Sometimes it's not so much about walking on water as it is about staying afloat.
"...so here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way over my head, the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ" ~Ephesians 3:8
I am blessed to serve in the Free Methodist Church, which is egalitarian by nature, holding the view, that the Bible teaches the fundamental equality of women and
men of all racial and ethnic mixes, all economic classes, and all age
groups, based on the teachings and example of Jesus Christ and the overarching principles of scripture. I believe, as does the FMCiC that all people have equal responsibility to use their gifts and obey their calling to
the glory of God; and are called to roles and ministries without regard
to class, gender, or race. That being said, there are still individuals within our denomination, and obviously those of other denominations that would not readily accept a woman in leadership. Some of these objections are due to an arguably misinformed biblical interpretation. The other objections are simply preference.
reality of my experience has been that there is more than one
congregation out there, where a significant part of the adherents and membership
would prefer a male Senior Pastor. I have had in depth, ongoing,
conversations with individuals (men & women) who maintain this
preference. They understand the FM stance, love being FM, but maintain
their PREFERENCE that the senior pastor be male. I also understand in
part the reason for their preference, I may not always agree, but
understand. If enough people in the congregation prefer this - than that
is the direction they will head.
Now I could apply, and fight for my right to lead, and If
I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was called to a particular
church that held these preferences I would apply and gently respond to
their issue of preferences, trusting God to work in and through the process, (I've had to weigh this before). However if
the definitive call was not there, I would respect their preferences
(while keeping the conversation open in order to broaden both our
perspectives and understanding) and move on, understanding every church
has preferences but God has a plan.
Some would say that when it comes to the hiring process this is discrimination and that we should not tolerate it. I am in complete agreement, that it is sad that anyone has to face any sort of discrimination. It is discouraging that applicants and employees are not always attuned or obedient to the Lord's guiding. I recognize that the church needs to mature in many areas including but not exclusive of this one. Thank God for His sanctifying grace.
I also recognize however that I make up the church and there are areas that I need to focus on in my own spiritual growth and maturity in order to positively affect the whole. I say this because my personal experience in this area of struggle as a woman in ministry was one that brought about some maturing. My initial response was one of resentment, bitterness, confusion and frustration. All fair but none very productive. As I prayed and reasoned, and left room for open discussions with individuals of differing opinions, I came to the conclusion that my desire and call is to serve God and others well. This means going where God sends me, probably where I can be most effective given the time and place. As I said in yesterday's post, I personally want the focus of my calling as pastor, and for my time and energies, to be about drawing people into a saving relationship with Christ and less about fighting this battle.
I realized that going to a church that is truly not ready for a woman senior pastor, where many will struggle with receiving, is not effective for me or for them and since it is really not about me, I figured let them have their senior male pastor, who will hopefully bring them to a place of understanding and maturity.
That being said, I am not condoning or accepting this preference, instead I want to walk alongside people and help them mature in their biblical understandings, and allow God to work in and through me, so that I might provide a positive and desirable example of a woman in leadership, so that they can overcome any inbred preferences.
My experience has been that the best way to do this is through relationship, even with those whose preferences are different from mine. In getting to know them, and they me, I feel like I am gaining their respect as a pastor regardless of my gender. One man said to me the first time he heard me speak, that my sermon was very powerful...for a woman. I received it as a back handed compliment, but then realized that perhaps he had not heard very many, if any female preachers. He had since been under my tutelage in discipleship classes, and though we did not always agree, I definitely felt that He respected me and the calling God has placed on me.
I also believe that discrimination/preferences of all sorts take place in the hiring process, inside and outside of the church, though perhaps never labelled or presented as such. Admittedly another area of maturing for myself, because in the interest of authenticity I have preferences, though God helping me, hopefully they do not get in the way of His will.
I've not yet felt the Need to Fight for my Right to Lead. The Lord has led me to incredible positions of pastoral leadership that I am privileged to serve in and for that I am grateful. I pray and know the Lord will do the same for each woman that he has equipped and called to pastoral ministry. There may however, come a time, when I do face opposition in seeing God's will come to fruition, whether that be personally or on behalf of others. At that time, I will stand up and press forward knowing that it is the Lord who fights for me. Till then, I will continue to serve where the Lord has placed me. I will attentively listen for the voice of God, and pray that others do the same, and trust that in the end, the guidance and will of God wins out.
The women in ministry fight/debate is not one, that I have fully engaged in. It is not that I do not believe that women could, should and have historically been equipped and enabled by God to lead His people, cause I certainly do. It is simply that, as a pastor this is not the focus of the ministry God has called me to and YES God has called me to pastoral ministry, as confirmed by others, the gifts and opportunities the Lord has afforded me, and as evident by the fruit of my ministry. My focus is on preaching the Gospel, loving and serving His people, and discipling them to walk in His will and ways, allowing God to work in and through me, that others might come to know Him in a real and personal way, so as to live redemptive lives of transformation. Should teachable moments arise that allow me to speak to this matter of women in pastoral leadership, than I am happy to engage in the discussion, but it is not the major mandate the Lord has given me for my ministry. Rachel Held Evans among others have been inspired, equipped and enabled to do so and Dr. Ben Witherington, considered one of
the top evangelical scholars in the world, has provided some theological interpretation on women in ministry.
This being said I've had a few people recently engage me in this discussion, on women in pastoral leadership. Now I can make theological arguments with the best of them, but the answer I often close with, is the one that compels me most of all, a very simplistic understanding. Having been gifted for, and called to pastoral leadership, I have two choices. When this life is over, either I apologize to God, for taking advantage of the opportunities he has provided me to preach the Good news, lead others closer to His throne of Grace, build up the body of Christ, and spend my life discipling and mentoring others, even though I am a woman. Or I apologize for not not preaching the good news, leading others closer to His throne of Grace, building up the body of Christ, and spending my life discipling and mentoring others. Which is going to offend God more? The fact that I used the gifts and opportunities He has blessed me with to Glorify Him by loving, serving and leading others in the ways that I have been equipped and enabled to do so, or not taking opportunities to do these things, because I am a woman.
Tomorrow - the other side of the story: Why I Might NOT Fight for My Right to Lead.