Women in the Church?

http://wp.me/pk8b1-vo

Thank you to everyone who cast a vote in last month’s poll question on Women in Ministry.  To see the results of the survey, click on the link above.

Much to my surprise and joy, an overwhelming % voted that they do support women serving in ministry. I believe that 5-10 years ago, the results would have been very different and I also believe that in 5-10 years from now the question will no longer be relevant or need to be asked.

Before I share some thoughts and insights, I highly commend a few additional blog posts and books that have shaped my thinking and journey.

One of the up and coming theologians and authors of my generation, Rachel Held Evans is writing some brilliant and provocative pieces  in addition to her prophetic book Evolving from Monkey Town.

http://rachelheldevans.com/masculine-feel-john-piper-tim-challies

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2012/01/truth-authority-and-roles/

Here are two books that I recommend as well:

http://www.amazon.com/Blue-Parakeet-Rethinking-Read-Bible/dp/0310284880/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpi_4

http://www.amazon.com/Changed-Mind-about-Women-Leadership/dp/B005HKMH2C/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1329730285&sr=8-1

*This collection of some well-known evangelicals, Tony Campolo, Bill and Lynne Hybels, and John Ortberg to name just a few

The role of women in ministry has, for a long time, perplexed and troubled me.  Truth be told, in my limited personal experience and theological studies I grew up a bit naive to the cause of women.  Believing in the notion that there exists “traditional” roles that men and women naturally fall into to, I assumed these roles carried over into the realm of Christendom and the Church.  Having lived a bit and experienced a bit more outside of my fairly uncultured existence, my journey has opened my eyes to the breakdown of these traditional roles.

Men and women, created in the Bible as equal.

Many men are very capable of performing domestic tasks.  In fact here in France there exists a paternity leave and it is not uncommon for the husband to take off a year instead of the mother and raise the child.

(similarly women are very capable of performing all the tasks that men can do.)

Is there a natural, i.e. physical difference?

Clearly, there is a biological difference in general. However, I personally know many women who display quite “masculine” tendancies and features, and visa versa

The distinctions are much more blurry than I once had thought.

I simply do not buy that women are the weaker sex. Weaker how?

Physically?  I doubt most men would have the strength to give birth and I know of women who can out-lift the majority of the men in the world.

Weaker intellectually?  I hope this one seems as ridiculous to you as it should

Weaker spiritually? (this I assume is what most people must mean)

In many cultures it is the women who are the main spiritual heads of the household.  Their insight, compassion, care, passion for the things of God, dedication in prayer and alms giving, etc.. clearly does not indicate any sign of weakness.  Perhaps just the opposite.

But all of this aside the question I ask is this… does the call of God transcend or is limited to gender?

I have known women, clearly called by God to serve and bless his church, full of wisdom, discernment, spiritual insight and leadership who have hearts full of compassion and minds ripe with leadership.

These women are qualified in every way, in fact more qualified than many men I know in ministry.  They fulfill all of the qualifications in Paul’s letters.  But I again would ask, should not the call of God along with the affirmation of a Spirit-lead community trump very culturally specific (and male dominated) prerequisites?

What God has called into being, what God has joined together (a calling and a church) let no man separate. (Because usually it is the men who forbid)

arguably the only real attack is from a fairly limited number of Bible verses allocating for regulated roles of women in the church.  What cannot be overlooked however is the cultural background, context of the time.  We all know the Bible was written in a highly patriarchal time, written by men and mostly for men.

I personally believe that for their time Jesus and Paul were fairly progressive when it came to the role and acceptance of women in their ministries and personal lives.

Galatians 3:28
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man,

there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Both welcomed the support and friendship of women in their lives and partnership in the ministry.  Women were accepted and wanted in the fellowship of their company and treated truly as sisters.

This was just not the case either in the Judean or Roman cultural framework.

Perhaps, for the sake of the reputation of the new church, Paul warned the church in Corinth to be very careful how the  exercise of this new-found and grace-driven freedom should be displayed.

Consider this:  If an unbelieving gentile or Jew walked into a church back then and saw women speaking, teaching, or (heaven’s forbid) leading, the reputation is shattered and the message deemed foolish, unmerited, or downright blasphemous.

In the western world at least, if a person enters a church and sees no women in any forms of leadership and then are told there exists no equality….and then told this is due to a particular interpretation of the Bible, all credibility is lost.  In my former church just outside of New York City, women CEO’s, lawyers, and PhD holders arguably had some real issues with “no women allowed in leadership” positions as one could imagine.

The same holds true for slavery.  We would all agree that slavery was not God’s perfect will for humanity. However allowances were made over time through various cultures.(Paul certainly does not preach out against it, but would he now?)

In his book, A New Kind of Christianity, author Brian McLaren offers a great insight into tracing a maturing understanding of God across biblical history and throughout time.

Another example of this social and spiritual progression is when Jesus told that Pharisees that God allowed men to easily divorce their wives because “their hearts were hard”, but Jesus brought a new and higher ethic. (Matthew 19: 7-9)

Could it be that our hearts were, and possibly still are hard today, when it comes to how we see and view women?

A new ethic is needed.

Especially since our society values and respects women in all leadership roles.

There exists highly capable and wildly successful women in every field of life and careers, but sadly often not in the church.

For the message of Christ to be heard the church has to come around in certain prehistoric and prejudice viewpoints, such as women in leadership, or the lack thereof.

Personally, I believe very strongly that if the Bible were written today, Paul’s advice would be vastly different.

I think Paul would be shocked to see how the church in the 21st century disregards the valid blessing of women in the Church.

It is also hard for me to imagine that great female leaders and missionaries such as Catherine of Siena, Sainte Geneviève, Teresa of Avila, Therese of Lisieux, Monica of Hippo, Mother Theresa, would not be allowed to serve on some pastoral teams or preaching from particular pulpits.

Back to my poll question and results.

What I have realized is that there certainly exists a segment in the Church that has a limited view of women leading in the church.  (and often this translates to the home life as well)

However, there also exists a large and fast-growing population and denominations that view the calling of God not determined upon gender.

God equips those he calls, and God is an equal opportunity caller.

My understanding has changed as I encounter and serve with colleagues from different traditions, Presbyterians, Lutherans, U.C.C, Methodist, Anglican, Episcopalians.

At my current church, there is a long history of women pastors and are current church council (or elder board) is composed of six men and six women.

The spectrum is vast on the practical implications of theology and women’s rights and roles.

Some, on the far right still hold to the cultural dated view that women in church should never speak, wear makeup or dress in pants.  These churches still exist and hold to a particular and literal view of the Scriptures.

Others, who say they hold to a literal view of the Bible really do not exactly, and pick and choose various conditions and terms that seem to best fit their situations and personal opinions.

1) allow women to speak and wear pants

1b) do not allow them to teach

I know of a church that will allow a woman to teach from the pulpit only if there is a man physically seated higher than her on the platform.

This may sound absurd, but they are trying to hold to a literal interpretation and application of the text. I at least give them credit for trying to follow the entire text and not just particular phrases or sentences.

As the poll indicated, some serve at churches that have women in all sorts of leadership positions (music, children’s, education, missions) but not on pastoral staff or not considered elders

Some may have women as pastoral staff but are not allowed to have them as elders

Others only prohibit women from serving as a “Senior” pastor of the church

I have met may wonderful females who are “Senior” pastor, rectors and are leading their congregations in faithful service.  and guess what, the churches are growing and people are being fed spiritually and coming into relationship with Jesus Christ in radical ways.

I would gladly serve under the authority of a women for the record and hope to be part of church that welcome and accepts women in full partnership of the gospel as pastors.

One cannot argue that God is not working in and through his chosen and called daughter and child.

(you may try to argue of course)

i want to encourage the girls in my youth group to pursue the calling of God

I don’t want to say God may be calling you into ministry, but just so you don’t get your hopes up to high you should know that you cannot lead a church someday

My hope is that day is quickly coming when all Christians will validate, value, and see the blessings of freeing all of God’s people for God’s work for God’s glory.

Poll time: Women in Ministry?

Over the next few months I will be asking a series of pertinent poll questions.  Please take a few seconds to answer and feel free to elaborate with comments.  Following each week’s poll question there will be a synopsis and personal reflection.  These questions are coming theologically from my own faith journey and contextually from my new ministry context here in Paris.

This week’s question is about women in ministry.  Over two years I posted my personal reflections about the role of women in youth ministry.

http://emergingyouth.com/2010/10/26/role-of-women-in-youth-ministry/

Since this question is a bit more complex than at first glance, I tried to add a few “optional” responses that seem to come up in recent conversations with colleagues.

Role of women in youth ministry?

I recently returned from my denominational district annual conference.

Our particular denomination does not affirm the equality of women in leadership.  Women are relegated to certain roles, but cannot hold “elder” responsibilities of teaching, leading, or preaching.

Denominational leaders choose to use a very few selected verses such 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 as the basis for their position.

While publicly this policy would appear to only affect churches who would like to have female lead pastors or women who are clearly called into vocational ministry, I witnessed how these views trickle down and can impact youth ministry.

At our conference, we had a youth leader luncheon.  Approximately 20-25 youth workers were present and not a single female.

I wonder why?

Though technically, and I suppose “legally” women can serve as youth pastors (although they would have to be called “Directors” I believe) it is clear that our denomination and a few others like it simply do not equate the call, giftedness, and spiritual authority of women the same as men.
Some Christian colleges affiliated with these denominations struggle as to why the enrollment of females into ministry departments continues to decrease.

Really?

Oh, I don’t know..perhaps its because they will not be able to find a job in ministry within that denomination, or if they are lucky enough to get a position they know and feel that they will not be treated as equal.

And we wonder why so many gifted women are flocking to other denominations or using their gifts and talents in the “secular” world instead.

When it comes to youth ministry, I feel that many youth programs are severely hurting due to a lack of women in leadership.

If a youth pastor can rally enough female support from volunteers (which is a good thing) and/or if his wife happens to have time and passion to work with the girls in the group, then it may work out.

But ,to be honest, how many vocational women have the time to really invest in the girls of their church’s youth ministry?

Additionally, though these female volunteers may be great, is there more benefit from having a trained, called, and passionate female in that role?

My wife is great working with our high school girls.  She pours what little extra time or energy she has after long work days investing in these teenagers.

I would say my wife has a sense of purpose and “calling” for these specific girls.  She loves them sincerely and intentionally.

But if you were to ask her if she feels “called” to youth ministry, the answer would be no.

The truth is that she is involved now because of me.  If and when my calling and career changes, I would imagine hers would as well.  I could be wrong, but I don’t think she would continue to volunteer her time working with teenage girls.

Now, you may have wonderful volunteer female leaders who are truly “called” in life-long youth ministry.

However, how much time do they actually have to invest in the lives of these teens?  To what extent are they able to pour their very lives into these students?  What if they are college students helping out, have a full-time job, or have their own family to take care of?

And if you happen to have many women actively involved in leadership, let me aske you a question….could you spare a few?  Really, send them my way!

It’s a no-brainer to realize that females add a different, necessary, and often overlooked dimension to the ministry and leadership of a youth program.

They think of things that most guys would never think of.  In my experience, women bring a sense of compassion, wisdom, and spiritual fervor often unparalleled with men.  We tend to be goal-oriented and agenda focussed.  Women have an uncanny ability for building intentional relationships and investing themselves in conversations.  Not to mention the giftedness so many of them have whether in teaching, vision casting, administration, counseling, etc….

I make no alterations in my affirming of women in leadership and a women’s equal role in ministry.  I have attached a great thesis from prominent scholar N.T Wright on some hermeneutical, theological, and contextual interpretations on this subject.

N.T Wright_Women in Church

But let me  come back to the original intent (and title) of the blog.

I realize there are many denominations, churches, and youth programs out there who have women in lead roles.  Good for you.  We have a great group of girls and young women in our youth group that I hope and pray that one day many will be serving in a local church in a full leadership capacity.  If I ever have a daughter, my prayer is for her to have that freedom and affirmation as well.

For those of you who know of, or are a part of a youth group with female “youth pastors” let me ask you a few questions that I would love to get feedback on.

Do women in youth ministry easily fit into traditional roles and job descriptions such  “high school youth pastor” or “junior high youth pastor”

Do churches need to create unique roles to fit the personality, calling, and giftetndess of women?  Examples could be, but certainly not limited to:

Pastor of Spiritual Formation

Worship Pastor/Director

Pastor of Discipleship (a.k.a girls ministry)

Director of Outreach or Mission

Please respond to the questions below and provide as much or as little info as you would like

1)  What exactly is your role and title?

2) How do you perceive yourself to be viewed by the students and/or community?  *Especially if you are working with a male youth pastor

P.S

Our church has a woman in leadership.  She is tremendously gifted and called and our local church community affirms her calling.  And yes, we call her “Pastor”