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Women in Ministry

Recent revelations in the news and social media have once again highlighted the discriminatory and sometimes dangerous environments that women must navigate, both in the world and the church. Women expect to face discrimination and mistreatment in the world, but we hope to find comfort, shelter, and respect in the church. Too often, this is not the case. Too often, women are devalued in their church communities. They are told that their role is "equal but separate,” and they should only use their gifts under the authority of men. Too often, women are relegated to strictly supportive roles in the body of Christ rather than fairly considered for preaching, teaching, and leadership positions. Too often, women are pushed to the sidelines despite their clear gifts and cal... Read more
The author has asked that we publish this article anonymously for the sake of her work in an interdenominational ministry. Working in an interdenominational ministry setting is a saving grace when I am frustrated by the church’s politics, favoritism, and doctrinal stubbornness. I love working in ministries where churches unite, putting differences aside, to serve a community. It is such a beautiful picture of Christ’s vision for service and unity in the body. These settings are also usually a safe place for me to serve as a female egalitarian. In this setting, I can be reasonably confident that I will not receive a hurtful lecture on complementarian doctrine, because those serving with me are aware they are in an interdenominational setting. We all take care to stay on c... Read more
One of the biggest flaws in complementarian theology is that it relies on men rather than God to designate leaders and assign gifts. Complementarians forbid women to equally lead in marriage because they are convinced that male headship is God’s clear design for humanity. Some also believe women can't preach because God didn't design women to lead. On the other hand, some complementarians believe that women can preach and lead, as long as they are under the covering of a men—as if the covering of Jesus Christ isn't enough! But gender should have no part in determining who gets to lead and/or preach. Scripture says multiple times that the Spirit guides our words. Luke 12:12 says, "...because at that time the Holy Spirit will teach you w... Read more
I overheard an amazing conversation on my way back from lunch at a conference I recently attended. A university student casually mentioned the history of strong women leaders in the early church, using Priscilla as an example, to his friend. He then passionately contended for women as equal partners in church leadership. I quickly realized that I knew the student who was advocating for female pastors and teachers. Two years ago, I was invited to teach a session about women in ministry to a group of bright, young students. One young man was quiet and seemed unresponsive to my words. During the class, he mentioned his conservative upbringing, which excluded women from ministry. I left not knowing his response to my session. At the time, I wondered how, or if, those few hours of teachin... Read more
"What I’m about to tell you is true. Anyone who believes in me will do the works I have been doing. In fact, they will do even greater things. That’s because I am going to the Father" (John 14:12).  Anyone. The word leaped from the passage straight into my heart. Really? Anyone? I quickly checked the Greek word for "anyone" to see if it really meant anyone. Yes, it did. A thrill rose from the pit of my stomach. I'm an "anyone"! Jesus says that if I have faith, I qualify for the work of the kingdom. Faith qualifies me, not my gender. Simple, child-like, mustard seed faith allows me to move mountains for the kingdom. Jesus said with that with that faith, I can do the things he did.  I began to think of all the works Jesus di... Read more
I could still smell the healing oil on my forehead after the Wednesday night church service. It was a strangely comforting smell. The Wednesday evening Eucharist is a healing service at my church. Each week, the priest invites those present to stand if they wish. She anoints them with oil and places her hands on their heads to pray for them. Healing oil. Healing prayers. Healing touch. Healing presence. I have spent the past year in this church, slowly recovering from the spiritual exhaustion and pain inflicted by those who decided that I, a woman and a missionary, had no real voice in their world.  I arrived on the doorstep of this church as a hurting, angry, disappointed ex-missionary who was questioning just about every component of her faith. Over the course... Read more
When I am invited to speak at a Christian college, I make an effort to learn something about the school, particularly about the founders and graduates. Over time, I’ve discovered an impressive history of women graduates who were trained by these early evangelical Bible institutes, today's Christian colleges and universities, in the 1800s. These female graduates went on to become leaders in mission fields all over the world with the full support of their schools. College archives are bursting with letters and journals produced by these female graduates. These audacious women were not interesting in becoming Miss Captivating in order to attract Mr. Wild at Heart, because they had their own wild hearts. They were wild about Jesus. And their institutions were proud of their initia... Read more
The dearth of female authors in contemporary theological and biblical studies has been the subject of recent discussion and lament. There is of course a long tradition of male dominance in these fields. However, despite their marginalization, many women have contributed in remarkable ways to our understanding of Christian Scripture and tradition. Sadly, many of these women were largely ignored in their own time, and forgotten in ours. But Women’s History Month is a perfect time to dig into the archives and resurrect the voices of these long-forgotten women. Here are three of my personal favorites. All three are Methodist women who lived in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. All three speak powerfully across time and space, and I think all three deserve a place in o... Read more
Some Christians believe that female church leaders would be accepted if they “distinguished” themselves. They think that women who are meant to lead ought to be strong enough to subvert the norm without the support and affirmation of other Christians. Generally, this declaration is followed by a list of outstanding female church leaders who succeeded despite gender discrimination in the church.  But this expectation of female excellence is unjust. If we hold female leaders to higher standards than male leaders, we discriminate against worthy women leaders and fail to address the gender-bias that preserves the “good old boys club” in the church. Women should be recognized and accepted as called and qualified to lead to the same degree as men, but they aren... Read more
I wasn’t a stranger to the twist-in-the-gut unpleasantness of sitting in church and hearing something shocking from the pulpit. After all, Jesus said some very uncomfortable things in his time on earth. Naturally, the people up front proclaiming his truth are sure to ruffle some feathers. However, when the pastor referred to women’s place in the church as merely a “secondary issue,” a deep shudder hit. What sent heat to my face and tension to my fists wasn’t this singular comment by the preaching pastor. Instead, my reaction was rooted in an overwhelming protective instinct, triggered by the sight of five ponytailed girls sitting three rows in front of me. They nervously exchanged whispers and one shrugged her shoulders in response. These weren’t j... Read more

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