I was shocked. I remembered the old Bryan*, the Bryan that put on the brakes during a discussion of Large Group speakers at our Coordinating Team planning retreat. “Why is it suddenly illegal to bring in white men?” he asked, frustrated. As Multi-Ethnicity Team Leader on our exec, I was pushing hard for more female and ethnic minority speakers during our weekly InterVarsity chapter meetings. Some of the other C-Team members were fairly supportive; Bryan was making it an uphill battle.
How did that same Bryan end up sitting next to me on a flight home to North Carolina, rattling on excitedly about speaker Brenda Salter-McNeill and other highlights of Urbana 06? I had noticed how carefully InterVarsity had crafted its triennial missions conference, putting women in the pulpit and using the gender-accurate TNIV, among other things. Nevertheless, I hadn’t imagined its potential effect on Bryan’s support for women in ministry. But he could not deny the voice of the Holy Spirit through these female speakers—who was he to silence God?
As I prepare to graduate, I realize the stark contrast between InterVarsity and much of the evangelical world—my female friends and I will no longer find widespread acceptance as leaders. However, regardless of our personal beliefs, when women are suddenly barred from such roles, we might actually miss them. Women like me have had invaluable experience leading in mission on campus, and men like Bryan have served alongside women, being blessed by their leadership.
Across a fairly wide spectrum of parachurch organizations, opportunities abound for the reconsideration of limiting views of women. Women lead in many mainstream evangelical ministries, large and small, and God’s work through them is not unnoticed. Christianity Today features articles by authors like Lauren Winner, and Joan Mussa and Julie Regnier serve as Senior Vice Presidents for World Vision. Women even teach future pastors at Fuller, Gordon-Conwell, and Trinity, three of the largest non-denominational evangelical seminaries. A female student leader from Campus Crusade organized UNC’s 24/7 Prayer week this year, and countless other local ministries depend on the time, vision, skills, and prayers of women who love Jesus. While varying in their official positions on women in ministry, each of these more missionally driven organizations senses a practical need for women’s participation.
Yes, it may seem contradictory at first: despite affirming women in their specific ministries, many parachurch organizations like InterVarsity remain silent about female deacons, elders, and pastors/priests in the local church. (Some organizations would say they oppose it, in fact!) I myself used to feel abandoned by this silence, but now I celebrate it. While I question the validity of this sharp church/parachurch distinction and would appreciate InterVarsity’s eventual allegiance to CBE’s egalitarian cause, I have begun to rejoice in the quietly strategic—even inadvertent—role of other parachurch organizations in advancing gender reconciliation and justice.
Especially among university students and other young adults, the parachurch, with its focused yet flexible structures, is often uniquely suited to interact with diverse constituencies otherwise lacking exposure to women in ministry. Indeed, perhaps one of the most significant things we can do to support gender equality is to remain invested in the parachurch organizations that are already informally, sometimes accidentally, changing minds and hearts about women. Regardless of what is or isn’t said about the issue, the mere presence of women in leadership transforms lives. By donating to humanitarian organizations, encouraging college-bound high schoolers to join a campus ministry, volunteering at a local level, or simply connecting others to a female author who has mentored us from a distance, we may be doing more than we realize to advance women’s ministry. Of course, I look forward to finding clearer allies to CBE’s mission. But I’m excited to see the Lord is already at work, sometimes in the places I least expect.