“I Suffer Not a Woman to Teach” (What Does 1 Timothy 2:12 Really Mean)

preacher-blondeThis is perhaps the most awkward blog post I have ever written.  Usually when I write blog posts it is to impart some level of knowledge, to share resources, to give a definitive “what now” response to a particular question.  However, the purpose of this blog post is slightly different.  The purpose of this blog post is to admit, I don’t have all the answers and I don’t even have all the questions.  As a theologian and children’s pastor, there are still numerous theological areas I struggle with.  Women and ministry is one of those areas.

Some of you know me personally and have read up on many articles I’ve written on this very topic, but today I want to re-iterate some of that in order to help you better understand where I am coming from.

When I was 4 years old, I used to line up my teddy bears and preach sermons to them.  Some kids play house, some play doctor, I played church.  My curiosity for the Bible was insatiable and from as early as I can remember, I was a little nerd.  One day in my kindergarten Sunday school class my teacher (the pastor’s daughter) made us go around in a circle and say what we wanted to be when we grew up.  There were the traditional responses – a mechanic, an athlete, and a singer.  And then my turn.  I boldly announced “a pastor.”  My teacher nearly fell off her chair and quietly reprimanded me “honey, women can’t be pastors.”  Well, I am not one to take no for an answer, so a few years later I left that church and went to a different one with a female pastor.

Growing up, I have always been well aware of the tension of being a woman in leadership.  On the one hand, I believe that God has specifically called me to a Christian ministry vocation.  I believe I have been affirmed in gifts such as leadership, administration, teaching, and preaching.  Many people are afraid of public speaking, but that’s where I find myself the most energized.  I also believe that God has placed in me a desire to relate well to people regardless of their age.  I am a children’s pastor because I think kids are the future of our church and to invest in them is to invest in our future.  I take this role seriously, however, I also have admitted on several occasions that I don’t want to work with kids forever.  And if I were completely honest, I would admit that I am more drawn to the traditional pastoring roles of providing pastoral care, guidance, and teaching than I am in cutting out paper hearts and crafting paper airplanes.

I am very blessed that for the most part I have grown up surrounded by people who have affirmed my calling without making a big deal of my gender.  I have seen some friends and relatives who were once dead set against female leadership now encouraging me on my own path because they want to value what God is doing in my life.  I have also had some very close friends tell me that as long as I pursued pulpit ministry, they were never going to be on my side.  This hurts deeply and I think oftentimes these people don’t understand the tension that we women in leadership deal with.  Sometimes people can be downright cruel and judgmental in their thinking.  They will make all sorts of accusations such as that the person has heard God wrong, that they are following Satan and not God, and that they are only in the ministry to prove a point or because of pride.  These people often are completely clueless about how difficult it is for a woman to be a pastor.  Female pastors will likely never be as accepted as male pastors and will often have to justify a calling that men are so likely to take for granted.

Between the ages of 18-24 I attended Tyndale University College and Seminary in Toronto.  I first acquired my Bachelor’s of Religious Education followed by a Master’s of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry.  Being a non-denominational school, Tyndale accepts students of both persuasions.  I have attended classes and become friends with many people who will never set foot in a church as long as I’m preaching.  I have also attended classes with many women who I believe have the “gifts and graces” of ministry and are doing incredible things in their own church for the Kingdom of God.  What interests me the most in both interactions is that in both cases these people are sold out Christians.  In both cases these people simply want to follow God’s will for their lives, and in both cases these individuals have found examples in Scripture to prove their point.

Attending Tyndale I never once felt discouraged from being a pastor.  All Tyndale professors have to agree that regardless of their own persuasions they will not penalize or discriminate against a female in their class.  Professors must accept women into all their pastoral classes including preaching if she registers.  However, even though classes are open to both genders, I was one of three women in the pastoral ministry track (and Tyndale is the largest Christian seminary in all of Canada and one of the largest in North America).

At Tyndale I also did an in-depth study on women in leadership.  Over the years my viewpoint has changed almost entirely.  I used to be very egalitarian, then turned middle-ground, and now am almost exclusively male headship.  That is to say that I still value the contributions of women in all levels of leadership and want them to freely exercise the gifts God has given them (including preaching), but have realized that for myself I would not feel right being a senior pastor.  This is not to say that I don’t think there are ever exceptions, however, I will admit it is often not the norm.

Since I’ve read up on both side  of the debate and felt comfortable as a woman behind the pulpit (in other words, I didn’t think I was somehow “sinning” against God), I was content.  But then something happened.  As I have now started thinking more about ordination I realize the process is no longer a thought, but likely will be a reality.  Currently it is a question that plagues me most nights.  Am I doing the right thing?  Is this what God really wants?  And what on earth do I do with the 1 Timothy passage (the classic proof-text)?  Is it simply enough to say that it was written at a different time, under Patriarchal influences and that it doesn’t apply the same way today and is thus a matter of interpretation (like the more egalitarian books tell us)?  Are the Biblical examples of Deborah, Miriam, Phoebe, Junia, and Priscilla (all women of extreme importance who had a vast amount of leadership within the early church – potentially even over men) enough to justify a woman behind the pulpit?  Or is the mere fact that Scripture doesn’t name these women “priests” or “pastors” enough to turn us off completely from this notion?  And if indeed we are using the argument that women can be pastors based on the cultural norms of that day, how far should we take it?

Currently, I am blessed to be part of a denomination which is the absolute best fit for me.  In the Free Methodist church we hold to conservative doctrines almost exclusively.  The Free Methodist believe entirely in traditional marriage (including between a man and a woman, the man being the head of the household, sexual expressions only allowed in marriage, and divorce as an absolute last alternative to be avoided as much as possible except in cases of abandonment, abuse, or desertion).  My church also believes in pro-life and many other things that the most conservative churches adhere to.  However, women can still be pastors (including lead pastors).  That being said, there are not many lead pastors who are female and I still believe in many ways it is not the easiest for a woman to be a lead pastor and even that certain churches within our denomination would not accept this, but the fact is – it’s still a possibility.  And so this has left me questioning, how do I best live in this tension?  How come I so easily adhere to the fact that a man is the head of the family, but not that I can’t preach behind a pulpit?  And if I want to take that verse literally, how far do I go?  Can a woman teach on Mother’s Day?  Can she be a youth pastor?  What about young adults?  Or can she only teach kids and other women?

Like I said at the beginning, I have no real answer for this, but it is a very real struggle I am currently facing.  How to stay true to  the Scripture but also how to stay true and honour God using what I believe He has called me to for years and what people have affirmed in me.  And although I cannot give you any concrete evidence one way or the other (because trust me, there are numerous opinions on this point and both sides have excellent persuasions… I have read many of them extensively), here are some things I would urge you all to keep in mind whether or not you want to see a woman behind the pulpit.

1) God has created and gifted both men and women in various ways.  Both genders must be free to express these spiritual gifts, but also must exercise caution not to abuse them.

2) Throughout the Scripture, God has utilized the gifts of women in various ways (including ways that were not popular or “the norm” at that time).  Women in the Bible have prophesied, led house churches along with their husband, taken part in the public ministry of prayer, served as deaconesses, and even served as a judge over all of Israel.  Women were (and still are) a vital part of the ministry of the church and should be affirmed for their leadership qualities.  Paul himself, the very one who said “I suffer not a woman to teach” sent special greetings to his female co-labourers and from what we see in Scripture seemed to hold them in a high regard and be genuinely thankful for their contributions.

3) Both men and women can be led astray in what they perceive to be God’s calling over their lives.  A woman may be incorrect in the fact that God is calling her to teach, but men also can feel led to be a pastor for less than pure motives.

4) Although it is not the norm, God has called women into specific senior levels of leadership over the years (both in Biblical times as well as throughout church history).  The main thing to remember is that God can use anyone and even if there is a certain preacher you do not approve of, God may still have used him or her to challenge and encourage His flock.

5) Women in leadership is a “side-hall” issue.  It is indeed divisive with high emotions on both sides of the debate.  However, ultimately it is still a grey area in many respects.  It is much better to focus on the real issues at hand (those of sin and salvation) without letting a smaller issue like this distract us from the real work that needs to be done.

Ultimately, I still stand by what I’ve said in the past.  “If God has called a woman to be a senior pastor, then she better go do it!”  Ultimately God calls who He will, when He will, for what He wills.  Our role must always be to faithfully serve Him no matter what.  In all things we must heed the voice of Christ our Master, be faithful to His calling, be understanding and humble enough to admit that we might be mistaken, and to seek Godly counsel from mature Christians to make sure we are hearing correctly.  We must apply what we think God is saying to us through the lens of Scripture and we must remember that He is the one we will ultimately all have to give an account to.  Whether you believe in women in leadership or not, I urge and encourage you to be faithful to the role God has placed you in right now and to show hospitality to all, but especially to those who are of the household of faith.

I’d love to hear the thoughts and viewpoints of those on either side of this debate.

How to Keep Your Cool When Engaging with Religious Zealots

This article first appeared on: http://www.stateofformation.org/2017/04/how-to-keep-your-cool-when-engaging-with-religious-zealots/

3f3a51f0-27a6-450d-a22c-af7fdf3b331fMy fingers hovered over the keyboard, ready to write a fighting response while my mind willed me that violence (even if only verbal) is never the answer.  The blood steadily coursed through my veins causing me to clench my fists and grit my teeth.  In February, Premier Magazine out of London, UK asked me to write an article about my best friend, Karima, who is a Muslim.  Although I have contributed to smaller magazines before, this was the first time I was approached by one outside of North America, and indeed, it felt like a great honour.  Premier has recently been running a series on “My Friend the…” where fellow Christian engage and form deep relationships with people who aren’t part of their faith tradition.  Amongst the intriguing articles already featured are a post about a skeptic, an atheist, and a Jehovah’s Witness.  This seemed like the perfect platform for sharing something so near to my faith – interreligious dialogue, however, I was unprepared for what would follow.

A barrage of comments steadily streamed in over the month.  Some were positive, but many were not.  The blatant dislike of the Islamic religion, even debasing it to a mere shadow of what Islam truly is, forced a knot in my stomach and caused me to feel ill.  People, many of whom simply were concerned about the state of ISIS, began attacking the religion as a whole stating that Islam was evil incarnate, implying that my friend was secretly a “spy” alerting her networks to my attempts at good will, and stating that by taking one verse in the Qu’ran completely out of context they had the authority to damn an entire religion to hell.  All of this was terrible, as I kept asserting that numerous Muslims are peaceful individuals who desire the same things we all do (love, friendship, mutuality, and respect) and that the few Muslim extremists we see portrayed on television are simply that – extremists.  Yet, as difficult as it was to see my best friend’s religion painted in such a stark way, what troubled me most was the assault people produced on my own faith.  Comments about me not being a “true Christian”, distorting the Christian faith, and “needing to read a Bible” along with the notion that having a friendship where conversion is not even mentioned (and definitely not the sole reason) were the norm.  I struggled to find words and grace to hold my composure where also defending a dear friend who definitely did not deserve these false accusations.

I do not blame Premier magazine at all for suggesting this difficult topic.  I know that at the heart of what they are trying to do, we are on the same page.  I know that Premier is a magazine which is trying to broaden people’s perspectives and challenge false assumptions and notions that exist when Christians relate to those of other religious backgrounds.  However, to be honest, if I knew how difficult the preceding month would have been, I am not so sure I would have said yes to the request.  Yet, even in those moments of darkness, there were instances of great light.  Commentators who stood by me and applauded my efforts.  Genuinely thankful people who read the article in print and online.  A very thoughtful and sincere email from the editor himself when I mentioned the backlash and his open stance in suggesting this might be just what the world needs to hear.  And finally, the reaction of my Muslim friend herself, who through it all, continued to share the love, peace, and grace I have always known her to exemplify.

I think the difficulty does not lie with the magazine itself.  If anything, Premier is simply one channel and one voice that the world needs to hear more of.  The challenge is that people simply have failed to learn how to relate and respond to anyone different than themselves.

While I admit that I (despite my own best attempts) may not have answered everyone the way I needed to, I have learned a few lessons along the way myself.  Below, I’d like to offer you some ways to keep your cool when engaging with religious zealots (even, and perhaps, especially, if those zealots belong to your own faith tradition):

1) Don’t ever compare the worst of someone else’s religion with the best of yours.
2) Don’t compare a few extremists in one religion while neglecting the extremism in your own.
3) Recognize that every religion is internally diverse and even within the same denomination or religious group, there will be many differences of opinion on many different topics.
4) View each story on a case-by-case basis. Look at people as individuals, don’t paint everyone with the same broad strokes.
5) Someone who affiliates with a certain religion (ie. is a committed follower and practitioner) should always be considered more highly than someone who merely knows of a religion through second-hand study or the media (regardless of how educated you may be on the topic)
6) Recognize that there are inconsistencies within every Holy Book that need to be worked through and rectified.
7) Do not get into matters of the person’s soul. Example, don’t start telling another Christian that they don’t truly know the Lord or that they aren’t truly saved just because they don’t buy into your ultra-conservative ideologies.
8) Resist judgementalism at all costs.
9) If you find yourself getting angry – ask yourself what is internally going on. Anger is a secondary emotion, there is always something contributing to it whether guilt, fear, pride, arrogance, or sadness.
10) Friendship is more important than simply being right.

I recognize that inter-religious dialogue is difficult and sometimes painful work, partly because the soil has just not readily been prepared for us until more recently.  However, if we truly are interested in being ambassadors, we need to cultivate a position of peace whereby we are interested in building friendship irrespective of differences in race, culture, ethnicity, or religious tradition.  We cannot confuse the desire to be right with what is already truly right – a friendship that would willingly give itself to the other at no cost.  I still maintain that the beauty we see in this world is entirely because of the diversity that is so inherent within it.  And to all those zealous Christian commentators who wanted to tear me down, know this: I do read my Bible daily, and it is because of my devotion to my particular Holy Book that I feel so strongly about loving people of all persuasions.  I am not interested in compromising my relationship with my God, but rather believe that welcoming a friend from a different background is doing far more for the Gospel of Peace, than simply arguing a dogmatic position.  In fact, I would dare to say, it is doing exactly what Jesus would want.

You can read my article about my best friend here: https://www.premierchristianity.com/Past-Issues/2017/March-2017/Becoming-best-friends-with-a-Muslim-demolished-my-prejudices-about-Islam

An Unlikely Teacher, an Encourager, and the Power of a Praying Grandmother

celebrating_seniors_logoToday I preached my inaugural sermon at Trulls Road Free Methodist Church at their annual Seniors’ Luncheon.  I am so grateful for all the seniors who have impacted and shaped my life.  I hope that this message will be a blessing to you! 

Good afternoon.  It is indeed a real honour and privilege to join you today for your seniors’ luncheon.  Today, I would like to share a few stories of how seniors have impacted my own personal and spiritual life.  I hope these stories will serve as an encouragement for everyone here.

Our culture is completely preoccupied with staying young forever.  Just flip through any magazine or television advertisement and you will be promised that a certain cream, lotion, or oil will restore your youth.  These same commercials suggest that one’s college or career days are the best times of one’s life.  However, what these advertisements fail to realize is that there are many things seniors can do which my age group cannot.  Some of these areas include: being able to teach and mentor the next generation through life experience, encouraging young people by testifying to God’s faithfulness over your lifetime of service to Him, and through the power of praying for your grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Let’s look at all of these areas a little closer.

Firstly, I appreciate how you provide mentorship and teach us through your life experience.
When I began thinking of what to share with you today, my mind immediately thought of 2 Timothy 1:5 where the Apostle Paul commends his young mentee, Timothy, to hold on to the faith that was passed down to him.  In this short verse, Paul mentions two instrumental women in Timothy’s life – his mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois.  Timothy’s early life was probably shaped by competing worldviews and religious leanings because his mother was a Jew and his father a Greek.  And yet, because of his grandmother’s teaching, he became a positive role model to many in his church.

My grandmother, Anna Ferber, was also a sparkplug of the faith.  My grandma went through many terrible ordeals during her life.  She lived through the horrors of World War II and had to flee her native Hungary in order to move to Canada.  She also faced personal difficulties of various kinds, but these never hindered her faith and trust in God.  She was a very humble person who quietly served others, so it wasn’t until after her death that I truly understood what an inspiration she was.  Only later did we discover notes in her apartment posing questions like “Lord, have I remembered to thank You today?”  In her last months, her only request was for the Psalms to be read out loud to her frequently, when she was too weak to read them herself.  She was truly a faithful servant of God.

Secondly, seniors bless my generation by encouraging us through testifying of God’s goodness over their lifetime.

Questions and concerns are a young person’s food.  They often consume our thoughts.  This is where seniors provide a needed and welcome respite from the storms of life.  When seniors share their own experience, they often provide reassurance that we can also get through some of the most difficult hurtles life throws at us.

My grandmother got married very young and immediately started her family.  When she was still in Hungary, some German soldiers came to her house unannounced and demanded a search. Imagine how terrifying this would have been for a young Jewish woman, barely 20 years old with 2 small children. Yet, my grandmother was a very clever woman.  Instead of panicking, she warmly invited the soldiers inside and shared a pot of her homemade soup.  The soldiers had not eaten well in days and gladly accepted the offer.  My grandmother then led them out the backdoor, and the soldiers never shared the information with their superiors.  In this story, my grandmother was a modern day Esther who courageously risked her life for the sake of her family and future generations.

During the war, my Great Uncle was also detained in a prisoner of war camp.  Yet instead of complaining and questioning God, he used that experience to witness to other inmates.  Some even came to know God in a personal way. Today, he does not harbour any bitterness about these conditions, but only gratitude.

These last two stories are fairly dramatic, however, you can also encourage people in much smaller ways.  In my old church, there was a retired pastor named J.P. who was in his early 90s.   J.P. always went out of his way to praise and compliment the youth.  When I was a teen, I used to run the church sound system.  I was the first woman to do this and I believe the last.  Every Sunday, J.P. came to get his assisted hearing device and he would greet me by saying “it’s so nice to finally see a woman behind the desk.  It’s about time.”  This left a lasting impression on me so when he passed away, I cried about it for a few days.

Lastly, I really appreciate when your generation prays for mine.  It is unfortunate that sometimes prayer can be relegated to the sidelines, often as an afterthought.  Sometimes well-meaning people downplay its importance by stating “if you can’t do anything else, you can still pray for us.”
The truth is, prayer is the greatest ministry of all.  It doesn’t matter how wonderful a ministry is, if it is not constantly brought before the Throne Room of Grace it will collapse.  Just like the Psalms tell us “unless the Lord build a house, you labour in vain who make it.”

During my second week at Trulls, I joined a few seniors for lunch after church.  One of the members shared how she was previously involved in children’s ministry, but now she has retired from it.  However, she mentioned that she still prays for the ministry itself, the kids, and for me.  I was so touched by her words.  The prayers of a person who has displayed a lifetime of faithfulness to God are a valued treasure.

Please be encouraged.  Even if ill-health or physical limitations prevent you from actively serving like you once did, your prayers are the greatest asset to the ministry.  Like James writes, “the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”  Or in my own words “don’t mess with a praying Grandma!”

I’d like to end with one last verse from Scripture.  Psalm 92:14 reads, “You will still yield fruit in old age.  You will be full of sap and very green.”

I began my message by sharing how our culture often devalues old age.  And I shared some personal stories about how seniors positively impact my life.  I talked about the three greatest blessings your generation gives to mine: mentoring us through your own life experience, testifying to God’s faithfulness and goodness over a lifetime of serving Him, and praying for us deeply.
All of these areas are ways that you still bear fruit.  Sometimes it might be easy to look back with nostalgia on your ministry involvements as a 20 or 30 year old.  But I urge you not to forget the amazing ways that God is using you in your 70s, 80s, and 90s.

And that’s why, like the Psalmist says, at any age, but especially in old age, we bear fruit, we grow, and we flourish.

Thank you for your time this morning and may God continue to bless you and look favourably upon you.