Woman Googling Church 2018
I’ve spent the last twelve years Googling for a church. Through various moves due to theology and geography, I have found myself browsing the broad landscape of the local church looking for a faithful community with whom to live on mission. For the most part, silently swallowing my unease about the lack of women in leadership with practically every “complementarian evangelical” church within my reach.
Matt Chandler, president of the Acts 29 network, pastor of The Village Church, recently released a video discussing his stance on the role of women in the church. In the video he describes a spectrum of views: liberal feminism on the far left and patriarchy on the far right. In the middle, he envisions concentric circles of beliefs that fall within “Biblical Christianity” ranging from egalitarian (equal ministry opportunities for both genders) and complementarian (ministry roles differentiated by gender) views on women in leadership. He asserts his own view as more sound but allows for respectful disagreement and affirmation of brother/sisterhood for those who have biblically landed on more egalitarian footing. Similarly, editors and contributors of the book “Women in Ministry”, presenting well grounded cases for both sides of the egalitarian and complementarian divide, issued a unified statement: “We believe one can build a credible case within the bounds of orthodoxy and a commitment to inerrancy for either one of the two major views we address in this volume, although all of us view our own positions on the matter as stronger and more compelling.”
Well over a decade ago, theologian William Webb published a book, “Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis”. The book presented a novel way of approaching the scriptures through a trajectory method coined “redemptive-movement hermeneutic”. One of the main ideas is that the Bible does not convey a utopian standard through the majority of its stories and teachings. Instead, it meets each culture where they were at, offered a redemptive way to act within their culture and throughout history moves the people of God toward an ultimate ethic. The method emphasized cultural analysis, seeking the “redemptive spirit” within a text and a discernment of how to apply that spirit faithfully in a contemporary context. Wayne Grudem, a prominent evangelical theologian and co-founder of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood responded to the book with a weighty yet unfavorable review. Regardless, Webb put forth a legitimate challenge (and further response to Grudem) to the static approach to exegesis and lack of hearty cultural analysis applied in much of the evangelical world. Ultimately, with all of the possibility that Webb and other serious scholars afford we have seen little change in how women function in the church.
As a woman who has experienced pastoral care and spiritual formation under the umbrellas of men with either complementarian leanings or conviction, I am not ready to burn the complementarian barn down. However, as a woman who has also been afforded the opportunity to thrive in my gifting as a visionary, starter, and leader (some might say I have an apostolic gifting) and having witnessed many other women do the same outside the walls of the local church in parachurch or seminary settings, I have a healthy amount of suspicion that there needs to be more room at the “big kids table” for women on the local church level.
To start, let’s have women at the front door. When a woman (or man for that matter) looks at your church website or attends gatherings, she should be able to find other women represented within your leadership that she can recognize, reach out to, and seek for mentorship or resourcing. Whether or not you are ready to name her pastor or elder, it should be an imperative that your church is actively identifying, vetting and raising up women leaders who are able to make disciples of Christ and who are identifiable as point persons for newcomers and members.
Secondly, women need to be at the table. The fact that when I have reviewed scores of evangelical websites and find such a thin representation of staff and female leadership (and from almost twenty years of being professionally staffed or volunteering within the church/parachurch setting) leads me to believe if they don’t have a title, they likely are not being seriously heard. Women in your church need to have a legitimate voice in a way that they contribute to the decision-making, service and direction of your community. Token representation at something akin to a bi-annual planning or “listening” time doesn’t cut it.
Finally, the church needs to invest in the scholarship of women. In a world where advanced education has become increasingly expensive coupled with the sparse salaried positions for women within the local church, it becomes a rare, privileged case that a women can afford to pursue higher theological study. For those on the complementarian side, we need more women at the helm of other women who are holy and theologically anchored to teach other women. For those of us who would like to take a step towards the egalitarian realm, we need the release of gifted female voices for everyone.
The digital age has changed the way we look for churches and have public discourse about matters of theology and the church. It has also changed the way women are able to have a voice and find connection about these matters as evidenced by the growing influence of women bloggers and conference movements heavily advanced by online attendance and organization. It is not imperative that a local church change their hermeneutic to make righteous changes to the role and presence of women in the leadership of their church. It is imperative that changes are made if they wish to have a part of making and benefitting from the deep discipleship among women in generations to come.
Resources that have been recommended to me for further study:
Writings of Craig Keener and Philip Payne
Audio from “She Leads” Conference: http://www.missioalliance.org/our-resources/