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, and churches that are closed to women. Don’t believe me, ask any women 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:

  1. Give opportunities for people to serve based on their gifting and character, not on their gender. 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?
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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).
  1. 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.
  1. Identify women in your midst who have significant gifts for the Kingdom and intentionally invest in them and challenge them to consider ministry.
  1. Correct and heal injustices. Recognize and apologize for where people have been excluded from roles, pulpits, and opportunities, solely on the basis of their gender. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.

-Renée @r_embree

Resources:

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/

 

 

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10 comments

  1. Anonymous · October 25, 2015

    Great thoughts for sure! I am not a woman in Pastoral Ministry, however, am in ministry, and one of the things I would add would be: treat woman as equal to the to the men. Women still seem to be expected to do the work, but are not worthy of the same level of respect or recognition. Ensure that the key role of female staff is not to be the “workers”, woman really do have more to offer than being able to work in the kitchen.

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  2. Andrea McBeth · October 15, 2015

    I wish I could agree with most of these comments but, mostly, I cannot. At the outset, you said: ” 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,…” Unfortunately, the whole discussion, including most of the comments that followed the article appear to be just that–“self-serving”. The entire piece is simply a reprise of the “women”s RIGHTS” agenda arguments, right down to the vocabulary of “justice”, “pay equity”, “safe places”, “discrimination stories”, “the importance of pronouns”, “boys clubs”, etc, etc. You are inviting Christians to turn their thinking to a political and divisive gender-related paradigm and to import it into their thinking and conduct in God’s house. I think you are very much in error in taking this approach. This is, overtly, a “strategic” discussion about power distribution and, as such, I note that no one made reference to any Scripture at all. I think that that is an indicator of how much in error this piece is. Jesus leaves no subject unaddressed. Jesus is not obscure in the way He deals with any subject. Here are his commandments on this subject, and I am only looking at quotations from Jesus, Himself, not editorial comment by any other author.

    Luke 10:36-42:
    Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.

    39 And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.

    40 But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.

    41 And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:

    42 But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.
    ________________________________________

    And in Matthew 12:48-50:
    But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren?

    49 And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren!

    50 For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.
    ________________________________________

    And in Matthew 23:5-12:
    But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,

    6 And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues,

    7 And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.

    8 But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.

    9 And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.

    10 Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.

    11 But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.

    12 And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.
    ________________________________________

    All disciples of Christ, all of His followers, women and men, are subject equally to His commands. Each action, each word, each decision as a Christian’ must be run through the mill and refined by the words of your ONLY Master. There are no “careers” in “ministry”; there is no “pay equity”, there are no “job descriptions” or “leave policies”, “safe places” or “discriminations”. There are only those who seek to serve Christ; they have no gender “rights”. If anyone, MAN OR WOMAN, feels unable to serve in a particular community of Christians, unable to pull equally in the same harness with another labourer, then that Christian must move on to another community until he or she receives, FROM THE HOLY SPIRIT, confirmation that this is the place where that one may most productively SERVE, not lead.

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    • Renée Embree · October 16, 2015

      Hi Andrea,
      This blog was written for those who have already studied the Biblical text and come to the conclusion that God does call women to ministry. It is written for that audience in order that they might know how to better support and encourage those women who are following the call of God on their lives. It was not meant to be a Biblical exegesis in any way. If you are looking for a Biblical under-girding I point you to the resources I refer to at the end of the blog.

      In terms of justice and rights for human beings, for God’s creation, I highly recommend doing a study of God’s heart for justice in the Bible. I’ll mention just two passages here. Isaiah 61:1-2 “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
      because the Lord has anointed me
      to proclaim good news to the poor.
      He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
      to proclaim freedom for the captives
      and release from darkness for the prisoners,
      2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
      and the day of vengeance of our God,
      to comfort all who mourn,
      3 and provide for those who grieve…”

      This is the passage Jesus points to in his inaugural address at the start of his public ministry (Luke 4-18-19) stating that “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” This is why Jesus has come. This is what Jesus is about in our world.

      Another call to care for the treatment of others is found in the second part of Jesus response to the question “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”, First is to “Love the Lord your God” the second is to “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). The two are related, when we love God it overflows in love, concern and care for others.

      Hope that helps you understanding a little more where I was coming from.
      Blessings,
      Renee

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  3. paulbranscombe · October 11, 2015

    As one entering into ministry, this definitely can be a touchy subject. But it does not have to be. Churches need to let women be a better voice. If a woman is Spiritually gifted in teaching and one tells her no to speaking at a Sunday morning service, then she is going to feel outcast! Even deacons/ elders boards should have woman involved. It is just a matter of how we as Christians respond.

    Like

  4. John Campbell · October 9, 2015

    Great Post Renee.
    My wife Sara and I are driving and talking about this. Here’s a few things we would add.

    1. Your fashion advice is not always welcomed.

    2. Actually follow your female leader. If you are ministering on a team and have a female leader, be willing to submit to her leadership.

    3. Set her up to lead. As a male leader resist the urge to play ‘Knight in shinning Armour’ when things get tough. She’s got this! …but make sure that you are publicly and privately building her up and tearing her down.

    4. Have clear maternal (and paternal) leave policies in place before your pastor has to belly up to the negotiating table.

    5. Titles matter.

    6. If he’s assertive, he’s a strong leader. If she’s assertive, she’s…what? Be aware of how you respond to her leadership style.

    7.If this whole discussion seems absurd to you because you a)Never met a real Female Pastor before (they’re not a unicorn), or b) Can’t image this is (still) an issue…please get out more.

    That’s all our wisdom from the highway.
    John and Sara Campbell
    @earthoven

    Liked by 2 people

    • Renée Embree · October 9, 2015

      Great additions John & Sara! I agree with all of your list. I especially think #3 is so important and your #2 is tied to it. Any of us with a leadership gift wants to exercise it for the sake of the kingdom. It is incredibly deflating if you’re not given real leadership, not trusted with more responsibility or others keep “rescuing” you when you don’t need it. Great additions!!!

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      • Renée Embree · October 10, 2015

        I should add…none of this gives permission for poor leadership, lack of character to support the leadership, permission to be brazen or such. Not everyone is called or should be a leader, we still have qualifications for leadership whether you are male and female. This is not a blanket acceptance of leaders – there are excellent and poor leaders and everyone in between. Leaders, female and male, are to be leading like Jesus and to Jesus. Our desire for justice or to be living our calling never ever give us permission to circumvent living and leading in the methods and ways of Jesus. Hope I’m making sense.

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  5. Marion Duncan · October 9, 2015

    Renee this is an excellent article. I’m sitting here typing with mixed feelings however. When we were in seminary, I was literally shouted at and debased in front of everyone in the classroom and outside the classroom even though I was respectful in my approach and I didn’t hear your support there, only silence as the people with the loudest voices kept the floor. I am so pleased you are finally ‘on board.’ Inclusive language is so important and non-inclusive language is psychologically damaging to children. I agree we need to just get on with the ministry, but often-times this includes providing both sides of the argument to baby Christians so they are not blind-sided later on and to empower those who have been standing on the sidelines, reluctant to be part of an organisation that they see as putting women down. Discerning families nowadays take their spirituality seriously and don’t want to risk their wives and daughters to be exposed to obvious or subtle denigration, nor do they want their sons to pick up unhealthy attitudes towards women. It can be exciting to engage a discerning family like this as their eyes go wide open with surprise when I agree with many of their concerns about the Church, and tell them, “I absolutely agree with you.” And then their eyes, eyes and hearts are open as I relate to them what the Scriptures truly say. We HAVE to have our Scriptures ready, but I agree with you it is pointless to argue, it is a waste of time. But it is important to know what the arguments are for the sake of our flock and in order to be fully prepared for those who are truly wanting to understand. Having these Scriptures ready can be a fabulous evangelistic tool, especially for those folk who have been deprived of knowing how truly wonderful and hope giving Christian Doctrine truly is. This is what I would often try to get across in the classroom way back in 2003-6, but that seminary classroom was not a safe place for that kind of discussion. I was so naive. I truly had no idea that discussing inclusive language was a taboo subject and that it would get me negatively labelled. I realised later that some thought I was deliberately rocking the boat, when I thought I was simply contributing to the discussion in a way that might be appreciated. It seems to need people like you Renee, who are established in a good position in the Church, to use their position to help others to ‘hear.’ God Bless you and your ministry Renee. Marion Duncan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

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  6. Renée Embree · October 8, 2015

    An anonymous colleague in ministry in Canada sent me these comments. It says a lot this person wants to be anonymous, while still giving me permission to post these comments.
    “Here are the things I’d add to the list
    1. Pay us the same as you would men. Pay based on experience and job descriptions etc. not on perceived needs, family situation etc.
    2. Don’t be freaked out because we are female. It’s ok to drive in the same car as us or have coffee with us. We don’t want to have sex with you and will not try to seduce you. Grow up, I say!
    3. Sometimes we have babies. Help us out when we do. Fill our jobs when we’re gone, help us financially if you can, don’t make comments about us enjoying a “year off”, don’t comment on the maternity clothes we wear- we already know we stand out in the pulpit because unfortunately there isn’t a “church appropriate maternity line” of clothing.
    4. Don’t say “pastors and their wives”
    5. If your church is going to hire a woman in a staff position, make sure you have clearly articulated your theology on the issue. It’s awkward to be on staff but be unsure if you’re a “pastor”, or CE director, or ____ and what those roles mean. For example, your title might say pastor, but are you allowed to preach?
    6. We feel called to full time vocational ministry. We are working to serve Jesus Christ and love the church. Bottom line. We don’t have any alternate agenda, at all.
    7. Please don’t make generalizations about women (or men). As women we are not all “more emotional than men” or “we all love children” or “we can all bake”. We all have personalities and spiritual gifts that are unique. We want these things to compliment our colleagues and serve our congregations.”

    Liked by 1 person

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