Women & Leadership By: Malcolm Webber (A Book Review)

sbl10-pic2_compact  The following is a personal review on the book: Women & Leadership By: Malcolm Webber (Strategic Press, Bentham, Indiana, 2007 ).  The following views are my own taking into consideration Webber’s writing and referencing him often.  I have not been commissioned by Webber to write a review or to post any blog on his material; so any recommendation on my part is completely voluntary. 

Well, I never thought this would happen, but I have finally found a book about male headship in ministry that I thoroughly agree with, appreciate, and embrace.  Malcolm Webber is actually the senior pastor at the church I attended for young adults when I was a seminary student in Indiana.  I only met with him once, but I remember he gave me his book, “Women & Leadership”, when he heard I was studying to be a pastor…and for whatever reason I never opened it until just now (I was probably scared of it pointing me away from my studies).  Now that I’ve read it, I realize that it doesn’t invalidate my studies at all, it just proves more and more why we need more women to study the Scriptures, but also why we need more men to take up their God-given and God-ordained position as leaders within the church.  Webber’s style is both highly theological and practical.  He’s given consideration to all of the major Biblical texts about women in leadership (both from the Old and New Testament) and he’s arrived at a fair conclusion that I think we can all agree with.

Here are a few points I have taken from this excellent, easy-to-read, and yet well researched book:

  • Men and women are created different yet equal. A man’s role as head of the family and of the church is suggested to us throughout Scripture.  This does not have anything to do with inferiority, but rather with a proper structure that best employs stability.  When a husband or male pastor is doing his Godly work, it is a joy for a woman to submit, not a burden.
  • That being said, women should minister and lead to the fullest extent of their divine callings.

What exactly does this mean?  Well, it can mean a few different things depending on what God has called the woman to do:

  1. Scripture (both in the Old and New Testament) affirms women in all sorts of various roles. While it is uncommon for a woman to be in a top position of power (one example of this being the judge Deborah), women have served in a variety of other capacities including as counsellors, guides, teachers, and deacons.  Occasionally, in the Scriptures and in early church history, women have taken the lead but this is almost always the exception, not the norm.  Furthermore, even in a case like Deborah, the socio-historical context of the day shows us that this was not the ideal.  Deborah stepped in to serve because men were not taking their proper authority and rule – it was not the best case scenario, but she followed God’s will because it was either having a female leader or having no leader.  Deborah actually encouraged Barak to step up to his God ordained role, but unfortunately, he seemed to be unwilling to do so fully (by the way there are several interpretations of this.  I actually wrote a seminary paper on this story, so I know at least 4 or 5 interpretations ranging from very liberal and feminist to very conservative and male headship orientated).
  2. The idea that a woman can only lead other women or children, is often taken out of context. Most Biblical passages do not suggest this (except for a few classic examples of proof-texts).  Rather, women are affirmed in many areas of leadership except for top-level leadership.

How Do We Find the Balance?

The women in leadership issue is a diverse and extremely tricky one within the life of the church, and one often fuelled with passion and emotion on either side of the debate.  We meet “liberal” churches that discourage a distinction between men and women stating that we are all equal; some even suggesting that churches that follow male-headship are hierarchical, patriarchal, and even oppressive.  These churches may even suggest that a woman must be liberated from the command to submit to her husband perhaps even stating that this design was simply brought about because of sin and was not God’s original intention: rather God created men and women as equal and thus we are all permitted to do the same things.  Conversely, we meet “conservative” churches that proof-text 1 Timothy 2:11-15 stating that a woman has no right to preach or lead in any capacity  except to women and kids.  So who’s right?

Well, Webber has some good logic:

Churches which promote egalitarianism may rob men of the opportunity to lead the family and the church as they should and may push a woman into a leadership position she is unprepared or unqualified for…BUT churches that see only males as “worthy” of leadership can often lead down the slippery slope of male domination, authoritarianism, and female passivity.  When this happens women can easily become bitter and enraged and thus be robbed of using their God ordained skills and interests for the higher good of the church and the Kingdom (Webber, 16).  Later on, Webber follows this statement up with another helpful comment: “The Bible contains both teachings and examples of women ministering and leading to the fullest extent of their callings in God.  A church that denies women the opportunity to minister has robbed itself of at least one-half of the gifts and callings God has provided.” (32)

All this to say: we should guard against either extreme.  A church too focused on the differences misses out on all the wonderful ways women can enrich worship and church life (whether or not she is preaching).  A church too focused on the similarities, forgets that God created men and women different but equal and that diversity can be our strength rather than an oppressive driving force.

What does this mean practically?

  1. Men should be encouraged to step up and lead. Rather than denying a woman the opportunity to lead, we should seek to urge men to “fill the vacuum that had previously been left by men not fulfilling their God-given leadership roles.” (Webber, 54).
  2. Rather than solely focussing on what the role of a woman in the church is, we should ask what the role of both genders is and how both men and women can fill the needs of the church. Webber states, “Instead of worrying about ‘what I can or cannot do,’ our concern should be ‘what has God called me to do?” (51)
  3. Webber asks the question: But what if a woman is called to a top-level leadership position? His response: Well then, she better go do it! (51)  He then adds a follow-up question: what if the woman is wrong and she is not actually called to pastor?  His response: Men are just as liable to hear their calling incorrectly as women and we should apply the same standards in either case: to lovingly nurture and correct this person, gently guiding them back to the Truth and helping them find ways of discerning their actual calling.  After all, we cannot place God in a vacuum (although His original and ultimate design is for men to lead with authority and love, we cannot deny that for whatever reason in God’s good purposes He has sometimes made exceptions to further His plan within a given context).

Malcom Webber’s book is one example of a thoughtful, tactful, Scripturally and theologically sound resource; however it is only one book and one interpretation.  I’ve stated my own views on numerous blogs, but my views are constantly being formed and shaped as I become more informed and aware of the vast literature available on this topic.  I’ve recently compiled a list of books on this topic from either perspective and will likely be blogging reviews as I unfold each one.  In all things, my hope is that whether you are male or female, you are seeking to serve Christ to the best of your abilities, being faithful to His calling and guidance on your life, and ultimately asking yourself how you can best minister and evangelize to bring many other lost souls into His grace and mercy and for His good Kingdom purposes.

 

 

 

Every Woman’s Survival Guide for Being in Full-Time Ministry

867a3e6795e578c0646c91530d770128   Originally I was going to name this post: “For Women Only: 3 Things They Never Taught Us in Seminary” and it was going to be an exposition of the various ways women can feel lonely in a “man’s world.”  However, after thinking about it for a while, I decided that this was not really the direction I wanted to go.

You see, the word “ministry” can often be quite misrepresentative.  Everyone who is a Christian and who is actively seeking to follow Christ, to evangelize, and to reach out and support others is already engaged in ministry.  It doesn’t matter if you’re an elementary school teacher, an engineer, or an at home mom…you’re doing ministry, and you’re likely doing it full-force.  Now here’s where it gets a bit tricky.  Oftentimes in the professional world, we get a bit muddled and try to segregate “ministry” (as in helping out at the church food bank) and “vocational MINISTRY” (as in being a pastor, woman’s worker, youth leader, or any other paid position).  But once again this is misleading.  That’s because even if you never preach a sermon, you probably are logging in those same hours… in fact, you’re probably also in full-time ministry.  How many diapers did you change this week again?  How many errands did you run for the kids?  How many times did you bite your tongue when your co-worker was going at you because you wanted to be a good Christian influence?  You get the picture.  When we try to put “ministry” in a box it ends up disastrously because it becomes more about what we (or what society) thinks are the most fundamental tasks for the Kingdom versus what Christ thinks are the most important.

And what exactly does God say is the most important task in full-time vocational ministry?  It is this:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Mark+12%3A30-31)

 

Loving God, seeking to follow His will, and in turn reaching out to others who need us the most.

 

But how exactly do we do that more practically?  Look no further than the book of James:

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.  (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=James+1%3A27&version=NASB)

 

Or in the words of Eugene Petersen’s The Message:   Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world. (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=James+1%3A27&version=MSG)

 

Menno Simons got it right when he gave this brilliant explanation and expanded upon this passage:

 

True evangelical faith is of such a nature it cannot lie dormant, but spreads itself out in all kinds of righteousness and fruits of love;
it dies to flesh and blood (1);
it destroys all lusts and forbidden desires (2);
it seeks, serves and fears God in its inmost soul (3);
it clothes the naked (4);
it feeds the hungry (5);
it comforts the sorrowful (6);
it shelters the destitute (7);
it aids and consoles the sad (8);
it does good to those who do it harm (9);                                                                                                   it serves those that harm it (10);
it prays for those who persecute it (11);
it teaches, admonishes and judges us with the Word of the Lord (12);
it seeks those who are lost (13);
it binds up what is wounded (14);
it heals the sick (15);
it saves what is strong (sound) (16);
it becomes all things to all people (17).
The persecution, suffering and anguish that come to it for the sake of the Lord’s truth have become a glorious joy and comfort to it.” (https://themennonite.org/feature/true-evangelical-faith/)

I have the first part of this quote featured on my Skype, Google HangOut, and Facebook and I try to include it once in a while when I am preaching just to keep in fresh and in the front of people’s minds.  It’s a text I try to live by.  It’s a text that breathes life into who I am and into my existence.

So now that we understand and realize that we are ALL called to full-time vocational ministry, what do we do?  I’m going to be open and honest with you for a minute: even having the assurance that you’re in the field God called you to, doesn’t necessarily make it any easier.  Women still have to face all sorts of pressures.

Women have to face outward pressures.  It is easy for us to feel lonely and singled out.  You may be blessed to have a core group of friends who support you in your ministry despite your gender, but you’re also going to constantly have people in your face who suggest that serving God is a sin in your case because you have an XX chromosome and not an XY.  You’re going to face discouragement when sharp disagreements occur.  And you might be frustrated when the only positions you can get are working with kids or youth and you really don’t see yourself doing either.  Even if you are surrounded by people who accept your calling, you might still feel lonely because you will be one woman among a barrage of men.  The men you work with might be wonderful, but you might still long for a deeper connection – one which only a woman-to-woman bridge can bring.

Women also face internal pressures.  Ideas they bring to themselves about what success looks like.  The pressure to conform to social norms that they themselves feel are important, or a certain shyness that makes them unable to be assertive to men.  I’ve written more about that in my recent blog post: “Boundless Possibilities” you can read it here: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2016/08/18/boundless-possibilities-dismantling-the-myth-of-the-good-little-church-girl/

I’m sure I could write a hundred different blog posts addressing a hundred different ways to tackle this problem, but I think it really all comes down to 4 key points.  If you want to succeed and have longevity in your ministry – any kind of ministry, you must: know who you are, know whose you are, know where you are, and know why you’re there.

Know Who You Are

I’ve mentioned in a few other posts that my inward struggle to accept myself for who God has made me to be has been an ongoing battle…and one that I often don’t succeed at because I’m a pacifist.  I’ve also shared how I’ve begun addressing that issue and recommended a fantastic resource called Daughters of the King (http://www.dot-k.com/). This great website also has a 7 minute audio clip speaking words of affirmation and truth.  In the description it reads: “It is important that you know who you are in Christ.  If you are going to accomplish anything in the earth for God’s glory, it will first begin with you knowing who you are.  Be blessed as you listen to Scriptures from God’s Word that will give you clear understanding into your identity.”

The key to maintaining a strong and vibrant ministry is understanding and accepting who you were made to be.  It’s about recognizing the unique ministry you have which only you are capable of achieving at this time and to this particular group of people.  It’s about not comparing yourself to others.  Realizing that you have strengths and gifts that they don’t have, but also that you have many blindspots and weaknesses where you will need to rely on others and delegate tasks to them because they will be a better fit.  It’s about seeking out resources to improve on those areas where you still need to grow.  And it’s about being mentored so that you can be the best version of yourself you can possibly be without worrying or caring so much about what others around you are (or aren’t) doing.

Know Whose You Are

We belong solely to Christ and our ministry flows from His desire for us to please Him and through the guidance of the Holy Spirit who permits that to happen.  Everything that happens in our life takes place for a purpose.  There is no meaningless or wasted moment when we follow and serve Christ.  Even the most difficult and painful times can bring us closer to Him if we are willing for that to happen.  When we know who we are in Christ, we follow the Voice of the Good Shepherd (not endless societal rants or superficial theological disagreements).  We become attuned to His Words and His will…forsaking all others and realizing that sometimes His calling upon our life will bring about rejection and discord.

It’s also recognizing when we need to drop a circular argument because it’s getting us nowhere.  Of course, we rely on those emotionally closest to us to provide support and encouragement and we long for people to hear what we have to say and affirm it.  However, the Bible also tells us “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with everyone.” (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans%2012:18)  Scripture also tells us to avoid endless quarrels, and worthless quandaries and instead seek to edify one another in our attempt to build up the Body of Christ: “But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.” (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Titus+3%3A9&version=NASB).  In other words, next time you want to harp on your favourite controversial passage, ask yourself what you’re really going to accomplish through it and why you really want to do it.  If you need more help in this area, check out my recent blog post on this topic: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2016/08/22/when-we-disagree-with-each-other-tips-learned-in-life/

When we are secure in Christ, we don’t have to worry about whether or not people will like us or try to get everyone to see things from our point of view.  Knowing WHOSE we are, is just as important as knowing WHO we are because it reminds us that without Christ we can do nothing and thus, any ministry we are called to belongs to Him.  Not to those who disagree with us.  And not even to ourselves.

Know Where You Are

There is a famous African proverb that says: “if you don’t know where you are, or where you’re going, any bus will do.”

For years I have dreaded these two questions in a job interview:

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

What will you do if you don’t get this job?
I’m an extreme planner.  Not only do I have a 5 year plan, but I also have a 10 and 15 year one.  But over time, I’ve learned that “In their hearts human beings plan their lives. But the Lord decides where their steps will take them.” (https://www.biblegateway.com/verse/en/Proverbs%2016%3A9) In other words, just when I think I’ve figured it out, my life drastically changes.

Take my current position.  Never in my entire high school or undergrad career would I have seen myself working with people who have intellectual disabilities.  The thought never crossed my mind… I was destined to be a full time pastor in the Mennonite Church.  Then, all of a sudden, in my first year of seminary, my heart tugged me in this direction.  It was completely unplanned and unexpected, but now I have been in the field for almost 4 years.  I love what I do and see it as my primary focus and ministry.  It has grown from curiosity into an intense calling, affirmed by others around me.

Well, not everyone.  Some people think I’m wasting my education and should go back into full-time pastoring…but in the end of the day, you need to rely on Christ’s will and plan for your life.  After all, it’s your life, not theirs.  When Christ clearly shows you what you are to do, you don’t hold back, you go do it…even when others around you might not understand or might think it’s foolish and pointless.

So where are you today?  Are you young or old?  Are you just beginning your academic journey or have you been retired for years?  Where are you currently living?

When you think about your age, life-stage, and geographical position, each place brings with it new opportunities for witness and evangelism.  Opportunities that you might not have had in previous years and that you might not have again because this is where you are RIGHT NOW, at this particular season.  Think about how you can be a good steward with where you find yourself at this moment.  Don’t keep looking back – preserved in the past like a stand-still pillar of salt.  Don’t keep reminiscing about the “good old days” neglecting the current reality.  And conversely, don’t become too future focused.  Don’t keep grasping for the next goal without taking a moment to pause and reflect on what you have just accomplished.  Live in the here and now.  Live in this tension of the “now” and “not yet”.  Live with the assurance that God is going to move in many mighty ways to the people you are encountering at the bank, the grocery store, your local church, your favourite coffee shop, and the ice rink.  That’s really the key to a successful ministry.

Know Why You’re There

Have you ever found yourself in a trying situation – a place you never wanted to be, never want to go back to, and would never wish on your worst enemy?  Have you ever asked God why He placed you there to begin with?

Helen Rosevear was such a woman.  A young, idealistic English doctor in the D.R. Congo, she soon found herself face to face with rebel soldiers, force, and violation.  Yet, she chose to ask God the question: “Why am I here?  What can I accomplish through this terrible injustice?”  God spoke quietly and softly to her heart reminding her of who she was and whose she was.  She recounts this question in particular “are you willing to trust Me even if I never tell you why?”  In her fear, pain, and frustration, she humbly submitted regardless of the cost.  She later publicly shared her testimony on numerous occasions where she proclaimed “the question is not ‘is it worth it?’ but ‘is He worthy?’”  Because of Rosevear’s great internal strength of character, she has become a hero of the faith to many including a mentor to myself.  Oh that we would have such a faith!

You might have found yourself in a similar position, or you might find yourself in a less intense one… but we all face struggles and difficulties of various kinds throughout our journey in life.  When we’re stuck at that job we don’t want to be in, we can ask ourselves “why is God calling me here?  What is He trying to teach me through this work place?  How can He use me to minister and benefit others?”  When we’re about to lose it with our children we can ask God for the grace we need reminding ourselves that He is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love even despite our rebellion and disobedience to Him (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+145%3A8&version=NASB).  When we find ourselves in a time of utter confusion and at a crossroads, unsure of exactly where we are or why we’re there, we can rest in Him and His promise to clarify our calling and our direction.

If you need more guidance in this area, one of my fellow MennoNerds Benjamin L. Corey recently wrote a series of posts on this very topic as he recounts a deep personal loss he recently experienced.  Two of his posts in particularly really stuck out to me because of their honesty and depth.  Corey gives us the great reminder that even in loss and confusion, it’s okay to question God and to be angry.  Even when we’re following Christ and relying fully on Him, we’re still going to have many questions – that’s to be expected.  But we also know where to turn for the answers.

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/how-to-be-here-when-here-is-the-shittiest-place-you-can-imagine/

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/if-god-is-the-cause-of-our-suffering-hes-kinda-a-jerk-just-sayin/

Being a woman in ministry is a difficult and often painful place to be, but my following these four steps of knowing WHO we are, WHOSE we are, WHERE we are, and WHY we are there, our ministry will become much more robust.  When we keep seeking the guidance of the One who called us into His glorious hope, it also becomes so worth it.  May you experience a glimpse of His joy as you seek and serve Him with the people He has entrusted you with TODAY.

When We Disagree With Each Other (Tips Learned In Life)

argument2   I get it.  I can be a pretty argumentative person.  I thrive on debates (much to the chagrin of my more passive friends) and as an online personality test once told me, I am a haughty-intellectual “you think you know everything, and you probably do.”  In fact, I once thought I was wrong, and I was right, so therefore, I’m always right!

All joking aside, I have recently been reflecting on my own inner nature to try to prove my point, to become defensive, and to go around in circles without ever landing the plane.  So to help me with this on-going struggle, I’ve started doing some research.  I’m currently reading a really great book called When to Speak Up, and When to Shut Up by Dr. Michael Sedler.  In this book Sedler shows us ways to affirm the other person’s dignity and worth, while also having the courage to state our own convictions clearly.  Here’s one of the best tidbits of advice he provides: “don’t argue by stating your position over and over.  If someone does not agree the first time, the next five times will not convince them.  Saying it louder and with greater force will not work either.” (p.127). Yep, something I am definitely guilty of personally!

A few days ago, one of my fellow MennoNerds, Tabitha Driver wrote this incredible blog which you can see here: http://ultimatemetaphor.blogspot.ca/2016/08/when-christians-disagree-5-common-logic.html.  I’d love to just copy and paste all the nuggets of wisdom she has to share, sorry Tabitha!  But being the good little Mennonite girl that I am, I thought I’d kind of amalgamate Sedler’s book and Driver’s blog in order to provide you with my own perspective on the topic.  It’s probably not as good as either one, but I hope it might be a close third.

#1: Understand the Reason for Your Argument

Although as I have stated and will readily admit, I am quite an argumentative person and thus probably get into some form of debate daily (yes, the good Lord still loves even me!) in the interest of time, I will only share with you the most recent one.  Lately, I have really been struggling with the issue of women in leadership.  Those of you who read my blog know that I just came home from a year-long mission’s trip to Edinburgh, Scotland.  Unlike my liberal Canada, Scotland is still quite conservative in a number of ways, meaning that you’d be hard-pressed to find a female pastor over there.  In fact, many churches will not even let a woman be an elder!  This has oftentimes been quite a challenge and struggle for me.  I studied theology and I graduated with my Master’s of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry.  Previously, I have served as a pastor and pastoral intern and it is difficult for me to go from being permitted to preach in a church to being told I need to be quiet and submissive.  So I usually go right ahead and jump to the defensive.  Even in Scotland, I was often very clear that this issue is a deal-breaker for me.  I have no problem going to a church like that for a year or two, but when thinking of settling somewhere permanently or when contemplating where to put in church membership, this is a major issue of consideration.  Yeah, I know, I’m probably a bad missionary for not blending in enough with the culture!  However, I have recently started looking at the question quite honestly.  What exactly is it about being told I can’t lead or preach that irritates me so much?  On the one hand, I believe I have a strong calling from God and I want to please Him with my education and be a good steward of the 4 preaching courses I’ve taken.  That’s a good motivation…probably the right one to have.  But admittedly, I also realize that lots of times the real reason I’m frustrated is because I have an ego.  I want to get the “status” I feel I deserve.  I don’t want to be deprived of doing something I enjoy.  And yes, perhaps, if I probe deep enough, I like the attention that preaching gives to me.  So then the issue becomes less about God and more about myself which, as I’m sure you know, is a trap door for disaster.

Summation: It’s fine for you to disagree with someone else’s opinion, but you have to know WHY.  You have to be honest with yourself.  You have to realize when the issue is becoming less about God and more about you.

#2: Become Aware of Internal Triggers and Unwanted Emotions

Emotions are one of God’s greatest gifts to us.  They remind us that we are alive and healthy.  They allow us to experience joy and pleasure.  They can also be highly distracting when we want people to take us seriously if we don’t know how to properly reign them in and put them in check.

A list of emotions to watch out for: anger, bitterness, jealousy, pride, envy, fear, intense people-pleasing, sadness, depression…I’m sure you can think of any number of other adjectives to add as well.

If you suddenly find yourself exhibiting a high level of any of these emotions, you need to slow down, take a breath, and stop.  Re-evaluate the situation, ask yourself why you’re experiencing these feelings, validate them, then don’t resume the confrontation or debate until you can put them back in place again.

Emotions are neither bad nor good in themselves, but rather they serve as warning signs and signals.  They can be helpful, but they can also detract from what you’re trying to say and make your words sound less credible.

Summation: A wise theologian once told me: “in the end of the day, your opinions don’t matter, and neither do mine, the only thing that matters is the Word of God.”  We would do well to heed his instructions.  It can be easy for us to become preoccupied thinking our viewpoint is the only correct one to have.  We may even begin feeling our blood boiling and our pulse quickening.  But if that happens, we need to take a step back and relax.  We need to keep our head in the discussion…if we can’t do that, well…quite frankly… then we aren’t ready or mature enough to have that type of conversation yet.

#3: Agree to Disagree in Love…No Really…

With the women in leadership issue, I’ve also been realizing how I can be rather hypocritical on the issue… and I’ve definitely seen this with other areas as well.  Here’s a classic example.  I’m a people-pleaser (a bit ironic that I’m also an avid debater, isn’t it?)  I love stirring up trouble, but then I go cower in the corner because I’m scared that people will be mad about it for the next month and a half (oftentimes this is an over-exaggeration and the majority of the time, they are just fine).  Anyways, I’ll usually give a stereotypical Canadian phrase such as this: “Ultimately, I believe we can all have different opinions on this.  It’s not a deal-breaker for salvation.  It’s a side-hall issue, not a main-hall one.  I have many friends who disagree with women in ministry, but we are all still friends.  I respect them.  They respect me.”  But I realize that this is all just lip-service to what’s really stirring in my heart.  Truthfully, I wish I could be the type of person who always respects other people’s viewpoints and is fine with them, but in reality, I’m far from that.  I might nod my head in agreement when I’m with them or even add a few “mmm-hmmms” and “yes, that makes sense” but inwardly I’m seething.  A lot of the time, I feel like I need the other person to come to my side, or else I haven’t done the issue justice.  Even though I say that I’m fine with a close friend not supporting my vocation, inwardly, I’m hoping to bring him or her around so that they can see things from my viewpoint.  Which actually really isn’t fair.  If I’m asking them to respect where I’m coming from even if they don’t agree, to love and honour me even when they don’t support me, I should definitely be doing the same for them.  So why aren’t I?

Summation: If you suddenly discover yourself secretly trying to convince the other person to come to your side even though with your lips you’re proclaiming that they are entitled to their own opinions, ask yourself why you aren’t willing to relinquish the control.  What do you hope to get from their changing their mind?  Is that really necessary for life in the Body, or can we actually, really, truly agree to disagree on some issues and still maintain close friendships and ties?   One of my really good friends from Edinburgh and I have butted heads on this issue many, many times, but I’ll always remember what she said once when I Facebook messaged her after a particularly stressful debate.  She said to me: “I’m not offended.  Just because I disagree with you doesn’t mean we can’t discuss it, but the opposite, actually.  Having different opinions adds colour to our friendship and is a beautiful part of our personalities.  I don’t have this need to have everyone agree with me all the time, and you shouldn’t either.”  Since then, whenever we end up being on different ends of the spectrum, I always remind myself to be thankful because our differences are what makes our relationship so unique and so much more interesting.  It’s what makes it special, rather than bland or boring.

#4: Avoid Obnoxious Name Calling (In Other Words: Grow Up!)

Academic debates can often turn into “straw-man” type arguments when we let our emotions run rampant (if you don’t know what a “straw-man” is, it’s basically using irrelevant information and attacking the individual’s personal character in order to strengthen your point.  It’s highly emotional, it’s immature, and it’s the way of most politicians – cf. what we see all the time in the latest U.S. political debate).

Getting involved in a theological debate requires precision, honesty, and integrity.  It also means knowing and understanding the facts… not just going off on someone you disagree with.  One of the biggest downfalls of the church, is Christians using verbal ammo against one another in order to compel the person to come to their side.  May I ask a quick question though?  If you’re constantly shooting at me, barraging me with your machine guns – what makes you think I want to hop the fence?  I’d much rather stay on the side of peace.  In other words, feel free to challenge someone else’s opinions, but do it with love and grace.  Be the Quaker Peacemaker who walks across the field with a bag of chocolate chip cookies, shakes the enemy’s hand, and gives him a hug.  Don’t be that big army thug.  After all, Anabaptists are called to be pacifists, right?

Summation: If you want people to take you seriously, you don’t get that respect from knocking someone down, belittling them, insulting their character, or questioning their spiritual status. In other words, avoid saying meaningless things like “if you were really a Christian, you’d…,” or “I don’t see how you can really be a Christian and do…” Avoid thinking of one particular denomination, way of thinking, or theological position as being the only infallible option that will bring one to eternal life.  Also resist throwing around terms like “liberal” or “conservative” with a tone suggesting that one means heresy and the other is synonymous with close-mindedness.  If you are going to use loaded terms, understand the implications and look up what they actually mean (so as not to use them out of context).  Better yet, avoid labels altogether.  Even if you intend to use the words with their original definitions, culture implies all sorts of things about these ambiguous types of words…so best to run the farthest you can from them.

#5: Let Them Eat Zwiebach!  (Or Borscht, or Strudel, or Rollkucken, or… You Get the Picture!)

Facing a myriad of people who disagree with female pastors has actually been quite a humbling experience for me.  Today I was reflecting on how my inability to see things from the other person’s point of view is so counter-productive to what I really want my life’s aim to be about.  Here’s why:

There are some people who sincerely believe that God does not allow a woman leadership over a man.  Many of these people are not “women-haters” or do not see women as inferior, but they have come to that conclusion through careful dissection and Scriptural research.  My Edinburgh pastor recently stated, “society and culture often tell us that unless men and women are doing the exact same things they are not equal, but that’s not necessarily the case.”  And he’s right.  The woman is the one who carries the child to term and gives birth and she is the one who breastfeeds her, but that doesn’t make her any less of a daughter to her father and that doesn’t mean the father therefore has no responsibility and care over her.  A mother and father are similar and equal and yet incredibly different.

On the other hand, you meet people like me.  People who have also done massive amounts of research, who know the Biblical languages, who have read the Bible cover to cover on multiple occasions and in many different translations, and who have theological training and they believe that it’s fine for a woman to preach.  They see it as being a God-ordained ministry for both men or women and they recognize that calling is central so if the woman is called, why not?

Now in either one of these cases, what is ultimately the most important thing?  To serve and honour God.  One person comes to the conclusion that a woman shouldn’t preach because they want to respect God’s authority and His Word.  They feel like denying a woman this opportunity is ultimately God’s Will.  It’s how they serve God.

On the other hand, people like me believe that we can serve God both in and out of the pulpit regardless of our gender.  We trust that by doing so we are being faithful to God’s call upon our life.  We feel like to not speak, would set “fire to our bones” and would not be honouring all that God has given to us.

So then, who’s right?  Well, in a way both are.  When thought through correctly, both viewpoints are distilled into the same category: how to best live Biblically.  Both are about being faithful to the witness and identity of the church, but both witness in incredibly different ways.

Realistically, I think that when Christ comes back, He doesn’t want us to be squabbling over petty theological differences.  He wants us to spreading His Word and His message through our lifestyle choices.  He wants us to care for the “least of these,” not sit behind ivory towers writing theological treatises that probably don’t make a whole lot of difference in the end of the day.  Don’t get me wrong, there is a place for academic debates, but there’s an even bigger place for activist faith and true, life-giving and breathing Christ-centered spirituality.

So in the end of the day, let’s just throw aside our differences.  Let’s agree to disagree.  Let’s periodically put away our theological dictionaries, concordances, and interlinears, and let’s all eat a batch of zwiebach (or strudel or whatever other Mennonite food you want to insert here!)

Summation: I’ve you made it to the end of my long blog, congratulations.  You probably need zwiebach not only to proclaim peace with fellow debaters, but also just to get your strength and stamina back so you can read other nerdy writings at https://mennonerds.com/!  Just saying!