This post originally appeared on September 12, 2013 on the blog of House2House Magazine: house2housemagazine.com/2013/09/12/what-are-we-risking-by-christa-mckirland.
Growing up in the South, being Southern Baptist, and even serving on staff at a few institutional churches, the issue of “gender roles” has always been on the forefront of my mind. At twenty, I had the opportunity to serve at a summer camp, where I taught 150-200 high school juniors and seniors each week. In this context, the Spirit of God confirmed to me that I was gifted to teach and to lead, the only problem was…being female.
This tension led me to press into the Scriptures and ask the question: “Is the only viable expression of my gifts in a female-exclusive context?” In asking this question, I was willing to follow the text wherever it led. My ultimate aim was always to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be more conformed to his image day by day. The inconsistency for me was: when I taught, others were being drawn to look like this same Jesus, regardless of their gender. In fact, the man who was the camp coordinator (and, technically, my boss) later became my husband because he saw the Spirit moving in my life and couldn’t deny my gifting and calling. I was also drawn to him because of his gifts, and we knew we would look more like Jesus and be more effective together than we would apart.
So, while my experience did not cause me to re-interpret the text, it did compel me to take a harder look at the primary gender passages—and even to look again at the passages on spiritual gifts, which have no gender qualifiers. After a few years of study, I knew that I could be a woman and also gifted to teach and to lead, no matter the audience.
However, while this part of my journey was significant, it was simply a means to another end.
Recently, a newspaper on my University’s campus interviewed me about women in ministry, and the title of the article was “A Controversial Calling: Women in the Pulpit.” In this interview, I said something to the effect: “Do I think women should be in the pulpit preaching? Absolutely–because what we model publicly is what we value privately. However, I am far more concerned that we are so focused on the pulpit, which less than 1% of our congregations will ever stand in. What are we communicating to mechanics and school teachers? To hair stylists and plumbers? Implicitly, we are saying, ‘The pulpit is the primary place that ministry counts.’”
Fighting for the preservation and occupation of the office of pastor falls short of the significance to which God calls his entire body. After all, if “women win” and become pastors, all we have done is reinforce the value of a system that is undignifying to the body. We keep focusing attention on one member of the body walking in his or her gifting while the rest of the body atrophies.
While having more female pastors would communicate more value to women in general, I believe there are bigger issues to pursue. What keeps me up at night is the thought of sisters or brothers believing that they are somehow second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God–my brothers and sisters not knowing their gifts and purpose. Unfortunately, this has been something that women have especially experienced and need to be intentionally called into, but so do many of our brothers.
Perhaps you agree that the clergy/laity distinction is unbiblical, but still question women’s roles, even within a more organic model of church. While my husband, Matt, and I have wrestled with the text, we always need to consider that we could be wrong. In so doing, we have thought of the following scenario: We picture ourselves standing before God and him saying to Matt, “You know, you really let Christa do way too much on earth. She was supposed to submit to your authority as her spiritual head. She wasn’t supposed to teach men and overstepped her boundaries as a woman.” We think of how this would impact us, and how we would have to live with this knowledge of our disobedience for all eternity. However, when we think of the alternative, the consequences are far more grave: “You know Matt, you held Christa back. You told her she couldn’t walk fully in her gifts when that is what I had created her to do. You inhibited her from walking in her full calling for my Kingdom’s sake. You caused her to bury her talent.” These are words we could not live with for a moment, let alone an eternity.
Ultimately, if mutuality is the “right” interpretive lens to read the passages of gender through, and we are wrong, we risk nothing. Submitting to one another and serving one another will be the consequence of us walking in our gifts in the power of the Holy Spirit. If hierarchy is the “right” interpretive lens to read these passages through, and we are wrong, we risk a great deal. We risk not dignifying women. We risk not empowering half the body. We risk not maximizing our impact for the Kingdom of God.
So, here I am today, more passionate than ever to see each member of the body dignified, especially through deconstructing ideas of spiritual authority among siblings in Christ while also equipping the saints for the work of the ministry. This has been the catalyst for me and Matt to step out of the institutional church and step into organic community—where we hope to see each Spirit-gifted saint fully thriving and no talent left buried or unused.