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Published Date: March 5, 2015

Published Date: March 5, 2015

Featured Articles

Featured Articles

Learning from My Mistakes: Being Intentional about Practicing Egalitarianism

“Having a woman in church leadership is just not biblical.” To say I was shocked would be an understatement; my jaw may have actually dropped. These words were addressed to our church board (half of which are female) from a long-time member of our congregation. I could have understood if it was a newcomer, but this man and his family had been attending our church for over five years. How did he miss it? And maybe even more important, how did I, the lead pastor, miss it?

My denomination has been ordaining women since its inception in 1915 and yet, a member of my congregation thought it was not biblical. I will take the blame for this one. Somehow, I unintentionally neglected the kingdom message of equality. Ever since that meeting, I have sought to purposefully communicate and practice our church’s egalitarian stance. The following are some simple changes that have helped create a culture in which women and men can both contribute to leadership in the church without limitations.

Make a Strategic Preaching Plan

I learned the hard way that it is not enough to simply mention the church’s position on female leadership once during a yearly sermon. Pastors must be intentional about continually keeping the message of equality at the forefront. While seeking to consistently preach the whole Bible, I develop a yearly preaching plan. This has helped me strategically address important subject areas. I have added the topic of female leadership to the significant doctrinal subjects I address each quarter. Pulpit discourse influences both the behaviors and beliefs of the congregation, and I was not taking full advantage of that influence. This leads to my next lesson.

Repeat Yourself

One sermon or one series is not enough. Your audience is always fluctuating. Families come and go, and individuals may be gone on vacation or experiencing an illness which prevents them from attending. So, when you preached on Galatians 3:28 last November, not everyone was there to hear the message. It needs to be repeated.

Take advantage of opportunities to encourage egalitarianism in non-traditional texts. For example, last fall, I was preaching through Philippians and I used Paul’s admonition for peace between Euodia and Syntyche as a chance to reinforce how women in the early church served in leadership. During Easter, one could also mention how the female followers of Jesus were the last at the cross and the first at the tomb.

Clearly Communicate Your Core Values on Your Website

Most churches have some basic core beliefs listed on their website. Why not go one step further and set your congregation apart by including your stance on equality? CBE’s statement of faith (on the last page of this magazine) states, “We believe that women and men are equally created in God’s image and given equal authority and stewardship of God’s creation.” I would encourage you to consider using a similar statement in any other written communication pieces your church may use. This would make a great addition to formal statements regarding mission, values, and ethos.

My church recently underwent a formal bylaw change addressing governance structure. Our church leadership took this opportunity to adopt consistent, gender-neutral language throughout our bylaws.  

Use a Gender-Accurate Version of the Bible

The language we use to communicate God’s truth has power and impacts our worldview. Older translations with outdated and male-dominated language can distort God’s truth. Modern gender-accurate versions such as the NIV (2011 edition), NRSV, TNIV, NLT, CEB, and CEV have all sought to remain true to the original manuscripts while correctly rendering the text for modern ears.

Once again, my church can serve as an example: our current pew Bibles are the 1987 NIV edition. Even considering the high financial cost, the church leadership recently accepted a proposal to replace them with gender-accurate translations.  

Take Advantage of Newcomer’s Classes

If your church holds an egalitarian stance, this is a great opportunity to share the reasoning behind it. A newcomer’s class can provide you with a smaller and more intimate venue to delve into the theological, historical, and biblical reasons for your beliefs. In the business world, corporations have formal onboarding programs to help new employees integrate, assimilate, and transition to their specific culture. Sadly, new church members are often left wondering about vague doctrinal positions. This is also a time when potential members may realize your church is not a good fit. As much as I want to see the church grow, it is usually best not to receive members who are going to be opposed to your church’s stance.

Highlight Female Leaders

Seeing gifted women in action can make people more receptive to female leadership. Pastors should diligently seek to lift female leaders up as exemplars in the faith. Next time a guest preacher is scheduled, why not ask a woman? Hearing a Spirit-empowered female preacher can challenge gender-based stereotypes and assumptions. If you are a man, ask a woman to fill in for some of your teaching roles. Be aware of how you recruit ministry leaders. Do you encourage both genders to work in non-traditional roles? Try asking women to lead in congregational prayer. When a female board member makes an important contribution in a group decision, why not share with the church body how her perspective helped guide the group?

Share Your Own Journey

Compelling stories move people. They have the ability to change hearts and minds. Think back to what informed your thinking on egalitarianism and share that journey with others.

My journey started during my undergraduate work. I remember laboring through ministry, theology, and Greek classes alongside my female counterparts. I could not imagine what it would be like to go through all the hard work of preparation only to meet a stained glass ceiling which would prevent me from serving because of my gender. This experience moved me into the hard work of biblical exegesis on critical passages which have often been used to prevent women from serving in church leadership roles. Once I correctly understood these passages, I advocated for all churches to embrace an egalitarian view. Sharing your journey is about starting a conversation. We are not to argue, sell a position, or forcefully convince others. Just tell your story and invite others to seek the truth.

I doubt that one hundred percent of my church members will ever hold an egalitarian stance. However, I will continue to strive to be solution-oriented instead of passively assuming people will embrace my position. I hope that what I have learned will help you think strategically about how churches can live out their beliefs.

If you are a leader, God has placed you in a position of authority; it is this position that compels you to use your influence to boldly proclaim the fullness of the gospel. The great divide between our beliefs and our practices can be reduced if we commit to small but intentional actions.