to believe in YEC.

    In the same way, women having limitations in church and home settings is the norm for most evangelical churches. It is presented as the only truly “Biblical” way to read the scripture. It is reinforced in many, many, marriage books and classes. Even in denominations where women are thought to be free to preach (such as Pentecostal) it is sometimes only done under the “covering” of her husband’s authority. As in YEC, church goers are not exposed to another way and are told it is the only way to respect the authority of the Bible.

    It is a complex issue, but the only way I see to get any real change in both topics is for Evangelical Professors, Pastors, Authors and other leaders to make forceful, intentional strides toward changing the wrong theological assumptions presented as the only choice.

    We need more male leaders like Scot to write books (loved the Blue Parakeet!), articles, sermons, classes, blogs, etc.. We need people in leadership in churches to actively seek out ways to change the default theological position. We need better marriage books (considered writing one Scot?).

    If none of that changes, I don’t think 50 years will make a difference for both topics. It has been disturbing to see a shift toward more restrictive views by some prominent evangelical leaders in the last few years.

  • RJS


    I guess the only thing to do is make do … look for the right church, serve wherever, whenever, however. Make people used to women teaching or leading as much as possible. Nancy does this – and a great deal has changed in our lifetimes. I didn’t ask permission to start writing on science and faith and theology … if Scot hadn’t opened a way here I could have done it anyway, although alot less effectively. This advice is no different than the advice Nancy gives in her post. In fact most of the post is excellent.

    I’ve rambled around a number of issues in my comments because this is an issue that bothers me a lot. Perhaps more than it bothers Nancy even.

    But there are so many theological, and sociological, and cultural, and psychological issues at play here that within the self-selected marketplaces of the church there is no way for fast progress. There is a need for much wisdom and patience and prayer.

  • Brian Wiele

    thanks for your candid sharing, Nancy. Too often for men, this continues to be a philosophical issue. But you have rightly put in bold print what the male pastors like myself need to do. I agree with each of your requests. We are just one church of 200+, but we have hired female seminary interns, and make sure that we have women preach so that everyone — especially the young girls and boys — recognize that God speaks through both genders. I am praying that better days lie ahead for women in leadership.

  • RJS


    Thanks, I agree. But all we can do is be patient, persistent, and prayerful.

    I got off on the wrong foot perhaps in my first comment because I see two very negative influences limiting any progress. One is the rise is the rise in intentional hard complementarianism, the second is in the rise of a business model consumer church. For different reasons both make things difficult.

  • LHR

    I guess it’s hard for me to understand why more Evangelical leaders do not aggressively push back against the rise in intentional hard complementarianism.

  • LHR

    I mean push back in the way Paul did about circumcision, as an incredibly important thing to get right, not just a issue we can agree to disagree about.

  • RJS


    Isn’t part of the problem that a number of evangelical leaders are aggressively pushing back against the intentional rise in egalitarianism because they believe that it is not an issue we can agree to disagree about? Don’t many feel that giving much on this issue starts the slide into apostasy and away from God’s plan for mankind? They see themselves on the side of Paul.

    How can we convince them that this is not the case?

  • Dianne P

    Again RJS, exactly.
    “I see two very negative influences limiting any progress. One is the rise is the rise in intentional hard complementarianism, the second is in the rise of a business model consumer church. For different reasons both make things difficult.”‘
    Yes, maybe for different reasons, but I see overlapping Venn diagrams here.

    Back to the corporate business model that I experienced in a Fortune 100 pharma company – so I’m not thinking it’s especially rare. Very much a male heirarchical model. Don’t share information. Don’t share responsibility. And most importantly, don’t share credit. Yikes, sorry. I don’t mean this to be male bashing (sorry), but that’s how it was. There were many men who chafed under this model too.

    Two of us were actually told about this, very explicitly. When I tried to avoid micro-managing and give some latitude to my team members, I was reprimanded and told that they were to be held under a very tight rein until they proved themselves worthy. My approach was the opposite, to let everyone do their work in their own way, to respect them as professionals, unless shown to be not capable. My friend, a female mechanical engineer, was reprimanded for sharing credit with her team.

    Sometimes we need to step back and just question what road we are on. Management teams? Church growth? Pastors who preach and manage and orchestrate but do not shephard? Does the Kingdom of God need an org chart? What is the presupposition here? And when we step back and take a look at that, maybe we’ll start to gain some insight into better understanding the model that is in place today. And begin to have a discussion about its usefulness to furthering the KOG. In the spirit of irony (love it!), check out Experimental Theology’s Friday blog on St. Benedict’s qualities for leaders. Hmmm… I’m thinking, no org chart there.

    And to LHR’s point (thank you!), s/he raises the same issue that I did regarding homosexuality and Justin Lee’s book. So often, in evangelical non-denoms (and maybe others as well), the Bible teaching is done in such a way that there is no space given for any alternative opinion or interpretation, unless it is that of heresy. There is no mention of any other interpretation of Scripture, even when it is commonly put forth by evangelical scholars. How many churches in the Willow Creek Association know that WC has women elders and women speaking from the pulpit?

  • LHR

    RJS #26 “Isn’t part of the problem that a number of evangelical leaders are aggressively pushing back against the intentional rise in egalitarianism because they believe that it is not an issue we can agree to disagree about? Don’t many feel that giving much on this issue starts the slide into apostasy and away from God’s plan for mankind? They see themselves on the side of Paul.”

    I have seen the intentional rise in complementarianism in Evangelical churches through CBMW, Quiverful, New Calvinists, etc. Although there have been a intentional rise in egalitarianism in mainline denominations, resulting in new splits, I haven’t seen much of an intentional rise in egalitarianism within the Evangelical church.

    It ties into your comments about the business model of the church. Because the loudest voices regarding gender issues are complementarian, they have the ability to distribute their books and other materials through Christian bookstores and into church small group studies. Those voices become the default for church members.

    My thought is for egalitarians to become louder advocates to match the strength of the complementarian voices, not to sway them because you are right complementarian leaders are unlikely to change their mind.

    My concern is for the average church member and changing the default theology in the church. To move the status quo, there is a great need for more books, small group and sunday school materials that are unapologetically affirming of scriptual reasoning for mutual leadership for both men and women in the church and the home. For example, every marriage book I have ever seen in every Evangelical church I have ever been in (and I have lived in different cities and been to several different denominations) is some version of complementarianism.

    Why are there so few marriage books written from an egalitarian perspective? Rachel Held Evans said recently that she would not write a marriage book even though she has been asked because it is too specific to the couple. The problem with that approach is it leaves a void that is filled with loud complementarian voices that have no problem writing books that are then turned into small group and sunday school classes. This results in average church members thinking that Chrisitians must be complementation which then extends out to church leadership.

    When Francis Collins helped set up Biologos it was to provide a strong voice to show non-scientists that science and faith were not in conflict. We need more voices to take a stand and say that the Gospel is correctly understood to include women in all capacities.

  • Theodore Seeber

    I am from the next generation down. I’m not Protestant, I am Roman Catholic. And here is what I’ve seen happen in most of my local parishes:

    1. The male only clergy, so by Tradition and Canon Law, is becoming increasingly separated from the leadership of the Church. Some of that is by their own wish- after all, they became Roman Catholic Priests to mission to souls, not to run small businesses.
    2. Father is often the only male in the office on a day to day basis. ALL other paid positions in the parish have been taken by women.
    3. Men are checking out entirely. 75% of the people I see in Mass on Sunday are either female or under the age of 18. And when men check out of the church, they usually end up checking out of their parenting duties as well, and divorces eventually happen because of this.

    It is good to allow women to use their leadership abilities. But let us truly make it complimentary, not women squeezing men out, but women bringing their unique gifts to add to the mix.

  • R.C.

    I think part of the confusion on this topic comes from the absence, in Protestant circles, of a sacrificial priesthood and episcopacy.

    God the Father has, for whatever reason, designed human beings in such a way as to need Fathers in the spiritual realm as well as the biological. Paul spoke of being Father to those he led to Christ, and of course one’s forebears in the faith are typically called fathers in the New Testament, following the pattern of 1st century (and earlier) Judaism.

    In Christ, the image of the Father is made flesh and the nature of the Father’s love is made known, and it is sacrificial love. So in the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches (and similar ancient churches) the clergy who serve sacrificially are required to be “in persona Christi” (to use the Latin term): Christ with skin on. And they naturally serve a paternal role for their flocks and unsurprisingly are called “father”: God the Father with skin on. There’s only so much gender-bending the human race can handle, so it’s unsurprising that the sacrament of ordination in such churches is reserved to those who can be paternal: And only men can be daddies.

    (In an odd homage to this reality, one rarely hears the women who seek ordination in those churches expressing a desire to be “priestesses”; they desire to be “women priests.” The notion of a priestess is foreign to Christianity and indeed to Judaism, and not because the latter was unaccustomed to the idea; every other ethnic group in every direction had priestesses and goddesses, but YHWH forbade it to the Hebrews. And until the Golden Calf incident, there’s every indication that had all the tribes but the Levites not put themselves in the penalty box, the fathers and eldest sons of every family and clan would have been the priests for that family or clan, after the patten of Noah and Abraham and Job and Melchizedek. So it truly is in greater accord with the Messianic order — our high priest is, after all, of the order of Melchizedek — that women who aspire to the sacrificial ministry should say they want to be women “priests” — which is to say, women daddies — instead of priestesses.)

    All very well, but what about the Protestant world?

    Well, as a rule, they deny that there is any perpetual sacrificial ministry in the Church apart from that which is common to all persons (e.g. “a sacrifice of praise”; offering one’s body as a living sacrifice, etc.). They see Communion not as the New Covenant todah (“thank offering”; in Greek “eucharist”) but rather as a remembrance in which Christ is spiritually present in mysterious — or at least, unagreed-upon — ways. (Yes, there is more to this: I over-simplify for brevity.)

    But, having no sacrificial priesthood, they have no direct connection between their ministers’ roles and the roles occupied by Aaron and his sons, and the father-priests before that. Their ministers are not called “Father so-and-so.” (In saying this I am having to gloss over the complexities of the Anglican situation. Again, for brevity, I prescind entirely from the question of whether Anglicans are Protestants, Catholics, Both, or Neither!) And Protestant ministers’ role among their congregants is leaderly, but not necessarily in a paternal way.

    This being the case, why SHOULD they be constrained to male-only leadership teams?

    Deprived of the priestly context for the role of spiritual fatherhood, one is left only with Paul’s injunction about not permitting a woman to be in a role of authority…but since he also says “there is no male or female,” that injunction is arguably culture-specific or era-specific, having nothing to do intrinsically with Christ’s laws for His kingdom.

    The Catholic or Eastern Orthodox consequently can look at the Protestant ministry and ask, “Why not have female pastors? There were certainly shepherdesses in ancient and modern times. The Bible does not unambiguously forbid it. And it is not a matter of sacramental ordination to the priesthood. But there are lady catechists in every Catholic church; since a Protestant minister’s primary role is catechetical within that tradition, why should there not be women?”

    Yet — to put my cards on the table — I do think that the sacrificial priesthood is a real thing, intrinsic to the Apostolic faith. (I’m not here to argue the point: I’m not good at that and I love and respect my Protestant brothers and sisters and don’t wish to trouble the ecumenical waters. Those who wish a friendly debate ought to speak with the folks at Called to Communion, or maybe to Scott Hahn.)

    Anyhow, because I think the sacrificial priesthood’s perpetual and joyous re-presenting of the Bread of Life and the Blood of the New Covenant to God the Father as a thank offering given “from the rising of the sun to its setting” is assumed by the New Testament authors, it follows that I expect the Holy Spirit — who is the common Spirit at work in all the baptized, Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox — to put a longing in the hearts of all the baptized for fatherly leadership.

    In a church where there is no sacrificial priesthood, this — I theorize — produces an inclination to require that the ministerial leadership be male. The injunction from Paul then becomes a convenient justifying verse.

    But as I said before, the argument for that injunction being a timeless and unqualified one is tenuous. Thus there’s plenty of room for the reverse position to be articulated, and on perfectly good grounds. What this situation would produce is easy to foresee, because it’s the current reality: Even in Protestant churches where the highest ministerial positions are open to women, there’s a curious reluctance to live it out to the full, even among women, and even among men who are utterly devoid of sexism.

    I think the Spirit who causes us to cry “Abba, Father” sees something missing from the picture. The head knows the reasons why women shouldn’t be excluded, but the heart says, “Yes, but….” and trails off into unarticulated misgivings.

    When, at some distant point, all Christianity is reunited — and the Holy Spirit certainly desires that we be one even as the Son and the Father are one — I expect women to be prominent as teachers and theologians, along the model of Teresa of Avila or Catherine of Siena or Hildegard of Bingen or Terese of Liseux. They’ll often lead at prayer gatherings and preach to the faithful. True, I do not expect that they will be called to offer the Eucharist, but that is because God the Father knows humanity better than humanity does, and wishes to preserve among us a sort of living icon of His paternal love.

  • Tina H

    Nancy – I’m grateful that a good female friend – who is an administrative staff member at our church sent me this article to read. WHAT AN ENCOURAGEMENT. I’ve been serving alongside paid staff at our church for years, as Volunteer Staff. I’m told I’m valuable, needed, accountable, a Coach and Mentor to others….your final paragraphs….to every women showing up day after day really summarized it for me and hit me square in the eyes, heart and soul. Thank you thank you for writing these encouraging thoughts.
    Did I see you 23 plus years ago on stage at Willow?….are you the same Nancy? It’s amazing how God directs our paths…..When the Glory goes to God and we take ourselves out of the spotlight – we can humbly move along (even if it’s under the radar of others).