On Women and Spiritual Leadership

There is a church of another denomination near where I live that has a man and woman co-pastoring. This is a relatively new development for that church, and there are a few individuals (possibly more) who are having difficulty accepting this situation.

A friend of mine approached me, and asked for some thoughts he could pass on to someone he knows within that church who is wrestling with the recent change in leadership.  Rather than submit to the “Outrage Culture” that grips even the Church when this subject is brought up, I decided to do some study and posit some thoughts rather than argue about this. The following is a rather lengthy letter I put together on the topic.

I decided to post this letter, as this topic has come up in multiple isolated conversations recently. Perhaps someone will find it interesting…

 

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My dear brother in Christ,

I was asked recently by a mutual friend to help clarify the Scripture’s teaching on whether or not women can serve as spiritual leaders within the home and within the Church. I was saddened by this question, though not because of your thoughts regarding this topic. I was saddened that this topic has been so neglected, yet simultaneously politicized, within the church that such a question would need to be asked at all. But, I am also grateful that you are wrestling with this subject. It is my hope that I can help bring some clarity, or – at best – supply a starting point for the direction of your searching.

Allow me to say that in my experience, beginning with the question, “What does the Bible say about…” is a precarious starting point. What is usually implied by this statement is that the Bible should be read without regard for careful study (such as neglecting historical context, translation challenges, what has been historically taught by the Church, and what speaks to human reason). Thus, the Scriptures are approached with the mindset of “whatever my translation of the Bible says, I will believe that.” In turn, this means that “whatever I think the Bible means, that is authoritative.”

It is true that the Holy Spirit illuminates our thinking and helps us to understand the truth communicated through God’s Word, but the Spirit does not act as a crutch for willful ignorance.

I am not suggesting that you have this mindset, but I say that only to preface that my response to the topic will include extra-Biblical insights. And, if we do disagree, it is not because one of us is reading the Bible and the other is not, but that our interpretations of the texts differ. The Holy Bible was not written with a study guide attached (alas!), so we are left to use our faculties to the best of our abilities to reach a conclusion.

John Wesley, the theological father of several groups of devout believers, taught that Scripture is best interpreted through the employment of Reason, Tradition, and Experience. I will follow his lead and employ those tools throughout our exploration of the Bible.

On the Role of Man and Woman as Spiritual Leaders

Genesis 1:27

I almost always draw attention to the semicolon in this verse. God created man (collective Ha-adam; mankind) in his image. Not just man (singular; a man), but mankind. The semicolon suggests that the division of clauses present communicate the same principle. In other words, it is men and women together who best reflect the image of God. It implies, then, that the best way to demonstrate and teach who God is (a sound working definition of a Christian Spiritual Leader, I feel), is not by one individual acting alone, but by multiple people – both men and women – working together.

Genesis 3:6

The woman eats the fruit first. This is clearly evident, and causes many to conclude that women are the spiritually weaker sex and thereby incapable of properly leading others (in most cases, specifically men) in the faith.  What is not often noted is that the man in this passage is with the woman the entire time – listening to the conversation between the woman and the serpent, watching the woman as she takes the fruit, and then subsequently eats it – all without saying a single word. He does not try to intervene in the least. In fact, he even receives the fruit from the woman and eats it himself. If the woman eating the fruit is demonstrative of her inability to lead well, then the man’s inaction demonstrates the same. They are equally at fault, and equally sinful.

Judges 4:1 – 5:13

To be sure, several women are spoken highly of in the Bible, but here we have an instance of one women – Deborah – who served as a judge of Israel. There is nothing in her story that implies she was a ‘lesser’ judge, nor that God was displeased with her serving as the leader of Israel (4:4). She leads the people and honors the Lord by doing so.

1 Samuel 1:21-23

This is the first of several passages I found fascinating in my study. Throughout the Bible, it was the women who seemed to be more attentive to their spiritual lives and the spiritual lives of their children within the home. Much like today, where we generally see more women in our churches than men (and women tend to be more active within the church). It serves to personal experience and even the writings of Scripture that it is generally women who are the spiritual leaders within the home, rather than men.*

*this is certainly not ideal, and I am not making that case. It is merely an observation made by both human reason and Biblical accounts.*

Here, it was Hannah who prayed, and God heard her and blessed her. There is no mention of her husband’s spiritual nature, but in verses 21-23, we see Hannah determining the spiritual direction of their child and Elkanah submits to her decision. There is no negative recourse nor scolding of Elkanah; Hannah’s spiritual leadership of her household is honored.

Conclusion:

I am not attempting to say that women are more sensitive to the Spirit, nor more capable of being spiritual leaders. Instead, it seems reasonable to conclude that the role of “spiritual leader,” whether within the household or within the community, is a position shared by both sexes.

The aforementioned stories, although few, are not treated as exceptions to some rule about only men being the spiritual leader. There are no asterisks or clauses to indicate that God would have preferred a man to lead Israel, or that Elkanah would have been a stronger spiritual head. Instead, these women are included in the story of the people of God as equally capable even in the presence of equally capable men.

The Story of Christ and the Role of Women in The Church

Luke 1:26-56

I will confess that I may be reading too much into this passage, but I find it intriguing that the presence of the Messiah is noticed by the unborn and women before anyone else. If spiritual leadership requires a certain sensitivity to the Spirit of God, then it appears that women are quite capable of having such sensitivity. Even Elizabeth, whose husband served as a priest (certainly a man of strong faith), recognized Jesus as the Christ before he did. More emphatically, when Zachariah was confronted face-to-face by the Archangel Gabriel, he did not even believe his words.

Matthew 28:1-10, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20 (esp. 10-18)

The Gospel (the Good News) is that Christ is risen!  Evangelism (from the Greek word meaning “Good News”), is the communication of the Truth that Jesus the Christ is alive! I can think of no higher role one has than to tell others about the risen savior.

We should note, then, that the first ones to carry the message of the risen savior were not men. Rather, the first evangelists were women. Admittedly, the gospel accounts do differ in who exactly was at the empty tomb, but they all clearly say that it was the women who told the disciples of the risen Lord.

I have heard the argument that the women were not actually being evangelists because the disciples already believed.  I find that unconvincing, personally, because it suggests that one can be a believer while simultaneously not believing in the resurrection of Christ (which the disciples rejected until the resurrected Christ revealed himself).

The New Testament and the Role of Women

At this point, it would be beneficial to admit that we should tread carefully when reading the New Testament. Even Paul makes references to his writing being from his own thoughts and not necessarily from the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:12 & 25). This makes it difficult sometimes to understand the meaning of certain passages because much of what is written is speaking out of a particular cultural context.

In my tradition, as well as most others, we distinguish between three types of text: Normative, Corrective, and Descriptive.

  • Normative texts are those whose message and meaning are universal: “I am the way, the Truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Luke 14:6). This is universally true, regardless of where we find ourselves in history or location.
  • Corrective texts are those that are only authoritative in certain instances. When Paul is discussing to the Corinthians that men should keep their heads shaved and women should wear head coverings, it should be evident that he is addressing a specific issue (in this case, the cultural understanding of human sexuality and reproduction. See Troy Martin’s article “A Testicle Instead of a Head Covering” for more on this).  Therefore, what Paul is teaching here should not be viewed as universally true.
  • Descriptive texts merely describe events, much like a narrator. They do not intent to communicate a lesson.

For many of the following passages, I imagine that some would disagree over what should be classified as “Normative” and “Corrective.” In fact, it is this reason that has led to such widespread disagreements regarding women in the Church and within the home.

Acts 2:17-18

Pentecost, the coming of the Spirit with power upon men and women. This passage is a quote from Joel, and it clearly mentions the Spirit of God being poured out on both men and women, sons and daughters.  Although it may be suggested that men and women are set up in a spiritual hierarchy, that view would need to assume that the Spirit is given unequally to men and women.  While it is true that the Holy Spirit gives us different gifts, the same Spirit lives and works within us all (1 Corinthians 12) and its power is not diminished nor inhibited based on sex.

1 Corinthians 7:1-16

Here, Paul makes a lengthy argument for an egalitarian view of marriage where each spouse submits to one another and neither one assumes a spiritually authoritarian role.

1 Corinthians 11:3

This passage is good practice for the mantra “understanding the particular in light of the whole.” The Bible is consistent in its teaching of the Faith. As such, when we come across discrepancies, we should exercise careful study.

Here, Paul is saying that the head of every woman is man just as the head of every man is Christ. It would be easy to jump to the conclusion that Paul is laying forth a spiritual hierarchy. However, that would flatly contradict what was stated earlier in chapter 7, as well as much of Paul’s other writings. I confess that this passage has me perplexed. I cannot confidently identify what Paul’s point is, here. Is he stating his observations – that men tend to be focused on Christ while women tend to be focused on their husbands? Or is he using this passage as a lead-in to what he is about to say about head coverings (referenced earlier)? I believe it is the latter, and I will refer to Martin’s article to gain some clarity on the subject.

1 Corinthians 14:34

Myself, and most all of my peers, recognize this as a “corrective” passage. Let’s be frank on this subject: women talk more than men do. It has been scientifically and anecdotally proven. I have been a part of many groups, and by and large it is women who tend to occupy the most time with talking.

We should not wrongfully assume that people throughout history were any different. Paul, in his other letters, sheds light on the fact that many women who attended church were not educated enough to teach, and many were prone to gossip and speaking ill of their husbands (it appears we haven’t changed much since Timothy and Titus).  Thus, Paul is most likely referring to issues he has heard of regarding women who would teach unintelligibly within the church or cause disorder via talking too much.

Fitting into the larger context of Paul’s message in this chapter, he seems more concerned with addressing an orderly style of worship (apparently the Corinthians had no solid worship structure), so this is probably an issue specific to their context.

Galatians 3:26-29

It would be difficult to suppose that Paul teaches a spiritual hierarchy within the Body of Christ when, here, he directly states that there is “neither male nor female” for “all are one in Christ Jesus.”

Ephesians 5:21-33

Commonly referred to as the passage that overtly teaches the man’s superiority over the woman, this section actually begins in verse 21 with Paul stating “submit to one another.” He then goes on to illustrate what an equal submission looks like within marriage.

He does begin with the wives, needing to submit to their husbands. But, he then goes on to tell husbands that they ought to love their wives as Christ loved the church and “gave himself up for her.” If men are to be the spiritual leaders of the home, it is of a type in which he gives up his own life for his wife.

If one is to interpret this passage as the male taking a higher position of spiritual leadership, then it would be difficult indeed to reconcile that position with verse 31, where the two become one flesh. This harkens back to Genesis 1:27; it is not the man nor the woman who reflects the image of God the best, but man and woman together.

1 Timothy 2:11

I recommend what I wrote on 1 Corinthians 14, though I would point out that Paul tells Timothy in 5:14 that it is the women who manage the homes (not the men).

2 Timothy 1:4-5

As to women being spiritual leaders within the home, I want to recall what I wrote about 1 Samuel. Here, Paul refers directly to Timothy’s upbringing, and commends his mother and grandmother for the faith they had and passed on to Timothy. There is no mention of Timothy’s father or other male role models, but it was the women in Timothy’s family who appeared to have been the spiritual heads. Similar to my note after 1 Samuel, this is not treated as extraordinary.

Titus 2:3-5

Once again, I am been convinced that this is a Correctional passage. Paul is writing a personal letter to Titus, and he appears to be addressing a specific problem within that church; the women were slandering and drinking too much, not respecting their husbands nor taking care of their homes.

1 Peter 3:1-7

Peter does refer to wives as “the weaker partner,” but he does not indicate this as a spiritual weakness. Earlier in chapter 3, he illustrates how wives can win their husbands to the Lord by how they live (an argument he makes earlier in his letter for the whole church).

Conclusion

I hope this brief study serves as a help as you continue your journey. Although I admit my bias on the topic, I will readily confess that not everything in Scripture is abundantly clear and it was not my purpose to argue against a particular stance, but to communicate my standing on this topic.

I was once in a heated discussion over prospective leaders in our denomination. Some were arguing that we needed to have more women and non-white leaders in high positions because we needed people who “represented the diversity of the church.” I was utterly perplexed by this, because it is not the role of a spiritual leader to represent the people to Christ; it is the role of a spiritual leader to represent Christ to the people.

From there, I would like to leave this question: Is Christ represented better through the lives of men than of women?

I feel this is a good place to start. And wherever you land on this subject, brother, I pray God’s wisdom.

 

If it is of interest, I’ve copied what is written in my denomination’s Manual on the subject:

Ҧ 501. Theology of Women in Ministry. The Church of the Nazarene supports the right of women to use their God-given spiritual gifts within the church and affirms the historic right of women to be elected and appointed to places of leadership within the Church of the Nazarene, including the offices of both elder and deacon.

The purpose of Christ’s redemptive work is to set God’s creation free from the curse of the Fall. Those who are “in Christ” are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). In this redemptive community, no human being is to be regarded as inferior on the basis of social status, race, or gender (Galatians 3:26–28). Acknowledging the apparent paradox created by Paul’s instruction to Timothy (1 Timothy 2:11–12) and to the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 14:33–34), we believe interpreting these passages as limiting the role of women in ministry presents serious conflicts with specific passages of scripture that commend female participation in spiritual leadership roles (Joel 2:28–29; Acts 2:17–18; 21:8–9; Romans 16:1, 3, 7; Philippians 4:2–3), and violates the spirit and practice of the Wesleyan-holiness tradition. Finally, it is incompatible with the character of God presented throughout Scripture, especially as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ.”

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On Ministers and Open Gates (Part 7)

I can remember every single one.

Every single instance.

Those moments, not always brief, but profound. I can remember them all.

One was in the passenger seat of a car. One was during a tour of a church. One was sitting in my kitchen chair in Nairobi. Another was with my parents as we sat around the large chest/coffee table in the entertainment room. One was in my brother’s and sister’s living room in front of the t.v. And one was in the basement of the home of my previous pastor, Jake.

All of these were moments when I wrestled with opportunities to pursue pastoral positions.

As was mentioned in a previous post, it is an incredibly tempting thing to jump at any and all opportunities. In a culture that teaches us that with education comes golden opportunities (and that they come quickly), it is easy to assume that the first open doors we come to are the ones through which we should walk. Especially for a young minister, full of other’s advice and eager to prove his/her own competence, there is a strong pull to accept whatever position opens up. And, if given the opportunity to interview for those positions, there is almost no question: pursue it at all costs!

0521-preakness-horse-race.jpg_full_600

I remember those moments because they were all times when I felt a mixed concoction of excitement, anxiousness, and worry. It seemed that for every good thing about a particular position (or, at least, every ‘potentially’ good thing), I could find something else that may have been not-so-good. I tried to balance the pros and the cons. I talked my way through the possibilities, how my strengths and weaknesses would be used or challenged in different ways, attempted to discern a vision for the particular context and where the people were in their discipleship journey…

Attempting to discern the will of God is a difficult thing. Maybe it gets better with age and experience, or maybe it’s easier depending on the circumstances, I don’t truly know. But what I’ve come to discover is this: When the time is right, the will of the Lord is made clear.

It is good to wrestle with things. It is good to think through decisions, to seek counsel, to discern according to the best of our cognitive and emotional abilities. But, at the end of the day, we must recognize that even our best decisions making skills submit to the will of our Heavenly Father.

Many times our decision making skills align with His will, and so it is easy to discern. Other times, it almost goes in the opposite direction.

Most recently I was in that basement, pacing around nervously while I waited for a phone call from my new District Superintendent. My phone began to ring. I had been praying about this moment for a couple of weeks by that point. I had weighed the good and the bad, the pros and the cons, attempted to learn as much as I could about this particular church in order to make an informed decision. But I still was not completely sure what to do.

I answered. I don’t remember much, except this phrase: “The vote was pretty strong. But I don’t know how you could get a vote stronger than unanimous.”

For me, that was the moment of confirmation.

I want to be clear, though. My confirmation was not in the approval of what other people decided. I have had strong supporters for other positions before. In the end the decision to pursue what is now my first senior pastorate position fell upon the kind of confirmation and affirmation that can only come from God himself.

And, after all is said and done, he is the one to whom we are ultimately accountable.

“But seek first his Kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Matthew 6:33-34

When we seek first the will of our Lord, our way will be made clear. Perhaps not as timely as we would like, but when it matters the most.

 

Welcome to the life of a disciple.

On Leading and Following

About a year ago, I was interviewing for a positing at Olivet.  One of the requirements for being a potential candidate was to write a one-page “philosophy of leadership.”  I remember mentally writing it for at least a week before I sat down to type it out.

Michael Scott, like a boss

This philosophy really grew out of many of my experiences as a follower.  I’ve seen great leaders and I’ve seen horrible leaders.  I’ve also experienced being a good leader and a bad leader myself.  As with many things in life, you learn the most from your failures, and many of my leadership failures found there way into my paper as I reflected on those times that shaped how I view leadership.

Anyways, after much debating with myself, I decided to post that paper here.  I owe a lot of people thanks for ‘helping’ me write this.  One of the most notable people that stuck out in my head while I was writing this was my middle and high school band director, Mark.  It was under his leadership that I took on my first leadership position, and  he always sticks out in my mind as someone who emulates true leadership.  Other men and women have made an impact on my life, but if a one-page paper can be dedicated to anyone I believe he would be the one.

 

Philosophy of Leadership

“Leadership” is not to be understood as merely a position. In truth, a position of leadership is probably the perspective of leadership that matters the least. Leadership is a character trait that is lived out constantly and consistently, both when others are around and when they are not. In more practical terms, leadership, and the leader, may be best comprehended in the following ways:

  • Leader as Servant

    • The leader gives of him/herself for the betterment of the group.

      • Any leader who abuses her authority in order to foster her own ego loses the privilege to lead.

    • The leader is always available, even if it is inconvenient.

    • The leader never allows a “me – them” mentality; the leader is a part of the group.

    • The leader takes responsibility for the failures, and shares in the successes, of the group.

    • The leader treats all members with respect and grace, and never looks down on anyone.

      • Followers choose their leaders. A true leader respects the choice they made to follow her.

    • When correction takes place it is motivated by the desire to help improve, and not as an exertion of authority.

    • The leader never drives the group to greatness, but draws it.

      • This is the product of a leader who is a servant, encourager, manager, and follower.

  • Leader as Encourager

    • The leader sees potential; sees what others have in them to be, and helps them to realize it.

    • The leader values the participation of her followers, and makes it known to them.

    • The leader always affirms improvements and desired results. No action goes unnoticed.

    • The leader is neither weak in spirit, easily offended, nor averse to criticism.

    • The leader both rejoices in the successes, and empathizes with the failures of the group.

    • The leader is always conscious of the spirit of the group.

  • Leader as Manager

    • The leader casts comprehensible visions and sets clearly defined goals.

    • The leader communicates clearly with the group, allowing no room for misunderstanding.

    • The leader never accepts mediocrity from anyone.

      • Doing so is depersonalizing, since it tells the follower that he is not worth the effort needed to help him improve.

    • The leader always exudes confidence, even in instances where the leader does not feel so.

      • Uncertainty and hem-hawing are lazy excuses for stagnation.

    • The leader is responsible for maintaining order within the group.

  • Leader as Follower

    • The leader is always aware of her own capacity to improve.

      • This does not mean that the leader is excused from leading at any time.

      • The leader is humble in his/her approach to any situation, aware of her ignorance.

    • The leader is always willing to learn.

    • The leader is always willing to be wrong.

    • The leader never expects out of her followers anything that she cannot do herself.

      • The leader shows the possibility of who her followers can be by being so herself.

    • The leader is first to apologize, first to forgive, and first to move on.

    • The leader is never above reproach from her followers.

 

A while after the interview, I was offered the position.  However, I had to decline due to unforeseen schedule conflicts.  I only had one page, so I was fairly limited in how detailed I could be, but let me know what you think, and whether you would add or remove something from this.

On Memories and Hope

About five and a half years ago I was sitting in Dr. Allen’s office talking about how I felt called to ministry and how I would like to go out and preach at churches while I attended Olivet Nazarene University.

A few months later I’m sitting in Ludwig with Mr. Tony Fightmaster – the head of Church Relations at Olivet, along with a fellow freshman Jake Goodspeed and some other person who I only saw that one time.  We talked about the possibility of going out to preach that following weekend up in Wisconsin and Jake and I jumped at the chance.  Tony seemed excited, and he handed us some information while walking us through what the weekend might look like.

Days rolled by and on a chilly Saturday morning Jake and I load our stuff into Tony’s car and start driving.  We stopped at a Culver’s and had some light conversations as we got to know each other a little better and asked each other what we were expecting for that weekend and what we were preaching on.

Flash forward a few more months and Tony calls me again to see if I’m available for a second trip in the Spring semester.  Naturally, I volunteered.  This time, along with Jake and I, Jake Gregory (who would be my future roommate) and Jameson Forshee all jump into ‘Big Brown’ and head off to Michigan for the second preaching trip of the year.

Flash forward to now, and we have a 35+ member Preaching Ambassador program fully funded by at least 4 main donors and about 20 other private donors.  Before the 2013-2014 school year is over, we will have been to over 200 churches in Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, and Indiana.  We have a strong support group among the Olivet faculty, and a Student Leadership team that is both passionate and wise (collectively).  We’ve branched out beyond pulpit preaching and now send out Music Ambassadors and well as Youth Ambassadors.  It’s truly an incredible time for the PA’s.

However, after 39 trips in the program, I am waving my goodbyes in a few months.  It’s a sobering reality to face.  I poured five years of my life into this amazing program.  I spent so many hours talking with other students and faculty members expressing ideas, talking through challenges, and sharing my passion and vision for this program.  And now I am about to leave.

Although it is sad to think that I will be walking out of my last PA meeting after a short while, I am so hopeful for the future.  We have a strong leadership team, a great group of PA’s, and a solid vision that will carry the PA’s as far as God will take them.  And all of that was due to everyone else.

It’s true that this program is the brain child of myself and Jake Goodspeed (even though we always give each other credit for it and try to take none of it ourselves), but if it were not for God’s calling on my fellow ministers we would never be where we are today.  The long trips, the great conversations, the many awkward moments, the laughs, the tears, and the angelic look on people’s faces after they preach for the first time and share what an incredible experience it was are all things I will treasure forever.  All of those are due to those around me.  I am merely a blessed recipient of the amazing work God has done through all these years.

I also learned an incredible life lesson throughout all of this: Invest in others.  It may be a fact that we can accomplish great things by ourselves, but sharing ourselves and our experiences with others leaves a mark on the world that no individual achievement could ever mimic.  I can confidently walk away from this program with my head held high because I know it is in good hands.  And I know it is in good hands because I gave everything I could to it.  Granted, I made plenty of mistakes, but by investing in the next generation of preachers I can rest easy in the knowledge that God has taken my feeble offering of service and used it for his purpose.

I love the Ambassadors.  I love the people I’ve met through the program.  I love the experiences I’ve had (both good and bad).  But God is calling me on to something new, and the future of that program is now in his hands.  I’m nearing the completion of my part of this story, and my ministry has been deeply enriched through the PA’s.

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Take-Away:  Discipleship isn’t done just in a classroom.  it’s done in the car rides, the talks over Culver’s Butter Burgers, and in the church foyers.  We disciple where we are, to whom we are around.  The question is: are we being intentional about it? Or are we letting these opportunities slip us by as we focus more on what everyone can do for us?