Ethics and Community


Leadership in the Pentecostal church used to be very simple:  those who exhibited a "call" to the ministry and were led by the Holy Spirit were declared fit for leadership.  As such, early Pentecostalism tended to exhibit more democratic notions of leadership in which women were regularly called to the ministry. Often, they were also the ones who took Pentecostalism overseas as missionaries.  Pentecostal clergy, especially in the formative years (1906-1930s), were not especially well-educated, and it would be rare for any of them to have been seminary-educated. Formalized leadership and the professionalization of the clergy would not come to the movement until the 1960s, when the idea of seminary education began to be seen as a benefit and not as a hindrance to the ministry.

Sociologists have noted the changing role of female clergy in the Pentecostal context, calling it a move from the prophetic to the priestly.  However, as a more routine regimented set of community relationships developed, there were reactions against what have been called the movement's "prophesying daughters."  This story is not new; "disorderly women," or prophetesses, were viewed by some within the early American church as too potent to control, and were therefore relegated to the periphery of colonial church life.  

Pentecostals accomplished much the same thing by suggesting that biblical mandates forbade women to have authority over men; therefore, women had particular roles to play, but could never been seen as exercising power over men.   Where once women were free to function in any ministry, now some were unable to fulfill their call, while others paid a great price to remain true to their call. Leaders such as Aimee Semple McPherson, perhaps the most significant female leader in American Pentecostal history and founder of the Foursquare Church (emphasizing Jesus as Savior, Healer, Baptizer in the Holy Spirit, and Coming King), went through severe personal hardship, broken marriages, and bouts of depression.  In all probability McPherson self-destructed toward the end of her life because of the rigors of being a woman in what was considered a man's domain.  

Female clergy have made some progress, if one counts the ability to be ordained progress.  But in terms of leading churches, denominations, and seminaries, women have not seen much development.  In fact, in two of the largest representative denominations of the movement-the Church of God in Christ, and the United Pentecostal Church (a Oneness body)-women are not ordained. Where women have made significant strides is in terms of independent ministries, where women like Kathryn Kuhlman (1907-1976) and Joyce Meyer (1943-), and others have sought to bridge the "authority" question by receiving the right to be female leaders largely due to their own spiritual gifts.  However, some women operate as ministers under the cover of their husband's approval.  In Kuhlman's case, the healing evangelist, by some accounts, divorced her husband in order to dedicate herself totally to her ministry, as did at other significant female leaders.  

The other development in Pentecostal leadership is the professionalization of the clergy.  In the first half of the 20th century, the majority of clergy in Pentecostal churches had little or no formal seminary education.  When they did seek some form of theological education, most chose Bible colleges rather than seminaries. This stems from the concern of Pentecostals to train ministers for practical ministry and to get them into the churches quickly.  Seminaries typically require two or three years of study after college.  Professionalization occurred as second- and third-generation Pentecostals began obtaining seminary education outside of the Pentecostal tradition.  Pentecostal ministers, concerned with broadening their education, studied at evangelical seminaries such as Fuller Theological Seminary, and even ventured out of the evangelical world to places like Princeton, Harvard, and universities in Europe.

Why professionalization occurred is a complex question; one basic explanation is the phenomenon by which every generation tends to try to re-work their parents' religious heritage.  From a sociological perspective, the second and third generations of most faiths find some fault in them, thereby demanding reforms and revolts against established norms.  These second- and third-generation Pentecostal clergy, many of whom viewed the Bible college as too elementary for their desire for deeper theological training, found their schooling outside the Pentecostal community to be an eye-opening experience; for many, their faith was scrutinized for the first time. These second- and third-generation pastors sought formal higher education and training because of the need to reform what they often viewed as the rigidity of a very formalized Pentecostal church by the time they attended school in the late 1960 and 70s.  If there is a typical Pentecostal leader today, they most probably are better educated than their predecessor, they may or may not see themselves as clergy, and they have typically broadened the definition of ministry to include education.

Back to Religion Library
Close Ad