Sometimes I find it amusing that our churches of today seem to be more anti-women than the Bible is. We doubt women’s ability to preach truth, when the first person to share the gospel – He is risen! – was a woman. We question the idea of women in leadership, when once upon a time […]
On a recent tour of Germany I came across the Stolpersteine Project. Stolpersteine (stumbling stones) are small brass-plated blocks or stones embedded into the streets to commemorate victims of Nazi oppression. Each stone is made and laid by hand. They are usually placed just outside the place where the person named on the stone was forcibly taken from their home or business. Each stone begins with HERE LIVED…… One stone. One name. One person. The idea came about while German artist Gunter Demnig was painting a white line through the city of Cologne to commemorate the historical deportation of 1000 gypsies. The line would show where they had been chased to the train station. One day an older woman stopped to scold him, insisting that there had never been any gypsies in Cologne. Shocked, he investigated and found evidence that in the 1930s thousands of gypsies, as well as Jews, had lived side by side with Germans. To combat the human tendency to forget, he designed the first stones. To date, over 48,000 stones have been laid in more than 20 countries. In a sense, The Junia Project is very much like the Stolpersteine Project.
Most church planting conferences, books, and leaders that I interact with assume that church planters will be male. Moreover, there are some movements such as Act29 and others which highlight that men are the ones who must be starting churches and all the marketing around those movements focus on encouraging men to plant.
I am in the very beginning stages of church planting where I live in the inner city. Many of the new church plants here are dominated by men who are starting churches with ultra conservative theology which bar women from key leadership roles. The churches look contemporary, relevant, and attractive, yet their patriarchal theology disallows women from senior leadership and certainly from being church planters. I find all of this incredibly strange because I think women make wonderful church planters.
They are the verses of Scripture used most frequently to silence women in the church: 1 Timothy 2:11-12. I remember reading them as a 26-year-old when first contemplating my call to ministry. God’s voice had been clear, but those three short sentences were not; “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit her to teach or have authority over a man. She. Must. Be. Silent.”
I’d sat there reading the passage over and over; trying to find something I hadn’t seen before. The black and white lettering seemed so stark, so clear; so… black and white. Why would Paul say such a thing? In my church, Paul’s instructions were taken literally. Women weren’t permitted to speak whenever men were present. They couldn’t lead, teach or even pray. Growing up, those words hadn’t particularly bothered me, but now they smarted like lemon juice in an open cut. No matter how I read them, the conclusion was still the same – I couldn’t follow God’s call. As a pastor today, it’s obvious that my understanding of those few verses has long since changed…
“The devil is among us here at our seminary: women are being told they can preach.”
Those were the first words of a classmate’s sermon in my preaching class. He went on to berate the class with his interpretation on 1 Timothy 2:8-15 for another 20 minutes.
In some seminaries this type of sermon may not have been surprising, but this seminary officially stated that women are affirmed at all levels of church leadership. So, to say the least, I was stunned. But I shouldn’t have been, because when it had been my turn to preach this student had been particularly critical of my sermon and delivery, even going as far as to accuse me of not having prepared or done good exegetical work. While other students had been encouraging in their feedback and constructive in their critiques, he had been unkind and unrestrained with his public criticism.
After he concluded his sermon, there was an uncomfortable silence in the room. Finally, a male classmate spoke up and said gently but firmly, “I don’t agree with your conclusion. I believe the same Bible you do, but I believe that women can and should be pastors. Where is your love for God’s people, for women, and for God’s word in your sermon? You didn’t bring good news to the people of God.”
Another person may have commented, but I honestly don’t remember anyone else saying anything substantive. I do remember that the other two women in the class were absent that day, so my professor, who has a Ph.D. in homiletics and is a preacher herself, and I were the only women there. All the other male classmates looked uncomfortable and sat in silence.
A few weeks ago, the pastoral leadership team of my church (which I am a part) was planning the upcoming sermon series. When asked if I wanted to preach one of the sermons, I enthusiastically said yes. My “yes” to preaching comes out of a deep sense of call to use my voice. I believe that preaching is one of the ways that God has empowered me to serve and minister to others. I didn’t always feel this way about preaching. My journey as a female preacher has been a twisting path, filled with fear and insecurity.
While I was a student in college, I was part of a campus ministry that had both men and women leading and preaching. The female preachers I witnessed were confident and strong speakers who spoke with authority and power. Something began stirring in me – it was a whisper of a question, “Could I ever do what those women are doing?
There is a phrase that continues to be repeated by those in leadership when asked how local churches might be encouraged to be more open to having a female pastor. This phrase is “If we have exceptional female pastors to point to, other churches will consider hiring a female pastor.”
At first observation this phrase seems supportive and maybe even a little bit like common sense. If you see an exceptional pastor, why wouldn’t you want that for yourself and your church?
Only, what happens when a female pastor is not exceptional? Should a woman’s merits, talent, gifts, or even her chemistry with a specific congregation be used as a plumb line by which all other women in ministry are measured? Are the only women capable of being great pastors those viewed as “exceptional”?
When I was looking at the worship life of the American church, I noticed that lament, and something like the book of Lamentations, was absent in so much of our worship life…Why is it that in our typical American churches we don’t want to engage in a very important spiritual practice that we find throughout […]
“Are there really that many hurting women in the Church?” I was a freshman at a Christian college when one of my professors posed this question to our class. Yes, I replied, women were still second-class citizens in many congregations; yet he was unconvinced. According to him, the women in his church seemed happy and fulfilled. We’ve come a long way. Women have the right to vote and work outside the home. Why make an issue out of nothing?
I wish I could tell you that I attended college in an era of widespread, Mad Men-type sexism but, alas, I graduated in the early 2000s. I’ve reflected on his disbelief since then, still saddened by his ignorance. His question taught me something valuable, though.
I was recently asked to summarize why I support women in church leadership in thirty seconds or less. This was my response… Deborah leading Israel (Judges 4) Huldah interpreting the law for the nation (2 Kings 22 & 2 Chronicles 34) Esther saving God’s people from genocide (Book of Esther) Miriam leading worship (Exodus 15) […]
When I first heard the story of Pentecost it was painted to me as the Holy Spirit empowering the 12 apostles to step up and speak out. They had been hiding in an upper room, but then the Holy Spirit came. Those 12 men went out and began speaking in other tongues, preaching and prophesying the truth of Jesus.
It’s a great story, and an exciting start for the church. But it didn’t ignite any passion. There was never any place for me within that story. Sure, God can empower anyone to serve… but there was a subtext there. The subtext said God can work through anyone [who’s a man]. Anyone [who is young and able]. Anyone [who fits the right image].
It was the birth of the church I was supposed to be a part of – but it left me on the outside. Anyone became not me. And I know for a lot of people that anyone has become not you, too.
The real story of Pentecost is something different entirely.
From the mailbox: “I’m leading a discussion for our small group at church about the difference between the egalitarian and complementarian views of women in church leadership and looking for a video to show…Any help you can give is much appreciated!” After sending this reader some ideas we set out to find more options. Here are 20 free audio (A) and video (V) resources that present biblical gender equality (egalitarianism) in a clear, compelling way, have high production quality, and are available for free online. You’re welcome!
I was the first woman I ever heard preach. I was 16 years old, and I called it “sharing”. The urge to do so started like a fire in my belly, a small spark at first that was easy to ignore, only to continue to be flamed until I felt as though I would […]
I was out to coffee with a friend and we were discussing gender equality in the church, or the lack there of. Recently, I went through the membership process at my own church. It’s a newer establishment still finding its bearings, and rooted within the Evangelical Church. I grew up nondenominational and find it ironic that I wound up at a church that identifies with a denomination notorious for its lack of gender equality. In the membership course, what is referred to as “secondary theology” was briefly discussed (albeit with a 10-foot pole mentality) specifically, the theology of gender roles. The short and skinny of it: I attend a church that believes there are certain roles meant solely for men; teaching, eldership, the usual culprits. But men and women are still equal, even though, you know, they can’t do the same things. So my friend asked, “Why are you at a church that doesn’t support the equality of both men and women?” She was hinting, fearfully, that I was okay with it, or worse, passive. My answer? It’s complicated. But here are a few of my reasons:
At times I have been frustrated by the number of churches that claim egalitarian theology, but are not actually practicing it. I’ve been overwhelmed by example after example, and feeling like the church as a whole would never get anywhere. Then a pastor encouraged me to focus on churches that are doing it well instead, and […]