This article is written in response to the Gospel Coalition’s recent article on female leadership and women’s ministry which you can find here: https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/melissakruger/2016/10/25/hows-the-health-of-womens-ministry-in-your-church/
Anyone who has ever attended a preschool graduation knows that children’s wishes are beyond our wildest imaginations. I’ve sat through a number of them myself and when kids make outrageous claims that are likely never going to happen stating that they want to be an astronaut or a cowboy, a rockstar or a ballerina we don’t shoot them down. Instead we think it’s cute. We think “yeah, sure, this kid may face some disappointments along the way when they realize very few people actually make it into the MBA or NHL, but for now, let’s let them live their dream. If it motivates them, let’s encourage them to keep at it.”
And that’s the way I feel it should be. Somewhere along the way, we need to teach our children to deal with reality and show them that their dreams will not be accomplishable without an insane amount of hard work, but we also shouldn’t shatter the self-esteem and self-image a young person has of themselves.
Sadly, there is one profession where we do exactly that: church ministry. Over the years, the idea of not allowing women to engage fully in Christian service has troubled me. There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, I believe all Christians are called to leadership of some kind or another. You’ve probably likely read this in some of my other blogs, but I also see the term “pastor” as being quite broad and all-encompassing. Since I have a pastoral degree and have worked as a pastor myself, I know that although preaching and Bible studies may be a large and important part of our work, it is still only one part. There’s also the ministry of presence, reconciliation, counseling, and working with young families that either gender is entirely capable of. Not all pastors preach sermons to the entire congregation. In fact many pastors never preach at all. I also believe that a large part of our issue all comes down to semantics. For example, when people hear me refer to myself as a “pastor” they automatically get their backs up. There is this emotional blockage which will not let them continue just because of the terminology I am using even when I explain to them that I only work with kids. Some churches prefer not to call a woman a “pastor” at all, instead they use derivations which mean the same thing such as “children’s ministry director,” “children’s worker” or “youth leader.” If the woman is a children’s pastor or a children’s ministry co-ordinator she is likely doing the exact same thing, but for some reason people close themselves off and have an allergic reaction to the first term. However, I truly believe that if we took the time to emotionally distance ourselves from these charged words and to really listen to what we all are saying we’d realize that in the end of the day, we are essentially saying the same things but because of our wording it comes across as if we are speaking a completely different language.
Secondly, it worries me that while our culture strives to incorporate women into all aspects of equal pay and equal rights, the church still tends to hold women at a distance. I am not saying that all churches do this. In fact, I believe that a church can believe in sole male headship while still respecting women’s rights and giving women a place to use their spiritual gifts and callings with dignity. Whereas there can be churches which ordain women and still have inherent patriarchal structures or do not speak out against the sexualized violence that faces more women than we care to admit. Nevertheless, it is a jarring fact for me that the church is perhaps one of the only institutions that does not follow our Canadian policy of hiring people regardless of gender and only because of an ancient book which was written in a completely different culture.
I will always remember being 4 years old and in my pre-school Sunday school class. From a young age, I completely loved God and adored the church. In fact, I could never get enough of church! Growing up, I had the opposite problem that most children have. Most kids go through a phase where you have to drag them kicking and screaming to church. They feel it’s “cool” to be rebellious or they become disinterested because their friends are doing other things on a Sunday morning like sleeping in. Hey, we’ve all lived through puberty, we all know how great an extra few hours of rest is! But personally, I not only wanted to go to church on a Sunday morning, I also wanted to go on a Sunday evening and Wednesday night. And if that wasn’t enough, I set up my own personalized “teddy church” right there in the living room of my house. It was complete with 5 teddy pastors (2 of which were women), and a solid team of deacons and elders. My teddies would have bake-offs to raise money for their little mission trips and once back would make a report to the church. The services were even recorded on one of those old-school radio tapes. We even had an offering to keep up church expenses. My parents faithfully sponsored two teddies (one each) and gave me a quarter for each one on their way to church.
So needless to say, the idea of being a pastor seemed like an obvious one to me. A job where you get to spend your entire life in church? Sounds like fun, sign me up. I thought my church would also consider this to be a wonderful thing, but they did not. They told me “honey, girls aren’t allowed to be pastors.” They didn’t explain why. And that sense of uneasiness has troubled me for most of my life.
Now that I’m a bit older and have poured massive amounts of research into this topic myself, I have begun to see why some groups of Christians do not affirm female pastors. I can respect that. But what I cannot respect is tearing down a little kid’s greatest wishes to serve God and recognizing the intense passion and longing that kid has to do what’s right and to follow God’s call upon her life.
I do not think it is easy to know how to respond to someone’s desire to be a female pastor, especially when it goes against your church’s or your own theology, however here are a few things to consider:
- Congratulate the person. When a person of any age decides to be in any form of vocational ministry, it is not something to fear, but something to be excited about. The honest truth is that more and more young adults in North America could care less about the church. So anyone who wants to teach and train up others in good Christian living should not be discouraged, but rather should be mentored and taught how to best go about this.
When I was younger and someone told me “honey, you can’t be a pastor. You’re a girl.” That didn’t end my resolve that just made me want it even more. But I know that different people can have different reactions. Telling someone they can’t do the very thing they feel they were created for, the very thing they feel makes them passionately alive, and the very thing they feel enables them to be all that God destined them to be is not only harsh, it’s abusive. And I have seen the same thing happen to a few of my friends. They weren’t women who wanted to be pastors but they were people who wanted to be missionaries but had health issues or they wanted to be Gideons but had speech impediments. Some of them persevered and still managed to accomplish their dream, but others have now completely left the church because the church failed to harness that creative energy and channel it into something extremely positive.
If you absolutely cannot affirm female pastors, I’d still urge you not to squash a young person’s biggest dream, but instead say something like this:
“Honey, I’m so glad that you have such a passion and desire to serve God. I’m so proud of you for wanting to follow His leading. And while I don’t know where that’s going to take you in the future, I want you to know that if you’re following His will, you’re going big places and I can’t wait to see that. In fact, maybe God will call you to be a great teacher, missionary, or inspire the next generation someday. I’m sure whatever you end up doing, God’s going to use you to reach many other people, to help cheer people up, and to introduce many people to Christ.”
Then leave it at that. You have not compromised your own theological viewpoints, you have not affirmed that it IS indeed okay for a woman to be a pastor, but you have boosted a child’s self-esteem and self-confidence and you’ve affirmed that what they are after is indeed a Godly thing. So now there’s no more confusion. They don’t have to worry about the fine points of theology – why God is calling them to do something but won’t let them do it. They’re too young to understand that. But they aren’t young enough to understand how important Christian vocation is.
- Respect Each Other
Now that I’m older, I still find this part to be challenging. A number of my friends cannot affirm my leaning to be a pastor because of my gender. I don’t want to lose a friendship with them, but I also feel it’s important to be supported well by those you care about the most. The Christian vocation is a lonely one, so not having that anchor makes it even more challenging.
However, in the end of the day, I think it really all comes down to respect. If you’re a female pastor, respect those who disagree with you. Don’t battle with them to change their minds. If you’re the friend of a female pastor, respect them. Don’t go into a theological tirade of proof-texting.
What I’ve learned over the years (and what I’ve shared in previous posts) is that I no longer believe that one is right and the other is wrong when it comes down to it. Instead, I see how both groups are really trying to do the exact same thing. A woman who wants to be a pastor goes against cultural odds and pressures and does what is unusual because she wants to serve the God she loves and she believes this is her calling. A person who is against female leadership is trying to stay faithful to the Word of God. In the end of the day, we all want the same thing, just in different ways.
My friends often get frustrated with my conclusions, but I think they fail to understand how much research I’ve put into it. It’s troubled me many times and it still does whenever I read Paul’s words. I want to do the right thing. I want to be a Bible-believing Christian, but I also cannot be untrue to myself or unfaithful to my Lord who has called and chosen me. I don’t come to my conclusions lightly, but from years of writing and research. Likewise, it’s easy to shove-off my contrary friends and simply blame “proof-texting” but that isn’t fair either. They’ve come to their own conclusions through careful, diligent research and I also must learn to respect that.
It is incredibly difficult to navigate ministry, period. It becomes even more difficult and intense when issues of gender get involved. Ultimately, though, our same Lord is really calling all of us to the exact same things. We are all called to comfort the lost and broken-hearted, and we are all called to preach the Good News (the Gospel). This means that realistically every single one of us who has accepted Christ’s full and complete Lordship over our lives is called to be a preacher, a pastor. And this is true whether you are actually a pastor or not.
Two-Part Conversation Starter: I wonder how many faithful, Godly women have been denied the opportunity to lead and thus to do amazing things for the Kingdom. Conversely, I wonder how many men have failed to step-up and provide leadership because they thought the women would “do it all?” Women in leadership has the potential to become over-powering, even a way to justify male laziness (cf. the fact that in many Canadian churches men usher and not much else because as one usher told me “it’s the least amount of work, but I still feel involved). However, not allowing a woman to be faithful to what she truly feel God has called her to do also has inherent challenges namely confusion and frustration. How do we find the balance while being faithful to both the Word of God and our individual testimonies?