January 10, 2017

Screen Shot 2016-05-23 at 7.25.08 AMBy Michelle Van Loon,  www.MomentsAndDays.org

and www.MichelleVanLoon.com

Last week in this space, I wrote about a flawed Proverbs 31-focused approach one congregation took when they decided to rethink their ministry to women. Even as I raised concerns, I noted that I’ve been enriched by time spent in prayer, study, fellowship, worship, and service with women’s-only groups.

Do these single-gender groups reflect who the Church is? Paul highlighted diversity within the Church, even as he reminded us that there is one Savior for all: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) Even so, there are specific gender-related discipleship instructions in Paul’s letters (for instance, here).

As the purpose of women’s ministry has received new attention in recent weeks, I’ve been reflecting on both gifts and lumps of coal I’ve received as a result of participation in various women’s ministry efforts over the years. As a good chunk of the audience for my writing and speaking is female, I want to ensure I am contributing to the call to make disciples, rather than creating church-y busywork for women.

Women’s ministry has been a gift to me in three specific ways:

Fellowship – Certainly there is no gender restriction on the familial comradeship flowing from our connection to our Head, Jesus. However, the “women’s only” groups of which I’ve been a part have helped me learn how to be a sister both to other women and to my brothers in the Body of Christ.

The healthiest women’s groups of which I’ve been a part over the last four decades reflect the kind of “one anothering” care described in Scripture. I’ve experienced fellowship among women-only groups via involvement in practical care (casserole-toting and assistance with childcare when a church member is ill), in shared service to the extended community (believing women staffing the local Crisis Pregnancy Center or becoming a band of sisters in order to advocate for victims of human trafficking), in prayer (gathering to intercede for prodigals, for pastors, for congregational needs), and in coming together for study or conversation.

Experience – I have been enriched by the unfiltered stories of other women as I’ve navigated everything from post-partum sexuality to toddler toilet training to the disconcerting echo of a newly-empty nest. I can and have accessed the experiences of other women via online forums or in non-sectarian settings. But in the context of the Church, I’ve discovered in the community of other women how these life experiences can shape my life as a female follower of Jesus. Other women’s stories have comforted me and confronted me, and have empowered me to share my own stories with others.

Friendship – Out of fellowship and shared story, I’ve found a few meaningful female friendships at Church. The best of these relationships have continued across time, congregational affiliation, and geographic location. Female friendships have been little sanctuaries in my life in far different ways than have the friendships I’ve formed with men over the years. There are subjects – and frank ways of talking about those topics – that I am far more comfortable discussing with another trusted believing female friend.

Women’s ministry efforts at the various churches I’ve attended have also delivered some pretty big lumps of coal. The toxic women’s ministry efforts have threatened to turn me off on the whole enterprise. If the congregation is unhealthy, women’s ministry will reflect that. In my experience, unhealth in church-based women’s formation efforts tends to show itself first either via a Christian version of fear-based peer pressure (“All good Christian women home school/sell essential oils/—fill in the blank—; if you want to be a good Christian woman like us you’d better shape up quick!”) or in clique-y interpersonal dynamics. A clique is an ersatz form of fellowship. The relational drama diminishes the possibility that good teaching will flourish, leaders will develop, or that it’ll be safe for anyone to be honest about who they are.

I’m curious, female Jesus Creed readers. What gifts (if any) has women’s ministry brought into your life? Or has your experience with women’s ministry been all negative?

December 19, 2019

By Becky Castle Miller

A friend who was working on Christmas shopping asked me for gift basket recommendations for a woman called to theology and pastoring. I had fun putting together a list for him.

If you are a woman in ministry, what would you like to find in your gift basket?

  • Earplugs to block out people saying just “1 Timothy 2:12” over and over
  • A dress with POCKETS to hold a lapel mic for preaching
  • Sturdy boots for stomping out crisis fires
  • A hammer to smash the glass steeple
  • Frosty breath mints for when she needs to speak kind words but wants to breathe fire
  • Tissues for crying congregants (or herself)
  • A name tag with “Jezebel” crossed out and replaced by her correct name
  • A locket necklace to remind her of the people she carries on her heart
  • Toothpicks to prop open her eyes when reading a dry-as-dust commentary after waking up at 2 a.m. with sick kids
  • An origami instruction book to turn hate mail into art, following the example of Rachel Held Evans
  • A new bookcase to hold all the volumes written about biblical support for women in ministry
  • The mythical preaching outfit that is modest but not frumpy, stylish but not flashy, fitted but not too fitted, professional but not businesslike, and, again, POCKETS
  • Or, if she serves in a liturgical church, a custom-made clergy stole with a hidden pocket for a phone and mic pack, such as these from Joy Engelsman
  • A sign to wear around her neck that says, “I’m not the pastor’s wife, I’m the pastor”
  • File folders to hold the handwritten notes of love, appreciation, and encouragement from people she has ministered to
  • Comfy high heels in all the colors of the liturgical calendar
  • Emboldened by Tara Beth Leach
  • The Vulnerable Pastor by Mandy Smith
  • More Than Enchanting by Jo Saxton
  • Pastor Paul by Scot McKnight, in which he refers to pastors in general as “she”
  • Raise Your Voice by Kathy Khang

Stephanie Nelson (@stephanienels) added some additional great ideas on Twitter:

  • A t-shirt saying “Preach Like a Girl”
  • The right shade of lipstick to “greet each other with a holy kiss” \
  • A gym membership to work out all the aggression that comes from within because of fighting the patriarchy. Peacefully.
  • An elevator speech to address the clobber passages
  • Gifted to Lead by Nancy Beach
  • Now That I’m Called by Kristen Padilla

Share in the comments what you would add to this gift guide.

Becky Castle Miller serves on the pastoral staff at an international church in Maastricht, Netherlands. She is the author of the study guide Teaching Romans Backwards and the co-author, with Scot McKnight, of the discipleship curriculum Following King Jesus. She conveys her five kids around town on bikes and studies New Testament in the middle of the night via Northern Live. Connect with her on Twitter and Instagram @bcastlemiller.

 

January 9, 2019

Sarah is a recovering academic with a passion for the middle ages, baking, and science fiction. She currently lives in the Chicagoland area with one husband, two dogs, and three daughters who inspire her to advocate for gender equality. Sarah blogs at intoresurrection.com and tweets @drlindsay.

Who has stories to tell about changing views about women in ministry?

Editor’s Note: This article is based on an interview conducted by the author.

In 2016, pastor Ray Kollbocker felt convicted to examine the issue of women’s leadership in the church. Two years later, in early 2018, his church opened all of its leadership positions to women.

Kollbocker has been in ministry for many years, with over twenty years as the senior pastor at a church in Glen Ellyn, IL. During his years at there, he’s guided the church through significant growth and a variety of other changes. For several years, Kollbocker knew that, at some point, he and the church would have to confront the question of whether women should be restricted from some leadership roles.

So, during a sabbatical in 2016, Kollbocker dove into a study of Scripture and scholarship. As he describes it, he was a “soft complementarian.” He came to Christ and Christianity in a context that did bar women from church leadership, but during his time in seminary, Kollbocker met women with undeniable calls to ministry as well as other Christians who held egalitarian views.

Influenced by these experiences but not yet willing to move to a fully egalitarian position, Kollbocker hired women, allowed women to teach, even gave women on his staff the title “pastor.” But women still weren’t allowed to serve as elders, the highest level of lay leadership in the church. Over time, this final restriction made less and less sense to Kollbocker, especially as he worked closely with a female, egalitarian pastor on his staff.

During his sabbatical, Kollbocker immersed himself in the Bible and academic study particularly scholarship about the cultural context of the New Testament. Kollbocker experienced a moment of revelation that he’d been missing for years. He realized that men and women had originally ruled together in the Garden of Eden—a state twisted by the fall, which led to pervasive patriarchy. He saw that limiting women in the church denied the original equality God created between men and women.

After becoming convicted that women should not be barred from any leadership position in the church, Kollbocker brought his conclusion to his church’s elder board and asked them to embark on their own study of the issue. Over the course of a year and a half, the elder board (which had only one egalitarian member prior to this study) came to a unanimous agreement that all positions of church leadership should be open to women.

One final hurdle remained, however: once the elders had rewritten portions of the church constitution, the church body as a whole needed to approve the changes. In early 2018, by a narrow margin, church members approved the changes and opened all leadership positions to women.

This is not, however, the end of the story.

Some members left the church, unable to stay in a community that had come to an egalitarian position on women in the church.

Others accused church leadership of bowing to cultural pressures, reacting to the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements.

But for others, this change was a natural extension of the question that Kollbocker and his leadership consistently ask of themselves and their church: what does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus?

Kollbocker explains that the answer to this question cannot lie in simply acquiring more information, as important as that may be. Becoming a disciple means learning to live in the way of Jesus—to live with love, compassion, and grace.

For Kollbocker and his church, living as disciples means inviting women into leadership, but it also means a larger commitment to sharing power and recognizing the humanity in others.

What can we learn from this church’s changed stance on women?

1. Change requires openness and humility.

The process began when Kollbocker followed the prompting of the Holy Spirit to study the question of women in church leadership and allowed himself to be open to admitting error and making changes. Kollbocker’s willingness to be led by the Holy Spirit and to change his mind influenced the elders, who eventually voted unanimously to change their requirement that elders be men.

2. Change requires patience.

A significant factor in Kollbocker’s changed position was the patient influence of a female pastor with egalitarian views. An egalitarian, this female pastor chose to remain at a church that didn’t share her views and continue discussing her views about women in ministry, patiently and faithfully nudging the church to reconsider its position.

3. Change comes at a cost.

The church lost members—even long-time, highly involved members—over this change. Church leadership knew that this was a possibility, but the practical and personal consequences at the church have been significant.

The challenges faced by this soft complementarian church, even a church with women teachers and pastors already, illuminate the difficulty of moving an entire community from a complementarian stance to an egalitarian one.

But equally, what this pastor and this church have done shows the good that can come when the leadership of a church is willing to reconsider their position, when leadership is willing to think about how to share power and empower others. The change to egalitarianism is new to this church. But in the years to come, pastors and churches like these are poised to nurture and launch an entire generation of Christians who recognize the humanity in others and work to liberate all people to use their gifts freely in the church.

June 5, 2017

By Pastor Gricel Medina who was ordained by the Evangelical Covenant Church, and has published articles in English and Spanish for various publications. She is a no-nonsense teacher and preacher, and is an advocate for the marginalized in areas of education, community, and leadership development. She has served six years on the Covenant Church’s commission for biblical gender equality, and was the first Hispanic to serve as its chair.Gricel will further address this topic in her workshop: “In It Together: Widening Our Reach and Our Message” at CBE’s 2017 conference, “Mutual by Design.” Gricel Medina will also offer a plenary lecture on “Reframing: An Architectural Design Thinking Process of 1 Corinthians 11:11-12.” Gricel is just one of our many excellent speakers. For more information, visit our conference website. To register, click here.

Genesis 1 perfectly illustrates God’s mutual design for men and women:

Then God said, “Let us make people in our image, to be like ourselves. They will be master over all life—the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the livestock, wild animals, and small animals” (NLT).

We were meant to reign together and yet, the world subjugates women of all colors to men, stripping them of their authority, power, and influence. And it can all be traced back to a misinterpretation of God’s good vision for humanity after the fall.

God’s original design was mutual; it gave male and female shared dominion over the earth, not over each other. God commanded the first humans to co-exercise their power—to responsibly rule and care for creation. The consequences were severe when humanity, tempted by Satan, did not implement God’s holy plan for dominion in the garden.

Post-fall, women have been marginalized, oppressed, and exploited on a global scale. Many women are taught to see themselves as weaker vessels—by the very body God designed for their good. The church regularly excludes women from decision-making tables and dismisses their God-given authority.

We must widen the reach of egalitarian theology in the church until all women are affirmed as co-heirs and their God-given authority for dominion recognized. We must image not the fall in our churches, but God’s original vision for shared leadership and responsibility. Here are eight ways we can promote that good plan.

1. Actively support women who are called and gifted for leadership, and intentionally place them in authority.

Women who exhibit leadership abilities and women who exercise spiritual authority are often shunned by men and sometimes even mocked by other women in the church. Since Genesis, we have witnessed the destructive consequences for both women and men when we do not exercise mutual biblical authority on earth. To realize God’s vision for mutuality, we must recognize and celebrate women’s spiritual authority by appointing them to lead.

Nominate women to be chairs of church boards, pastors of churches, leaders in communities, and speakers at Christian conferences.  Deliberately create and open spaces for women to lead. Financially support them, especially because there’s still an enormous disparity in how the church compensates women for their work compared to men.

2. Provide visuals of women in authority for young leaders.

Women often lack faith that they’re capable of stepping out of a patriarchal paradigm because of the absence of female role models, mentors, and leaders in the church. Positive visuals of women leading challenge that false perception. It’s important that young girls see women declaring God’s Word and carrying out gospel work. We can also illustrate women’s spiritual authority at home—for our children, our teens, our college-age students, and our spouses.

3. Make racial reconciliation a priority.

Women of color have suffered excruciating pain due to racial and gender divides in the church. The sin of racism persists globally. It has devastating consequences for the body of Christ, especially for women of color called to be pastors.

We must address racial discrimination in addition to gender discrimination, because both inhibit women of color from exercising authority and leading in the church. Racial justice will widen our message and our reach. Racial reconciliation is a vital step toward a healthier and fuller image of mutuality in the church, one that includes and empowers brothers and sisters of color.

4. Lovingly challenge a patriarchal system that encourages women’s silence.

Women are often expected to simply accept their marginalization in the church and in society. They can become trapped in a hopeless cycle of passivity if they aren’t encourage to actively reject patriarchal theology.

Modeling courage is very important. We must boldly correct and challenge injustice against women when we see it. However, biblical authority doesn’t need to scream, demand, or get in people’s faces. We can be firm and uncompromising in battling oppression while modeling our words and actions after Jesus.

5. Include the voices and stories of women of all colors, races, and cultural contexts.

When we tell a fuller story, all can see God’s gospel vision for mutuality and shared dominion. Visuals of mutual, multi-colored biblical authority prove there’s better way of life—for Christians of all backgrounds.

We should celebrate the humanity of women of all races and ethnicities who are called to positions of authority as pastors and leaders. The inclusion of diverse voices will not only increase the relevance of egalitarian theology, it will also widen our reach in a multi-cultural, multi-colored world.

6. Give women the resources they need to succeed.

God calls both men and women to serve the church. We only obey the call of God. However, women who are called and gifted by God for leadership often lack adequate resources to thrive. Words of affirmation are not enough. We must become active advocates in word and deed for women at every level of leadership in the church. We need to think outside the box as we work, practically, to empower women leaders.

7. Challenge the women around us to step into their callings.

Faith overcomes fear. Encourage women to be front and center—to be bold and very courageous. Let them know they can step into the light without fear because we are advocating for them and walking alongside them.

8. Pray for women leaders.

Finally, we need prayer warriors who will intercede for women leaders as we face the challenges ahead.

Together, we can widen our reach and our message by asking God to open minds and hearts to egalitarian theology.

 

January 2, 2017

Screen Shot 2016-05-23 at 7.25.08 AMBy Michelle Van Loon at www.MomentsAndDays.org and www.MichelleVanLoon.com

The new women’s ministry director invited all adult women to a brainstorming meeting. “We want to help you become the women God is calling you to be,” she explained as she passed out sheets of paper with each phrase of Proverbs 31:10-31 on a separate line. She read the passage, then did a bit of contextualizing to help us re-imagine the language of the Ancient Near East in our suburban experience. For example, the director noted, “She selects wool and flax, and works with eager hands” (vs. 13) could be interpreted to mean, “I have a good attitude about my work in the home”.

She instructed us to take a few moments to reflect on our lives and circle the words in the passage where we felt we were the weakest. “I’ll be using this information to plan Bible studies and other events that would target the areas where the women in the room suggested they might be struggling.

The whole thing seemed an exercise in both misreading and misapplying the text. I was already planning on writing a protest statement on my sheet and talking to the director later when I caught the eye of one of the single women present in the room. She looked like she’d been stabbed in the spleen, which I later learned was a pretty fair reading of her emotions at that moment. The passage we were supposed to use to define our weaknesses begins with the question,

“A wife of noble character who can find?” (vs. 10).

One of the other single women present asked, “What about those of us who aren’t married?”

A quick, patronizing response (“Just circle what applies to you in your situation”) highlighted the unwritten rule that the primary audience for women’s ministry in this church was married mothers of school-age children. Older women who were empty-nesters might serve an advisory role as mentors for this group, but all others were functionally invisible and without purpose.

I wish I could say this was an aberration, but some form of this unwritten caste system exists in many congregations. Biblical womanhood as its been taught in most of the suburban, theologically-conservative churches I’ve attended (churches with both complementarian and egalitarian leadership structures, I might add) tends to target married mothers. It is as if the fact that slightly more than half the adults in the U.S. are single isn’t a factor, nor is it that those of us who are parents are outliving our active childrearing years by decades. When Proverbs 31:10-31 becomes a checklist, and it, along with a few other texts (Matthew 10:38-42, Titus 2:3-5, 1 Timothy 2:9-15) become the template for women’s ministry, local church discipleship becomes nothing more than a noxious form of Christian peer pressure.

I’m currently reading Aimee Byrd’s No Little Women: Equipping All Women in the Household of God, and she echoes the same concerns about the focus in women’s ministry on sentiment, performance, and flimsy theology. Byrd, whose blog is called Housewife Theologian, and who is a part of the Reformed Mortification of Spin podcasting team, speaks with clarity to her stream within the Church about women’s ministry. In addition, she addresses issues that transcend that stream and bleed into other adjoining ones. When local congregations marginalize, neglect, impose dated culturally-bound 1950’s stereotypes or allow the Christian marketplace (conferences and pre-packaged curriculum) to set the agenda, the whole church suffers. Byrd challenges the Proverbs-31-As-Checklist paradigm:

Is there a separate gospel for women? Everyone would answer no to that. But when we start getting into specific details of ‘gospel-driven gender roles’, we may be inadvertently sending that message. Much of what is taught in the blblical womanhood movement focuses on the role of a wife and mother. While these are treasured, life-giving roles to be praised, singles and motherless wives have felt marginalized by this message, as if they cannot properly fulfill their design in biblical womanhood. Where is all the teaching on the women who left their households to follow Jesus and even provided for his ministry? Where is the teaching on Phoebe as a model of biblical womanhood, a prominent woman in society, and a patron to Paul and many others?…much less effort has been put into equipping women to be good theologians, which Jesus emphasized as the better portion.

Some Jesus Creed readers may question whether there should be gender-specific subgroups within a congregation, just as others have raised valid questions about age segregation. There’s much we could discuss about both of those questions, but for the purposes of this post, I will say that I’ve benefitted greatly from time spent in prayer, study, fellowship, worship, and service with other women of all ages and life stages. (Just as I have benefitted from spending time with both men and women!) The single-gender group benefit stops for me when a few texts and a dogmatic filter of a particular flavor of “biblical womanhood” sets the agenda for those relationships in a church. 
What does women’s ministry look like at your church? Are women of all life stages included and celebrated? What sorts of topics/curriculum are your women’s groups studying? What drives those decisions? 
October 24, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 10.18.31 AMBy Debbie Fulthorp

Recently, I received a couple of e-mails from a few well-meaning friends suggesting that I tone it down with social media posts advocating for women in ministry. These friends suggested that my posts cause tension, make the church look bad, and turn people away from attending church.

I took their words to heart, prayed, and pondered them for some time. I asked myself, do these posts truly have a negative effect on the church, or do some Christians mistakenly believe that advocating for women in ministry disrupts church unity? As a former lead pastor and a fairly new advocate for women in ministry, I hear many unfounded myths like this about the inclusion of women in church leadership. Let’s explore some of those myths.

Myth #1: Advocating for women in ministry will turn people away from the church.

According to various research polls, the increase of people who identify as “unchurched” rose by 21% between 1993 and 2015. 85% of those “unchurched” women are more accurately identified as “de-churched.”[1] One of the top reasons women are leaving church is the “lack of emotional engagement and support.”[2]

In reality, people are already leaving the church, and they are acutely aware of the problems we face as a community. The church actually strengthens and grows when men and women collaborate to honestly approach challenges.

Our main priority as kingdom-bringing Christians is to build bridges where there were once barriers. Advocating for women in ministry provides opportunities for bridge building, and breaks down barriers to the gospel.

Myth #2: Advocating for women in ministry causes people to lose sight of the gospel, and doesn’t help win people to Jesus.

This myth is the logical fallacy: A, therefore not B. Just because someone advocates for women’s full equality in ministry does not mean that they don’t love evangelism. Advocating for full equality for women in ministry is all about how God views people, and it has everything to do with what Jesus did for all of humanity.

Carolyn Custis James asserts in Half the Church, “When half the church holds back–whether by choice or because we have no choice–everybody loses and our mission [winning people to Jesus] suffers setbacks.”[3] The kingdom grows stronger when we work together for the gospel, side by side.

Myth #3: Women who advocate for equality “wear the pants” in their families.

Simply put, this myth exemplifies shaming, implying that there is something emasculating about an equal marriage partnership. In the book, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, this is one of the seven characteristics of a shame-based relationship.[4]

This myth belittles women who have strong callings in ministry by acting like they subvert some natural order and shames men who faithfully support those callings. We should replace this myth with Scripture and combat shaming of strong women and men who affirm them.

Myth #4: Women who advocate for equality have a Jezebel spirit and have subverted God’s plan for man’s rule over them.

Another characteristic of shame-based relationships, this myth shifts blame onto, manipulates, and humiliates women so “they won’t act that way anymore.”[5] It implies that women are the only ones who ever behave negatively, and it says that a desire for equality is sinful.

The truth is that both men and women can have an unhealthy, controlling spirit. This problem is endemic to humanity. The solution comes when control is released and the marginalized are empowered. Advocating for women in ministry is all about empowering and releasing others into ministry. And Genesis 1:28 indicates that God’s original plan for man and woman was that they would lead together.

Myth #5: Men who advocate for women in ministry are weak and need to “man up.”

Another effort to shame, this myth attempts to undermine men by striking at their masculine identity. And yet, the Apostle Paul himself is considered a strong man in both complementarian and egalitarian circles, and he was an advocate for women in ministry. Throughout his epistles, but more specifically in Romans, Paul commended women as co-laborers in ministry.[6]

Men who advocate for women in ministry are strong men, and they have kingdom vision. As the Apostle Paul illustrated, male support is essential to activating women for the gospel.

Myth #6: Advocating for women as equal partners in ministry is anti-biblical.

Used and abused, this myth pops up regularly despite evidence to the contrary. Many people use this myth to dismiss examples of women in ministry such as Deborah, Huldah, Priscilla, Junia, and more. But advocating for women as equal partners in ministry is biblical and examples of men who did so are found throughout Scripture.

Side note: You can find many resources and books on these topics through CBE International and other websites. Here is a list of blogs from the Junia Project with more information.

It is time for men and women to set aside myths and labor together for the kingdom of God. Our common ground is Christ and him crucified. We must work together by honestly addressing our challenges, advocating for each other, and continuing to evangelize, pastor, teach, preach, and serve regardless of gender.

Notes

[1] Barna Group, “Five Factors Changing Women’s Relationship with Churches.” Barna.com, June 25, 2015. Accessed September 10, 2016, https://www.barna.com/research/five-factors-changing-womens-relationship….
[2] Ibid..
[3] Carolyn Custis James, Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), 2011, 19.
[4] David Johnson and Jeffrey VanVonderen, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2005), 57.
[5] Johnson and VanVonderen, 58.
[6] Romans 16:1 (Phoebe), 3 (Prisca),6 (Mary), 7 (Junia), 12 (Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis), 13 (Julia, Neurus’ Sister, Olympas).

July 29, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 10.18.31 AMBy Debbie Fulthorp:

Dr. Debbie Fulthorp has been an ordained minister of the Assemblies of God for over fourteen years. Debbie has ministered in over twenty-seven countries. She received her DMin from the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. She is wife to Brian, mom to Mercy and Samuel, ages nine and six.

I overheard an amazing conversation on my way back from lunch at a conference I recently attended. A university student casually mentioned the history of strong women leaders in the early church, using Priscilla as an example, to his friend. He then passionately contended for women as equal partners in church leadership. I quickly realized that I knew the student who was advocating for female pastors and teachers.

Two years ago, I was invited to teach a session about women in ministry to a group of bright, young students. One young man was quiet and seemed unresponsive to my words. During the class, he mentioned his conservative upbringing, which excluded women from ministry. I left not knowing his response to my session.

At the time, I wondered how, or if, those few hours of teaching would actually change his perspective. Now, he was attending a church leadership conference and proactively advocating for the Spirit-empowered ministry of men and women.

Our words as egalitarian leaders and teachers can have great impact on the hearts and minds of other Christians. We must be wise and intentional in our teaching and advocacy for women as equal ministry partners to men. Here is a list of simple steps egalitarian leaders can take to guide people toward a better theology on women in ministry.

1. Start with the Heart

Including women in all levels of church leadership is a controversial move and a difficult topic to tackle. It should be approached as such. Crucial Conversations, a book on beginning difficult conversations, refers to this pivotal principle: “Start[ing] with heart… means starting with our own selves.”[1]

What were/are your own biases toward including women in all levels of ministry? Share your story, both the good and the bad, with the person, congregation, class, or group you’re speaking to. Attach personal weight to having women leaders in the church/community.

2. Set a Firm Theological Foundation: Understanding the Trinity

Within the last twenty to thirty years, a new debate over Trinitarian doctrine has emerged. This directly impacts how a church understands and models leadership, both in marriage and in the structure of the church.

If a church adheres to a complementarian or hierarchical understanding of gender, their theology on the Trinity is more likely to fall under the category of “subordinationist.” This perspective on the trinity (ESS or ERAS) subordinates God the Son to God the Father. It is important to clarify that both Scripture and church history affirm mutuality or “equivalency” among the godhead.[2]

3. Tackle the Controversial Passages

Passages such as Ephesians 2:20, 1 Corinthians 14:34, and 1 Timothy 2:12 are consistently misunderstood and misused to exclude and marginalize women. Historical and cultural context clues are of utmost importance in properly interpreting Scripture.

We should remind our classes, friends, coworkers, and congregations that they interpret the Bible through a Western, 21st century lens. But ancient texts cannot be understood correctly without considering their original context.

These controversial passages concerning the role and gifts of women are difficult to interpret, even for biblical scholars. When Christians take the time to research the historical-cultural-grammatical background and details of the texts, we are challenged with fresh insight and revelation from the Holy Spirit.[3]

4. Discuss Bible Translations

Inevitably, in engaging controversial scriptures, Christians will note differences in their Bible translations. Questions will likely arise as to why some words are included, others footnoted, and still others completely omitted. Be honest and thorough in explaining the process of Bible translation.

The Bible is God’s divinely-breathed word, but it was handwritten by thirty-nine human authors over a spanof 1,500 years. Emphasizing divine collaboration through human personality provides a more practical approach to understanding differences in translations of passages concerning women in leadership.[4]

5. Utilize Biblical Stories of Women

From the Old to the New Testament, stories of women leading the way abound. Teach about and celebrate women leaders like Esther, Deborah, Mary, and Priscilla. Build upon previous knowledge of Bible women, and step out with more obscure examples of female leadership like Sheerah, the female builder/architect,[5] the daughters of Zelophehad,[6] or Junia, the female apostle.[7] It’s important to point out that the inclusion of women in leadership among God’s people is not a new concept, it’s a biblical one.

6. Share Historical and Contemporary Stories of Women in Ministry

From historical figures such as St. Teresa of Avila, Pandita Ramabai, Susana Wesley, Jennie Seymour, and Catherine Booth to contemporary influencers such as Brenda Salter McNeil, Anne Graham Lotz, Gail Song Bantum, and Christine Caine, God chose/chooses diverse women with diverse gifts to lead the way.

7. Trust the Holy Spirit’s Work

Carve out time to spend in prayer, discussion, and thought for those listening. You’ll have given them much to consider on the topic of including women in all levels of church ministry. Ultimately, trust the Holy Spirit to do the work. What might take one person years or a lifetime to accomplish, the Holy Spirit can accomplish in a short amount of time. Plant the seeds as you’re called and watch the Spirit work.

“The harvest is plentiful, the workers are few… Pray for laborers.”

Jesus’ words in Luke 10:2 to his disciples are a stark reminder that the church remains ineffective and dysfunctional when it fails to use the gifts of both men and women. When the church has a healthy theological understanding of women’s gifts and leadership, dysfunction ceases and ministry thrives.

Notes

[1] Kerry Patterson et al., Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, 2nd ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2012), 33.
[2] For a thorough and objective book on this subject, Millard Erickson, Who’s Tampering with the Trinity? an Assessment of the Subordination Debate (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2009).
[3] One book that does a thorough job on these scriptures is Deborah Gill and Barbara Cavaness-Parks,God’s Women Then and Now, 3rd ed. (Springfield, MO: Grace and Truth, 2015).
[4] Another good book on Bible translation and study, Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, 4 ed. (MI: Zondervan, 2014).
[5] 1 Chronicles 7:24
[6] Numbers 26:33, 27:2, 36:1; Joshua 17:3
[7] Romans 16:7

January 11, 2016

See here, where you can read about more supporters of women’s ministries:

Some Christians think that only people who have a “loose approach to scripture” can believe that women should be leaders and teachers in the church. I strongly doubt that any evangelical Christian would regard these scholars and theologians as having a loose approach to scripture, and yet each of them believes that appropriately gifted women should be leaders and teachers in the church. Here is a sample of various statements made by these prominent scholars (some of whom are now deceased.)

F.F. Bruce (1910-1990)

F.F. Bruce was the Rylands Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis at the University of Manchester, and belonged to the Open Brethren.

“An appeal to first principles in our application of the New Testament might demand the recognition that when the Spirit, in his sovereign good pleasure, bestows varying gifts on individual believers, these gifts are intended to be exercised for the well-being of the whole church. If he manifestly withheld the gifts of teaching or leadership from Christian women, then we should accept that as evidence of his will (1 Cor. 12:11). But experience shows that he bestows these and other gifts, with ‘undistinguishing regard’, on men and women alike―not on all women, of course, nor yet on all men. That being so, it is unsatisfactory to rest with a halfway house in this issue of women’s ministry, where they are allowed to pray and prophesy, but not to teach or lead.”
F.F. Bruce, “Women in the Church: A Biblical Survey,” Christian Brethren Review 33 (1982) pp.7-14.(Source) 

Gordon D. Fee (b. 1934)

Professor Emeritus of New Testament at Regent College, ordained in the Assemblies of God

“It seems a sad commentary on the church and on its understanding of the Holy Spirit that “official” leadership and ministry is allowed to come from only one half of the community of faith. The New Testament evidence is that the Holy Spirit is gender inclusive, gifting both men and women, and thus potentially setting the whole body free for all the parts to minister and in various ways to give leadership to the others. Thus my issue in the end is not a feminist agenda—an advocacy of women in ministry. Rather, it is a Spirit agenda, a plea for the releasing of the Spirit from our strictures and structures so that the church might minister to itself and to the world more effectively.”
“The Priority of Spirit Gifting for Church Ministry”, Discovering Biblical Equality Complementarity without Hierarchy. Ronald W. Pierce, Rebecca Merrill Groothuis, Gordon D. Fee (eds) (IVP Academic, 2012) p.254.

Craig S. Keener (b. 1960)

Professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary, ordained in an African-American Baptist church but serves in settings with a range of traditions.

” . . . we Pentecostals and charismatics affirm that the minister’s authority is inherent in the minister’s calling and ministry of the Word, not the minister’s person. In this case, gender should be irrelevant as a consideration for ministry–for us as it was for Paul. . . . Today we should affirm those whom God calls, whether male or female, and encourage them in faithfully learning God’s Word. We need to affirm all potential laborers, both men and women, for the abundant harvest fields.”
Was Paul For or Against Women in Ministry?, Enrichment Journal, Spring 2001. (Source)

June 10, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 2.24.52 PMEsther Emery used to direct stage plays in Southern California. But that was a long time ago. Now she is pretty much a runaway, living off the grid in a yurt and tending to three acres in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. She writes about faith and rebellion and trying to live a totally free life at estheremery.com.

I read her question to me in an email. I could hear right through the tiny screen that there was urgency behind her words. She was half disapproving and half pleading. She was taking a risk, exposing herself, just by asking.

“Don’t you feel,” she said, “a lot of guilt? I do think it’s inspiring that you follow your convictions. You’re so brave. But don’t you feel like following your own call all the time, like that, is also selfish? What do you do about the guilt?”
  
I wanted to leap right through my phone then and there to take her by the hands. I wanted a big group hug right that minute with every woman who has ever followed her call against resistance. I wanted to shout, “YES, I have felt the guilt. Yes. And I will name it for what it is, which is resistance.” 

I have been trained by society to raise the work of making room for men above the work of speaking up for women. And I have learned my lessons well. Whenever I have the audacity to speak with my full voice, lifting up the feminine voice in Christian culture, I hear these voices in my head, the resistance:

You are selfish. You are following ego and seeking fame. You are carrying disruption into spaces that would otherwise enjoy a peaceful silence, and you’re doing all this for yourself. 

Except I’m not. 

Women of the church, it is not value-neutral to stand in silence. It is not value-neutral to passively accept a power differential that allows harm to come to women and girls across the world. It is not value-neutral to allow ideologies that impair half the hands of the body of Christ.

It is not value-neutral to do nothing. 

I know that it seems innocuous–okay, at least, or even good–to sit always in the second row. It seems right to hush our own voices, maybe even in hopes of making room for one another. And please understand, I am not advocating narcissism or the refusal to hear and respond to leadership. 

What I am talking about is something else.

There is a church culture of self-suppression that goes beyond respect for work that is being done! There is a church culture of saying, I will take my own fierce energy, my inspiration, and my capacities and I will shove them down. I will swallow them. I will suppress them. And I will even believe that this is what my Jesus asks of me. I’m just not sure we’re doing that math right. 

Trust me, I know the urge, first hand, to get as deep as possible with Jesus. I know about how that makes you want to give up everything and never speak out, even in your own defense. 

But I’m afraid that this part of Christian culture is the harshest thing we hand down to our daughters and sons. This example, of putting ourselves second, our hands behind other hands, is a sure-fire method to teach reduced self-worth.
  
It is countercultural to believe that freedom of a certain kind–freedom to preach, freedom to prophesy, freedom to gather many hands and set them to a task in the name of Jesus Christ–is infinite. According to the zero sum game, there are only a certain number of spots for success, and taking one removes the chance for someone else.

This is accurate, I think, in the business world of cutthroat competition. But let us not confuse kingdom laws with the laws of competition.

Women of the church, don’t buy the lie of darkness that your win is going to be my loss. Where Christ is king, our accomplishments are added to one another; they lift us all up. We are big together. When you take a risk to use your voice and show your talents, you lead the way for me too. 

Conversely, when you choose not to take that risk, because you embrace a value of standing intentionally in second place, you also suggest that I am good only for second place as well.

It is a hard pill to swallow, to think that what we do in our own individual lives has such an effect on others. But it does. When we choose to passively accept a power imbalance, we become simultaneously oppressor and oppressed. We may think that we are accepting the short straw only for ourselves. But in fact, we are reinforcing it for the whole. 

It is true and right that selflessness is a value of Christ followers. We die to ourselves to live and we become the least in order to gain the most. But let’s be savvy about how we embody this value.

Let us imagine, as astonishing as it might be, that we are called to die to our limitations as well as our egotism. Let us imagine that we become the least by this extraordinary method, by offering to the glory of God our full selves, our greatest skills, our most glorious talents, and our personal agency. 

Women of the church, please don’t stand in silence or shrink yourself down to quiet the guilt or keep the peace. I beg of you, please, grow tall. Grow tall and take up space. Show me the kingdom value of multiplying loaves and never ending fishes. Show me and others that there is room.

December 30, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 7.05.53 PMThis post, by Lauren Visser (one of my DMin students at Northern Seminary), finishes off our Good News: Women in Ministry series that ran throughout Christmas week. (I’m not saying, however, that we won’t be back for more some day!)

Here’s Lauren’s story:

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a pastor.  I loved God, I loved lighting candles as an acolyte, and my pastor could touch his tongue to his nose.  Clearly, all these signs pointed to leading a church.  After all, who doesn’t want to be able to touch their tongue to their nose?

As I grew a bit older, I wanted to go to seminary.  I really had no idea what seminary was, just as I didn’t have a clear idea of what a pastor was. I simply knew that seminary was a place where people loved Jesus and studied the Bible – so I wanted to go there.

In high school, my sister and I and two other young ladies attended a youth conference. When we returned, I informed the pastor that we wanted to share our experiences.  He offered us a “mission moment.” I insisted that we had so much to say, we needed the sermon time.  And by “we,” I meant “I.”  The two other girls spoke briefly… and then I stood in the pulpit and grabbed that moment.

I’ve been holding on ever since.

It hasn’t been easy, and there are times when I simply wanted to let go.  Every year since high school I would pray, “Can I be a youth pastor?”  And God would say, “No.”

I attended Augustana College, triple majored (and added a minor for good measure) in nothing related to ministry or theology.  Every year I continued to pray, “Can I be a youth pastor now?”  And God would say, “No.”

I joined the Peace Corps, backpacked around South America, returned to the States, worked in a corporate job, and volunteered with the homeless. “Now can I be a youth pastor?” And God still answered, “Nope.”

I started leading worship at a small church plant, and I also worked with the youth.  I was still working corporately, and I decided to go to graduate school for either counseling or nursing.  So I took some psychology classes and prayed my annual prayer, “Can I be a youth pastor?”

When God said, “Yes,” I freaked out. Every insecurity exploded to the surface, like a volcano of self doubt.  But You said “no” so many times!  I’m not smart enough.  I’m not good enough (whatever “good enough” even means).

And with that “confident” attitude… I enrolled in one class at Northern Seminary.  Part-way through my second class, God called me to get an M.Div. By the end of that second class, I heard God call me to be a full-time student and “get ‘er done.”  Three years later, I had an Master of Divinity with an emphasis in Old Testament studies.

I also had so many mixed experiences with people that I was left wondering if I was truly supposed to be a pastor and if anyone really wanted to work with me.

Some people were overwhelmingly supportive.  I can drop a dozen names of incredible people who walked alongside me, encouraged me, and nurtured my gifts.

Sadly, I can also list an equal amount of names of people who denied my call to pastor and actively worked against me. Some protested on the grounds that I was a woman.  Others were jealous, while others told me that they simply did not support me.  Such negativity came from friends and strangers alike.  I still haven’t been able to detect a pattern, although I always hearken back to wise words from my internship supervisor, Glenn Westburg: “Hurting people hurt people.”  I try to remember that every time another situation slaps me in the face; because even though I’m prepared for criticism, and I am confident in my call, it still hurts.  Every time.

Despite this long and painful journey, I am currently serving in an incredibly supportive church.  I work as the Minister of Youth and Young Adults at First Baptist Church of Oak Park with Pastor Harry Parker, one of the most amazing pastors with whom I have worked.  While I am technically a youth pastor, my role is more like that of an associate pastor.  I preach regularly, help plan worship services, support my lead pastor, and much more.

Being a youth pastor is literally a dream come true for me, and I honestly thought I would be a youth pastor forever.  But I’ve never been someone who can sit still for very long, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when God started calling me to move again.  I absolutely love working with youth, and I treasure the opportunity to work with young people and help them form a long-lasting and authentic relationship with God.  It’s also a safe position.  I love it, and I’m good at it.  And I don’t have to deal with a lot of the messiness that comes with leading a church. (Yes, youth groups are often known for being messy, but cleaning up shaving cream is nothing compared to cleaning up fallout from contentious relationships or doctrinal disagreements.)

Yet I feel God calling me to something more.  Lately, I’ve been discerning whether or not God wants me in an official associate pastor role or an academic teaching role – or even better, both! I’ve been researching ordination criteria, and I continue to work on my Doctorate of Ministry in New Testament Context.  Wherever God is leading, I want to be ready.

New paths often bring new challenges, and there are still barriers facing women in ministry.  I’ve traveled through a lot of darkness; there has been opposition from inside myself and from people I love and trusted.  Yet I remember the army of people who have stood beside me and encouraged me in the darkest moments. I also remember a quotation Pastor Parker shared with me from one of his own experiences when he was questioning his call to ministry.  He had heard from a speaker these poignant words: “Don’t question in the darkness what God has shown you in the light.”

No matter how people have responded to me as a female in ministry, whether positively or negatively, the call to pastor has always been bathed in light.  I listen to that call, and I move towards that light, wherever it may lead.

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