As a part of Missio Alliance’s commitment to Women, we’ve published a series called Band of Brothers. It includes reflections on a women’s role in Church Leadership as well as a case study of a male-driven church planting movement in Boston. You can read all the articles in this series here and an introduction to the series by Carolyn Custis James here.
As a died-in-the-wool complementarian (believing in the doctrine of male headship in the Church and home) during the first two-thirds of my 40+ year journey with Christ, I was surprised when God called me to become a pastor. My husband was not, but never pushed his views on me, only humbly shared them when I sought to understand his beliefs about women and biblical leadership.
Surprises and Heresies
But doesn’t God prove God’s Self continually to us that God is about working outside of our small framework of Who God is?
Scripture is full of such revelations, especially when Jesus came to earth to bring in God’s Kingdom. Some may think, “If you start dealing in the realm of God re-framing God’s plan for the Kingdom and bringing on surprises, heresy is beckoning.”
Isn’t this exactly what the religious elite of Jesus’ day thought about God’s plan in sending Jesus as their Messiah? In taking the arch-enemy of the new sect of Christians, Saul, and calling him to follow Jesus? What about using a woman (Priscilla) to teach a man (Apollos) and disciple him in the ways of the Lord? Certainly, how shocked were the Jews after the day of Pentecost that one of the gifts of the Spirit poured out on God’s people would be the gift of apostleship on a woman named Junia? Among the several lists of all of the spiritual gifts given by God to the Church, why did the meticulous Paul never specify that the gifts of being a pastor, preacher, or leader were not designated to men alone? If the Revelation given to the Apostle John of the end of time and the new heavens and earth does not in any way point to separate gender roles and all nations will be one before the Throne of God, why are we not living into that Kingdom now, as we were taught by Jesus, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”?
Where’s the Compassion?
What has surprised me the most about many male pastors is how embarrassingly few of them whose vocation is based upon having the compassion and humility of Jesus as bedrock, ever ask me about my story of calling. It is as though my presence causes them to acknowledge me out of politeness, but go on as though I don’t exist and what God may be doing in and through my life and those of countless others in the Kingdom is not still God’s surprise unfolding. People don’t often have the time to hear a story of calling, but instead of posing a threat to the status quo, pastors especially might be very curious about any fresh wind of the Holy Spirit continuing to unfold surprises of The Transcendent God Who says “See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you.” (Is. 42:9) God sets in so many of the prophetical books the equivalent of mountain ranges of symbolic pointing not merely of the immediate situation, but of what’s to come, the surprises that will be unfolding which will actually be signposts of God’s coming Kingdom.
It was my privilege to attend a non-denominational Evangelical seminary in New England graduating with an MDiv in 2008, overall experiencing support of my pastoral calling. By then there were increasing signs within the seminary of gender (male-female) issues in ministry becoming a wider chasm, reverting back more to the 1980s when there was significantly less opportunity for women to train and take positions of leadership in the Evangelical church. Many of my younger Christian sisters also attending seminary did not seem to clarion the call, having any interest of the work that God had done previous to their time to lessen that divide.
Women of a younger generation didn’t seem to remember that there were days a few decades earlier when women were not even accepted into a seminary, let alone get a degree or pastor a church. The fact that they were studying at seminary with other women and equal degree options as men did not seem appreciated. Unfortunately, the ground gained seemingly continued to shrink at this same seminary, which has not hired new female professors in the areas of exegesis and theology to “replace” the strong female leadership once present. Each year’s highly promoted preaching conference has one or two women featured among a larger pool of men. Rather than the seminary being courageous/creative and sponsoring a rising new female preacher annually to be proactively championing women, it appears that the seminary is guided more by the economics of such a conference rather than taking a faith step and seeking out the more invisible and unseen. I am very much aware that seminaries, like churches, are struggling greatly in our country’s over-burdened economy, so I do feel compassion in this way. However, God does not seem to ever let us off the hook for living a life “by faith and not by sight”.
In my own experience of the countless times being in gatherings of Evangelical Christian leaders throughout the region, the ranks of women are few and a most faith-filled and undervalued subdivision. What is overwhelmingly despairing is the recent outcropping of new church plants in the Boston area which clearly promote patriarchy. I can count on both hands the number of churches that exemplify a truly egalitarian leadership model in the city…actually, maybe on only one hand. Sometimes I feel as though I am standing with my feet in the water at ocean’s edge staring down at the receding water’s pull giving me the distinct impression that I am traveling backward.
What Happens When We Hold Back?
We are exhorted to encourage one another in our specific callings/gifts by God to serve God’s Kingdom and preach the Gospel. The Barnabases are few and far between for women seeking to answer God’s call on their lives when they are calls of preaching, teaching, pastoring, and leadership. Of the larger Evangelical churches in the greater Boston area that put forth claims to be egalitarian in their doctrinal beliefs, most still continue in hiring exclusively male pastors not even looking within their own congregation for women they might have the privilege to Barnabas in her call and train up to be a pastor to serve on their own staff. Imagine for a moment about what and who aren’t present, right now, in the Kingdom of God, all because we choose to stay blind, complacent, to not seek out, build up, and bring forth for the glory of God? Imagine how many are not hearing the Gospel preached because we are holding back, even participating in enslaving the potential harvesters that are female when the fields are white with harvest? Think with me about who isn’t in the Kingdom of God now and ready to bring it forward because we have limited God and pressed God’s words through our own narrow filters? How many don't hear the Gospel because we hold back harvesters that are female? Click To Tweet
A friend of mine once responded to my lament about the broad landscape of Christian Evangelical leaders who seem complacent (in my experience, most of them) or vehemently opposed to women in ministry leadership. “Think about it…the gender divide was the first place (horizontally) affected by our sin , and it will probably be the last to be redeemed.” I can see how the devil wants to keep us locked in deception/complacency so that God’s Kingdom does not break through. I am motivated to be a rather lone prophet, and continue to cry out for the full breakthrough of God’s Kingdom to come and will to be done…where there is “no [more] Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female”, because of our deep reconciliation won by Christ.
On October 29, Missio Alliance is convening #SheLeads, a Summit of Women and Men seeking to reclaim the Blessed Alliance. Learn more HERE.