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 to use those examples as encouragement to others. These churches are out there, and they are doing amazing things!
One example is a three year old church in Massachusetts. Highrock North Shore (part of the Evangelical Covenant Church*) which values all types of diversity, and aims to represent, encourage, and embrace people of diverse ages, ethnicities, and genders. According to Associate Pastor Brynn Harrington, “We believe that who and what we put on stage communicates who and what we value.”
So I offer Highrock North Shore as an encouragement to those of us striving to preach, teach, and live biblical gender equality in our churches. The associate pastor has given me a lot of insight into the ways a church can be faithfully egalitarian, and do it well!
Here are 7 ways this church makes a visible and active effort to support the leadership of women:
The lead pastor (who is male) and the associate pastor (who is female) share the preaching responsibilities. They also sometimes preach together, which gives the congregation the opportunity to hear two different reflections on the same passage. It provides the congregation with a richer, deeper, fuller reflection, modeling that the collaboration between male and female is powerful, and that it grows and empowers the church.
2. Scripture choices
When assigning scripture passages for sermons, the leadership team makes an effort to assign passages about women in the Bible to men. This reminds the church that passages about women shouldn’t be relegated to women’s Bible studies. They are relevant and important to men too! God used both men and women throughout scripture, to teach all of us about God’s truths.
3. Sermon editing
Every week the person preaching submits his or her sermon to the rest of the staff for editing. This allows other voices to speak into the sermon, and to represent the thoughts and reactions of both men and women. This also encourages the preachers to be more intentional in thinking of the perspectives and experiences of different people in the congregation while preaching.
4. Preaching on gender
The pastors preach and teach gender reconciliation from the pulpit. They challenge each other in their understandings, and bring their convictions and God’s word on gender before the congregation.
5. Gender diversity in roles
Because there are a number of women serving in leadership roles at the church, it is not viewed as “strange,” and gives women the freedom to relax and live into their gifts and callings. Men are also serving in many more traditionally “female” roles, such as food preparation, artistic ministries, and teaching the children. Valuing and encouraging gifts and abilities over gender specific roles, allows everyone to be stronger and more free.
6. Encouraging men and women leaders
The church encourages everyone equally in leadership as they are gifted. This includes encouraging not just young married women, but also older women, and single women, alongside men. The lead pastor publicly encourages and supports women in leadership roles, and expresses appreciation for their influence and gifts.
7. Listening to a diversity of voices
The church leaders believe that there is value and greater balance in hearing from more than just one type of voice. Having both women and men represented in all areas more fully represents God’s kingdom, provides examples of God’s creative and wonderful gifting, and helps to create a safe and encouraging atmosphere for the church family. Diversity leads to a stronger leadership team, and a stronger church, with stronger vision.
People in the congregation have genuinely challenged their own understandings of gender roles. Some who have never experienced women preaching and leading in worship have been overwhelmed by God’s obvious gifting in women like Pastor Brynn and others.
Many feel that having both men and women in leadership is very natural, beautiful, and biblical. They continue to grow and learn together as a church family, studying God’s word, and watching his work unfold before them, as they strive to represent God’s kingdom in its fullness and diversity.
Recently a 7 year old girl approached Pastor Brynn and expressed her desire to be a pastor when she grows up. Through seeing women and men working together in church leadership, this girl is learning a different message than women in previous generations, and is seeing the truth of God’s kingdom being lived out right before her eyes. It allows her to hear, acknowledge, and follow God’s calling on her life in a way that generations before her could not. The efforts we make today make it that much easier for the women of tomorrow to rise up and serve the Lord with all of their strength and gifts.
Thank you, to those pastors and churches who are making the effort, and showing us the beauty, strength, and value that comes from shared authority and gender equality in the Church!
*The Evangelical Covenant Church advocates for women at all levels of church leadership. Read the ECC’s statement about women in ministry and check out the ECC’s Commission on Biblical Gender Equality blog.
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