I Don’t Believe in Men in Ministry

Patrick Oden

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MEN IN MINISTRY SL

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There’s a curious little story in the book of Acts about a man who wanted to purchase the power of the Holy Spirit.

Simon was his name.  Later, he was given the title of Simon the magician: Simon Magus. A lot of stories and traditions have built up around him, with the early church seeing him as the earliest, and greatest of heretics, distorting the Apostolic faith and presenting a Gospel that was not of Jesus. Read the passage for yourself in Acts 8:9-24.

simon_magusThree wise men, Magi, visit Jesus giving gifts. This unwise man in Acts, Magus, doesn’t reject Jesus but wanted to co-opt him.  He wanted to take the gift and use it for his own fame. He was powerful, he was popular, he filled stadiums and people bought his books.  Jesus was a method for him to keep this up.  That there was power, a Spirit, was even better.  Let’s buy this power, he thought, get the authority through a transaction, and get even more popular.

Peter, filled with the Spirit, replied to Simon: “You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God.”

“This” ministry is the ministry of God, the ministry of the Kingdom: Father, Son, Holy Spirit in the unified work of redemption and re-creation.  Simon had a ministry, but not “this” ministry.

Having a ministry is still very common.  A lot of debates develop over who can and who cannot be part of such a ministryMen with power and authority make and enforce rules who can be in or who is out.  Born of the right status, right gender, with the right privilege, with the right education, with the right culture or custom or… name your limitation.

This pattern of ministry, often in the name of Jesus, restricts as much as it has empowered:

This is your role.

This is your place.

This is your identity in Jesus.

The this of such limitations is not the expression of the ministry Peter was talking about.  The ministry Peter was talking about was the ministry of the Spirit.

That’s why I don’t believe in men in ministry. 

Men have all sorts of reasons to get into or stay in ministry.  Did you know that clergy is #8 on the most popular jobs for a narcissist? That means for better or worse, the role of a minister offers the bounty a narcissist seeks. That’s not to say all men, or ministers, are in ministry because they are narcissists or for other misplaced reasons. Not at all!  But there’s a difference between those who are in it for the right reasons and those who are in it for the wrong reasons.

That difference is the Holy Spirit:

It’s what Peter had, and it’s what Peter wouldn’t give to Simon, because Simon wanted to make Jesus a tool.

It’s what made Peter different in Acts as compared with the Gospels.  The Peter who betrayed Jesus in the face of shame became the Peter who confessed Jesus in the face of death.

It’s why Paul who persecuted Christians became among the greatest teachers of Christians.

It’s how the man who was an outsider, Cornelius, became the insider. This man who the leaders otherwise rejected–a Gentile!–was invited in the church by the Spirit because the Spirit gave a gift to him that the leaders could not deny.

I don’t believe in men in ministry because men are untrustworthy, given to insecurities or grandiose self-praise, they make rules and patterns, enforcing their own voice while dismissing others.  They categorize and use the systems of society to determine the shape of the body of Christ.

I do believe in the Spirit in ministry.  Which makes it important to determine how the Spirit works, where the Spirit works, in whom the Spirit works.  If someone is aligned with the Spirit, they may or may not be in public or vocational ministry, that is not for me to determine. They will be involved in the ministry of Christ in some way, as that is the way the Spirit works.

If the Spirit gives gifts, it is not our part to deny or reject or diminish such gifts. It is our part, as the body, to celebrate these gifts, to whoever they are given.

Priscilla_martyr_of_RomeWhich is why, in Acts 18, we find Priscilla correcting Apollos, a gifted man taught by a woman who had the gift of the Spirit. She corrected him and set him on a course of his own Spirit led ministry.

We have Mary, the first in the NT to be filled with the Spirit, the first in the NT to communicate Christ to the world, giving birth literally, a move of the Spirit in the ministry of a woman.

Jesus talked about the Spirit, the living water, with the Samaritan woman at the well. She  had at least 3 religious strikes against her: Samaritan, divorced multiple times, woman. She then tells her whole village about Jesus. As John puts it, “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.”

We have the first witnesses of the resurrection, women, speaking of the life of Jesus to those who did not yet see or believe or understand.

God chooses women to be in ministry whether this is allowed by our systems or not.  God sometimes chooses men to be in ministry as well.

The real issue isn’t men in ministry or women in ministry. If a man or a woman pursues ministry for their own selves, they are not part of the ministry of Christ.  If the Holy Spirit is working, in a man or in a woman, then that is the ministry of Christ.

It is the ministry of the Holy Spirit I believe in.

It’s not the woman or the man who makes a ministry this ministry that Peter was talking about.  It’s the Holy Spirit, and where the Spirit works, there is Christ, and where Christ works, there is the Kingdom, and where the Kingdom is, there is the new life in and with God.

To be aligned with this Kingdom, one must be aligned with this ministry, the ministry of the Spirit who gives gifts to women and men to participate together in a shared community of Christ, participating with Christ in this messianic mission of transformation.

Not all churches, not all ministries, are aligned with this mission.  We must, like Priscilla did with Apollos, explain to them “the way of God more adequately.

Patrick Oden

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19 Comments

  • This post is particularly insightful. Patrick’s analysis, i.e., his yielding to the Spirit, is doctrinal truth regarding the nature and source of ministry —with no hint either is tied to gender.

    When I first began my work in 1994 I knew the foundation was to be named Paraclete Press Research Service, Inc. (John 16:3). I take seriously my role to be used by the Spirit —-not substituting with fleshly ministry.

    Now living in the south, it is a light affliction that quite a few, including women, tell me I am out of God’s order….that I cannot know and share and do what I do with Corrie’s Theological Library and http://www.pprsinc.com. I did not learn during my first 30 years in San Diego that my validation comes through men; yet this is the cultural climate here.

    Despite these who speak in biblical error, God sends me encouragement when I need it. Patrick’s post on April 21 is that kind of encouragement. April 21 would have been my mother Corrine’s 95th birthday. She and Corrie ten Boom are the namesakes of the Library ……God operates in quiet and marvelous ways.

    M. J. Greene

  • Oh Well Done! I love the way you’ve turned that so nicely. Thanks Patrick. Reposting to Kyria.

  • I appreciate this post a lot, but I do have a minor criticism: when you make a factual claim that figures prominently into a couple of your paragraphs, don’t provide a random message board run by people who only go by online aliases as your primary citation. I had to root through 3 further links to find the real source, a book called “The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success” by Kevin Dutton.

    On the one hand, this is a minor critique from someone sympathetic to and affirming of “women in ministry,” but to a skeptic or a hostile audience, that is not the citation you want to provide.

    And in the interests of adding some “constructive” to my criticism, I love this sentence: “It’s the Holy Spirit, and where the Spirit works, there is Christ, and where Christ works, there is the Kingdom, and where the Kingdom is, there is the new life in and with God.”

    • Dustin, you’re exactly right about the link. For me, blogging is a bit like sketching, getting thoughts and ideas written down that can be developed more fully. But, as you note, a little bit of extra time would have provided a better source of support. And thanks for the “constructive” part!

  • The distinction between “a ministry” and “this ministry” (of the Holy Spirit/Kingdom)–yes! Brilliant. So often we want to “start a ministry” when we’d do better to discover where God is already at work and jump on in.

    You said: “I don’t believe in men in ministry because men are untrustworthy, given to insecurities or grandiose self-praise, they make rules and patterns, enforcing their own voice while dismissing others.”

    Men do these things, yes, but so do women, sometimes. We’re all tainted by our sin nature, regardless of our gender. I realize as the dominant group in our society, men have more opportunity to “make rules” or “dismiss others” but we all have this tendency in one way or another. So we all (men and women) need to seek God and join “this ministry” of the Kingdom, led by the Holy Spirit.
    Thanks for a very thought-provoking post.

    • Agreed re: the failings of humans. I think the author subtlety shifted meanings–I think “men” there means “humans” or “mankind”, secondarily, at least. Though certainly I think the way it’s supposed to strike the reader initially is that it’s about men (adult male human beings).

      Thank you for this post–I’ve never understood what prevents the Holy Spirit from ministering in certain ways based upon the sex of the body in which it dwells.

    • Yes, it certainly applies to both. And I’ve experienced such abuses by men and women in church settings.

      I think Michelle offers a good insight. I did mean men as men there, as they are often said to hold leadership because of some inherent gender status, but it definitely gets into our humanity. Both men and women are broken, women weren’t somehow given more of a curse or a rejection, sin taints all and sin shows up in all. As men, or as women, we’re not able to get past our own selves to be ministers of God’s kingdom. As led and empowered by the Spirit, we become free in a new way.

  • Samaritan woman, no evidence she was divorced or was a sinner. Plenty to say she married into a family, where brothers died and other brother took her to wife as was the custom, and having had 5 husbands the 6 brother being reluctant to marry her. So she was possibly laid aside as touched by God. If she had been a Sinner there would have been no way, she would have been allowed near Jacobs well, as it was regarded as a Shrine.

    • I am doing some research into the Samaritan woman as I have come across some really interesting readings of her now that I live in Asia. One very godly and educated friend told me that he believes her to be a barren woman. This would explain the connection with the well and also the multiple divorces. If she had been an adulterous woman (as many in the West think of her), she would have been stoned. Anyway, it is an intriguing theory to me that I want to chase down. Here it is a pretty significant thing because shame and honor is so important. In the culture I live in, women are still divorced if they cannot bear children so it would be enormous to be able to show Christ covering a woman’s shame and lifting her to the status of the honored.

    • Exactly! I see no grounds for the reputation so many commentators give this woman.

    • I think you’re right to note saying too much about the Samaritan woman. Really, those last two words are all we really can know, and are certainly enough to for the purposes of the post. She was a sinner, as that is true of everyone, but the emphasis of her sin seems to take a backseat to the emphasis on God’s gift of eternal life. It was a positive invitation.

      We also know she was married five times and was living with a man who wasn’t her husband. The details of that aren’t given, so maybe divorced, maybe it was death. Either way, we just don’t know. It has been a long while since I’ve done more detailed study of the passage, but my including her as divorced (which probably is more distracting than helpful) reflected a trend of interpretation. The fact that Jesus brought it up seems to suggest a bit more of a story, a way she has been identified. He emphasizes “bring your husband” as a challenge of sorts, and it doesn’t seem that would happen if it were brothers dying–where Scripture points to the obligation and duty of the surviving brother(s). We see Ruth and Tamar (in the story of Jacob) in a positive light in those instances, with the men morally wrong. I also remember hearing/reading that the time of day and the fact she was alone was also suggestive. Getting water was a communal event, so her isolation suggested some sort of ostracizing by the community.

      But, it’s missing the main point (which is so easy to do in Biblical studies), which is that Jesus told the Gospel to a woman, that woman shared with her community, many of whom believed in Jesus, thus she was one of the earliest evangelists. Her background, whatever it was, becomes renewed in the life and story of Jesus, so we celebrate her for who she is and for what she did.

      • Important to remember about the Samaritan woman is that she was a Samaritan woman who was regarded by the rabbis as a “menstruant from the cradle” so even without the marriages/divorces/etc. she was viewed as unworthy. Even more important for us is that regardless of the historical critical backgrounds and what they may now reveal about her, the story as received by our tradition(s) is that she was unworthy, sinful and “inappropriate” for Jesus to converse with. But He did see her as worthy a conversation partner as Nicodemus in the story immediately preceding hers. And, most importantly, she accepted Jesus and witnessed of him while the text doesn’t tell us the same about the very worthy, “righteous” and appropriate religious leader in ch. 3.

  • I love the way you approached this. So much freedom here, and what a good reminder that we don’t actually “do ministry” but that it is always the work of the Spirit.
    Thank you for this.

  • Good to see Mary of Nazareth, Mother of God, mentioned in this article. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (773) says that the Marian dimension of the Church precedes the Petrine dimension, precisely for the reason that she was the first one to bring God to us, and as flesh of her flesh. Isn’t this another indication that all church ministries should be gift-based, and not gender-based?

  • Thank you. This was a helpful thing for me to read and learn.

  • Thanks for this. It is so nice to hear of something that challenges the status quo in a beautifully gentle way.

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