Why do we believe…women cannot lead in the Church? (Anecdotes and insights from my own life)

I promised I should explain my own journey regarding my beliefs concerning women in ministry in a little more narrative format, so here it is:

Growing up I did not really think much about women in ministry.  I grew up in a home where both of my parents worked, cleaned and cooked and no one really complained or talked about how such decisions were made.  The culture of my home church upholds a complementarian view of gender relations but there are obviously some exceptions given the large nature of my home church.  I for the most part went along with it and did not think to much about women in ministry until around the time I was getting ready to go to college.

When in Romania I heard of a horrible situation where men were not stepping up to lead in the Church so women we stepping up to lead to fulfill the need.  The problem was that the denomination and many of the older members of the Church did not believe that women were supposed to be in leadership.  The women were in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation.  If they led they were criticized, yet if they did not lead, no one would.  At the time I felt that this was ultimately a sign of the failing of men to step up into leadership, and their failing had put women between a rock and a hard place.  The blame was on the men in the congregation…not the belief that women shouldn’t be in ministry.

Another pivotal moment came at TWU, a Christian University where the vast majority of the students were female.  One night, on the way to Street Evangelism, one of my sisters was obviously troubled.  When I probed I found out it was because she felt called to be a children’s pastor, however in a recent class the professor had brought up the “biblical arguments” against female leadership in the Church. The professor did not come down on any one side of the issue, probably to challenge the people in the class to think for themselves, and my sister was shaken.  She feared she either might actually be forbidden from doing what she felt called to do and was passionate about or might not find a church that would let her be a pastor.  I reassured her that many churches are usually okay with having women at the head of children’s ministries, but I also advised her with something that has stuck with me. I rather distinctly remember saying: “I do not think a church should stand in the way of clear calling and clear gifting.  If your church bars you from leadership where you are called and gifted because you are a woman, find another church.” This has stuck with me.

After this encounter I really began examining what I believed about women in ministry for the first time, but it was still a new notion to me.  I remember relating to my friend Matt Pfiffner around that time that I would feel uncomfortable having a female senior pastor.  While I was not against it on any theological grounds, I had never been in a church with female pastors preaching from up front or even on the elder board.

After I finished my degree in Biblical Studies and thought a lot about how we approach and apply the Bible today and especially as I pursued ministry in Modesto right before coming to Pasadena things continued to unravel.  In my time in Modesto I had many more experiences of women in ministry and the Church’s inconsistent policy towards women in ministry and women in leadership.  I saw a lot of women do a lot of hard work for the Kingdom of God as leaders and in ministry. For example…

Most of our leaders at our young adult ministry, Catalyst, were female.  As a local service coordinator I found getting young adults to serve others was like pulling teeth, except for the ever humble and ever modest Lyz Enlow.  My most faithful intercessor was Gayleen Terry, a pastor at First Baptist Church.  Bethany Croney was irreplaceable as a co-worker and as someone who shared the vision of what the 511 and 512 ministry houses could be. Joanne Nishiguchi led worship at the Tapestry youth ministry I was involved in while  Janelle Beckman administrated and organized the whole deal.  Janelle Bobbitt passionately pursued a call to be a witness to Muslims and literally traveled across the world to pursue God’s call. Angela led the weekly youth outreach at the Modesto Gospel Mission.  Various sisters and aunties in the faith (whose names I will not reveal for confidentiality reason) helped lead the Celebrate Recovery ministry that is banging on all cylinders at BVG.  Then there was Celebration Center and Pastor Susan Bagely, probably the starkest example of what I am talking about.

Celebration Center is a church near the Modesto Gospel Mission, in the Airport District in Modesto. Like most airport areas, this is the poorest neighborhood in my hometown.  It does not even have a supermarket in it to buy fresh groceries.  Under the leadership of Pastor Susan Bagely (and her husband Craig) the church grew from fifteen people to three hundred and has clear and practical discipleship program that takes four years to go through.  You know, the sort of program my huge mega church is trying to figure out for male leaders. I was blessed to visit this church when my friends  Angela and Leo Hitchcock graduated from this very discipleship program and the church was full of “my kind of people,” all celebrating the growth and achievements of their own members.  It was just a great day  for the church family and you could feel it in the room.  Yet how did this happen?  All under the leadership of a female senior pastor…

These are just a few examples from my own brief experience over roughly two years of ministry in the Church.  Regardless of what is believed, said, or preached, I saw a lot of hard-working women answer a call to ministry and do amazing things.  I met women (and men) who “got it” like Bethany Croney did, and were willing to live their lives conformed to the Gospel.  At the same time I saw many men, who were supposedly setting the example through their “leadership,” make decisions based around pursuing the American dream of comfort and stability…while going to church on Sunday.

Furthermore, during this time I continued to see glaring inconsistencies when women are barred from leadership. It struck me that at Tapestry we were trying to Discover, Develop and Maximize the gifts and calling in our youth, unless of course the youths happened to be female and called to full-time ministry.  This we disallowed.  At YFC there were people on staff who did not agree with women in senior pastoral leadership but at the same time worked side-by-side with them in the trenches of youth ministry. Our home church sends out many female missionaries, but has no female pastors or elders.  What gives?

I really think the ban on women in ministry has a lot more to do with culturally defined gender roles than anything biblical.  One of my friends who went to our senior leadership looking for training in ministry was very dismissively told to not be so concerned about getting training because soon she would be marrying her boyfriend (now her ex) and her husband and family would be her ministry.

Seriously?  This is what we tell people who feel called to ministry?

After all is said and done my position is, and probably has been for some time, what I articulated to my friend in Canada.  Where clear calling is matched with clear gifting the Church should train and vet such persons for leadership in the Church, regardless of gender.  To do otherwise is not supportable by scripture nor is it practical in any way shape or form.

P.S. – One might be tempted to think that I believe women in ministry will be a silver bullet that solves the Church’s problems.  This is hardly the case. Just as I think God gifts and calls people to ministry irregardless of gender, I also think that some people, from both genders, want to be in ministry for all the wrong reasons and are going to hurt a lot of people.  I think there are some women who are gifted and will make great pastors and leaders in the Church.  I also think that there are women who are going to be horrible pastors and are entering ministry for the wrong reasons.  I once was shocked when friend of mine asked a female pastor who had entered a position of leadership recently, “So what’s it like being in authority over men.”  The female pastors response was a chilling, “I love it.”  I cannot really convey the dark satisfaction and delight this female pastor conveyed at having authority…specifically authority over men.  It honestly frightened me.  If this question was reversed and a male pastor was asked how it was to have authority over women, and the response was the same, I probably would have gotten a chill down my spine all the same.  It really sounded like this woman was out to get power over men, not shepherd and train up a congregation, filled with women and men, for the work of service.  Both men and women can get into ministry for the wrong reasons can hurt a lot of people, and certain people need to be removed from ministry or prevented from ever having leadership in the Church. I am just suggesting that barring women from ministry or certain types of ministry is not biblical and shouldn’t be done.

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About Kevin

I am figuring out life and faith and taking other people along with me on my journey. Sometimes as fellow travelers, sometimes as hostages.
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