How to support women in ministry
Today, I’ve decided I will not tackle the theological discussion around women in ministry (there are a lot of great resource I mention at the end of this blog if you want to research that more). Instead I want to suggest tangible ways men, women and churches can truly support women in ministry. My hope is to push us beyond lip-service support to steps towards real change. My heart is grieved that change has been so slow or even stalled in this area. To be clear, I’m not writing on behalf of any organization I work for, I’m writing as a concerned Christian.
This is something I don’t talk about a lot for two main reasons…
- I just want to get on with the ministry, the work God has called us to. Our life, calling and mission together is about seeing God’s redemption come to hearts, communities and this world. I want the Gospel to be the main issue, not this to be the main issue.
- When women in leadership talk about this issue others can perceive it as self-serving or pushing an agenda. I don’t want to be or be seen as self-serving, I desire to be serving Christ.
First, a word on why this matters so much
- It is still an issue….there are pulpits, roles, circles, meetings, boards, and churches that are closed to women. Don’t believe me, ask any woman in ministry.
- Peoples’ gifts, for the sake of the Kingdom, are being oppressed. This hinders the spreading of the Gospel.
- Boys and girls, men and women need both female and male role models of Christian leaders, at all levels of leadership. I do not want any young women growing up in church being told “you can’t do that.”
- This is linked to our Gospel. Our Gospel tears down dividing walls, makes us family and gives us all the gift of the Holy Spirit when we believe, including giving us gifts that are meant to be used for the expansion of God’s Kingdom.
- This issue affects our witness to the community. You know my heart to see us showing and telling the good news to our neighbours where we live, work, study and play. I am appalled by the thought of inviting my neighbours into a community that hasn’t even figure out how to support women in leadership and in some cases excludes women from leadership all together. This issue is hindering the Gospel from running.
- It helps us all in leadership, having women and men using their gifts together for the sake of the Kingdom.
- This is a justice issue. I find it so odd that we so clearly see the injustice in girls and women in other countries not being given access to education and we fight for that right for them. We should! That is such an important justice issue. But, right here at home, in our churches, girls and women are being told they do not and will not have access to use their gifts of leadership in our churches. That exclusion is an injustice.
- It is being allowed to continue and continue and continue. We excuse it with statements like “Our church just isn’t ready for that” or “It would be too divisive to discuss.”
So, help me out, what are the ways we can truly support women in ministry and begin to see God’s Spirit of change come to this area of our lives together?
I’ll start this list, speaking mainly to leaders, paid and volunteer, in our churches.
How we can support women in ministry:
- Give opportunities for people to serve based on their gifting and character, not on their sex. Ensure you are giving girls and women opportunities to use their gifts, particularly leadership gifts in your church. Look around at your teams, boards and committees, are both genders represented? Look at the opportunities for young leaders to develop in your children’s ministry, youth ministry and young adult ministry, are both genders represented? Look at your pulpit and platform on Sunday, are both genders represented?
- Women in ministry desperately need mentors. When I was looking for a woman in church leadership to mentor me a few years ago there was no one within driving distance (being very generous with the driving distance!) There are very few role models, in some denominations in particular, of women leading in ministry, particularly at senior levels. Men in leadership, get over it, figure out how to mentor women in church leadership. We need your help in sharpening our gifts. There can be extra pressure for women in ministry to lead well, as they feel the weight of this issue on their shoulders and unfairly feel they are representing all women in ministry. Take that pressure off and help them become the leader, the Christ-follower, God has called them to be.
- Share your journey on the women in ministry issue and how you came to arrive at your current view. Invite those who are unsure of the women in ministry issue to re-examine Scripture and read some new resources. Take responsibility to stir up this conversation in new and needed places.
- I am so very tired of hearing “our church is just not ready for it” and “it takes time” (For example my denomination has ordained women since 1954, yet still many roles, pulpits, boards, and churches are closed to women based on their gender. How much time? How long?). Leaders, take responsibility for that. Get your church ready! Challenge churches, boards, leaders and those in your pews to re-examine the issue. There are so many resources and people to help you (for starters, see the list at the end of this post).
- There are still boys’ clubs in ministry. Men, invite women into your leadership clusters, circles and meetings. Look around, who is there and who is not there? Shake up the club. Invite in new voices and invite men and women to listen and learn from each other in leadership.
- Identify women in your midst who have significant gifts for the Kingdom and intentionally invest in them and challenge them to consider ministry.
- Correct and heal injustices. Recognize and apologize for where people have been excluded from roles, pulpits, and opportunities, solely on the basis of being female. Challenge Conventions and Schools not just to ordain or train women but wrestle with what it means for them to say “we support women in ministry” and “we are helping to bring change in this area, because we believe it is being Biblically faithful.” Write letters, invite discussion and let them know this matters to you, our churches and our communities. Men, we need your help here in particular, as I mentioned earlier when women raise this issue it may seem self-serving.
- Model healthy male-female relationships, co-operation and shared leadership on the teams where both genders are present. Make sure you are inviting both male and female voices to be heard. If you come from a tradition where female voices had or have been discouraged, females may need a little more encouragement to speak up.
- Language matters – I remember one time my ears being jolted because I heard someone referring to Pastors in our churches as “the women and men who lead our churches”. It jolted me because I’d become so accustom to hearing “men” and “he” as the only pronouns used with the word “Pastor”. And this person even reversed the usual order and said “women and men who lead”. I didn’t even know I cared about that. I recognized in that moment how powerful language is, especially when we repeat the words again and again. Let’s take care to use language like “brothers and sisters” and refer to those in leadership as both women and men.
- Create a safe place for women to share their stories of discrimination. So many people do not even recognize this is an issue, and yet there are women navigating the world of women in ministry with such grace and keeping their stories to themselves. We’ve gotten way too good at hiding the issue. You don’t have to be a woman in ministry to ask “where have you been excluded or been aware that your gender was an issue…” and listen.
- Pray for God to bring redemption in this area of our lives and churches.
Hope this helps.
Help me out, how else can we support women in ministry?
Note, I’m not looking for a theological debate of the issue here, instead I’m looking for answers to the question “how do we support women in ministry?”. Thanks for respecting that. Scroll to the very bottom to see or add comments.
If you want a really quick snap-shot of a stance that supports women in ministry, Willow Creek put out a one page position paper here: http://d397a349e55ce6675f49-800c82752453605a420f881278ef1279.r85.cf2.rackcdn.com/uploaded/g/0e609959_gifted-to-lead-willow-creek-position-paper-on-women-men-in-ministry.pdf
If you’re looking for a book that will walk you through the theology of women in ministry I recommend “Beyond Sex Roles” By Gilbert Bilezikian
A list of excellent resources that support women in ministry can be found at: http://www.biblicalequality.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=80&Itemid=495
If you are in Atlantic Canada, a host of people, resources and support can be found through the Atlantic Society for Biblical Equality http://www.biblicalequality.org/