How men can support women leaders

The story is often told of a time when Bill Gates was speaking to a group of Saudi Arabian businessmen and political leaders. Most in the room were men; any women present were veiled and sat in a separate section according to custom. After his speech, Gates took questions, during which time an audience member commented on the rank of Saudi Arabia in the field of technology, asking what Gates thought might lift his country into the top ten globally.

“Well, if you’re not fully utilizing half the talent in the country,” Gates responded, noting the paucity of females present, “you’re not going to get too close to the top ten.”¹

It is not news that women lag behind men in leading in both secular and sacred arenas. What may not be so obvious is that the progress of women toward narrowing that gap has slowed and in some cases stalled in recent years. This is just as true in the business sector as in the religious sector. Consider the results of these studies:

  • According to the 2013 Catalyst Census conducted by Fortune Magazine, there was no increase in the number of women in executive positions, with women holding less than fifteen percent of executive roles.
  • According to The National Congregations Study conducted by Duke University, pastors in America are becoming more diverse and older but since 1998 they have not become more female.
  • Dawn Wiggins Hare with the Commission on the Status and Role of Women reports that the number of women clergy in the United Methodist Church has not increased since 2009.
  • A National Congregations Study reports, “Despite large percentages of female seminarians and increased numbers of female clergy in some denominations, women lead only a small minority of American congregations. Moreover, we do not detect any increase since 1998 in the overall percentage of congregations led by women.”³

Here’s the real irony: in a field dominated by men, it is male spiritual leaders who have the most opportunity to influence the next generation of women called into leadership. What can men do to affirm and encourage women called and gifted to lead in ministry? Here are a few places to begin:

Root your decisions about leadership in a Wesleyan understanding of scripture. Having a well-researched, well-prayed-over egalitarian theology will help you make more confident choices about giving both women and men leadership responsibilities. An egalitarian view says that while the Fall (Genesis 3) is responsible for setting men and women against each other in an antagonistic or hierarchical relationship, the intended purpose at creation (Genesis 1 and 2) was for men and women to stand together as equal partners. If this is true (and I believe it is), then we want to operate and make decisions that support a pre-fall view of human design. In other words, we value people based on gifts and call and do not exclude them because of gender.

Commit to making decisions that reflect the values and spiritual maturity of an elder in the New Testament Church of Jesus Christ. What motivates your leadership choices? Are you so spiritually formed that you can maturely mentor, hire and encourage women without fear or intimidation? Have you done the spiritual spadework needed to develop strong mental and physical boundaries? This ends up being an important piece of the puzzle. Unless we are emotionally and spiritually mature, our discomfort with the other gender will keep us from confidently leading. Remember that the gospel clearly calls us to take responsibility for our own minds and bodies, not to ask others to bear that weight.

Give women who are called and gifted access to every level of leadership. Are there places in your church where women are excluded? Are there tables to which they are not invited? Please understand that a lifetime of experiencing subtle biases has given most women a sensitivity to those places where we are excluded. That may be something we have to deal with and heal from but nonetheless, we know when we’re not welcome and it makes a difference in how we live out our potential and contribute to the coming Kingdom.

Pray for God to give you an urgency to welcome and advance the Kingdom of God on earth. As God answers that prayer, you will become more attuned to those he has placed in your community who are ready, willing and qualified to lead along with you. When you find them, take authority over your role as apostle and pastor by pouring into them as leaders, whether they are men or women. Genuinely qualified women leaders are starving for solid, qualified, Kingdom-minded mentors and coaches who care so much about Kingdom priorities that they will do whatever it takes to make sure that cause is advanced.

 

1. Dale, Felicity, et al. The Black Swan Effect: A Response to Gender Hierarchy in the
Church. Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007, kindle loc 882.

2. Leach, Tara Beth. “Dear Bill Hybels and Other Men Who Affirm Women in Ministry.”
MissioAlliance. August 10, 2015.

3. National Congregations Study. “Religious Congregations in 21st Century America.” http:/
www.soc.duke.edu/natcong/Docs/NCSIII_report_final.pdf

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Who gets to be Lord?

I was called by God to preach when I was thirteen. Forty years ago in Georgia, that was a strange thing to claim. I struggled to hold on to this call. In fact, by the time I reached college, I’d watered it down. I would go into Christian education since that would be more socially acceptable for someone like me. The only two problems with that were: 1) I’m terrible in a roomful of children; and 2) it wasn’t God’s call.

I tried anyway. And failed miserably.  Then walked away from my call completely.

I didn’t realize then that the call is intricately connected to faith. To abandon my calling was to play fast and loose with my relationship with God. I became an easy target for the enemy of my soul who tied my hands, kicked me down the street and threw me into the prison of alcoholism. Somewhere in there, I finished college, got married and began a career outside the church.

In fact, I quit church altogether for about ten years but let me be clear on this: I didn’t stop going to church because the church wasn’t relevant or didn’t meet my needs. I quit going because the enemy came and snatched me up and threw me into a prison that I was then unable to get out of on my own.

It would take twelve years for me to finally, fully come home to Jesus. It happened by mistake. A friend roped me into attending a Bible study and over time I got interested and involved. One day, the leader of this study invited me onto the leadership team, but told me in no uncertain terms that to accept the invitation I’d have to quit drinking.

I said, “I’ll get back to you.” Which was code for, “When hell freezes over.”

I had no intention of giving up drinking, but that invitation was the hook. Someone leading a Bible study had the guts to invite me to consider a different life and I took the bait. One day soon after, I realized the depth of the choice I’d been given: quit drinking and lead a Bible study, or keep the status quo and allow my life to continue floating without purpose.

That choice wasn’t ultimately a choice about leadership. It was a choice about lordship. The real question in front of me in that season was this: Who gets to be Lord of my life?

I had my last drink 24 years ago and that choice to quit was one of the best choices of my life.

This is the question every great story of transformation answers: Who gets to be Lord? Until you answer that question, nothing else matters. When you answer that question, everything gets redeemed.

Everything.

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“Mama, can boys be preachers, too?”

One day as we were driving, my daughter called out this question from the back seat. “Mama, can boys be preachers, too?”

She was five years old at the time (she’s 24 now). We were in the car on the road from Lexington to Wilmore, Kentucky, where our family lived while I was in seminary. In the year prior to our move I was beginning to preach, so for virtually all her life a “preacher mama” is all my daughter has known. Our closest seminary friends at the time happened to be a couple with a make-up much like ours: the wife a preacher, the husband a public school teacher.

“Mama, can boys be preachers, too?”

clergy-barbi4My daughter could not have known how unique a question that is. For centuries, the Christian church has been concerned with the other question: Can girls be preachers, too? Does God’s design allow for women to be part of spreading this story of grace?

The answer is in the story itself. Women were last at the cross, first at the tomb and first to be told, “Go and tell.” Priscilla, Junia, Tabitha, Lydia — all were leaders in this new movement of God. Any woman who preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ stands in that great tradition. It is not a call reserved for one gender or 50% of us. It is the great commission of all God’s people: “Go and make disciples of all nations.”

So what does this mean for both men and women?

1. All of us are empowered to share the story. All of us. Steve Jobs was once talking with a group of high-ranking officials in Egypt. He was sharing business principles with them and at some point, someone asked him if he thought Egypt could ever be a viable world leader. Jobs response was, “Not as long as you are using only half your population.”¹

Of course, God can do anything he wants with whomever he chooses but sometimes I wonder if he looks at the Christian Church, hears our prayers for the Kingdom to come and thinks, “Not as long as you’re using only half the population.”

Earlier this year in India, a few hundred girls went through a re-naming ceremony. These girls all carried the Hindu name Nakusa. It means “Unwanted,” a common name among girls in India. Someone decided to issue an invitation to girls carrying that name, offering them the chance to choose a new name. Literally hundreds of girls showed up for that ceremony — girls tired of being called “Unwanted.”

This seems to be part of our unredeemed nature. In many places in the world, cultures oppressclergy-barbi3 girls. In many places, females are made to feel like runners-up in the gender contest. This is not a Christian teaching. Paul said, “Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you.”

As followers of the gospel of Jesus, we believe everyone is wanted and gifted in some way for sharing the good news. John Wesley once said, “God owns women in the conversion of sinners, and who am I that I should withstand God?”

2. We have a unique call. After years of dealing with my own insecurities, I now claim God’s call to take authority and preach the gospel. God is using me because of how I’m made, not in spite of it, to be demonstration of the Kingdom. I am not a runner-up. I am God’s choice, called to serve a world that desperately needs Jesus in all the ways and through all the people Jesus can be shared.

3. Engage the real question. The real question is not, “Should women lead or preach in churches?” That is a freedom question but ultimately, that is not a salvation question. The real question is: “How many people does God want to reach, and how many people is he willing to use to reach them?” What if all God’s people who are equipped for the work are called to humbly proclaim Jesus to a lost and hurting world?

All his people … including you.

“Mama, can boys be preachers, too?”

It is a beautiful question, reflecting the movement of God who has given all kinds of people the call to preach, who has given every one of us a platform to suit our spiritual gifts. This is great news! Because Jesus sets people free, he is able to redeem us from the pits we’ve dug for ourselves so he can call us forth to spread the good news of freedom through Christ. As we come, He is able to present us before His glorious presence without fault.

He is able to present us before His glorious presence with great joy!

He is the only God, our Savior. He is glorious. He is majestic. He is powerful. He has authority in this world and in the world to come. He is our Master and our Redeemer. He Who Is, Who Was and Who Is To Come is Truth Eternal.

Who wouldn’t want to share that news? And who wouldn’t want to hear it?

 

1. Sandberg, Sheryl. Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. New York: Alfred Knopf, 2013.

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When Women Plant Churches

I am grateful to Seedbed for their partnership in producing the things I’m passionate about. This time, they are letting me talk about the barriers women church planters face. This is the subject of my doctoral dissertation, so I’ve been putting a little reading time into it lately (gotta love deadlines!).

My project asserts that the original design for men and women is partnership, not hierarchy. Given that assumption, the focus is not on the question of whether or not women ought to preach or lead men, but rather to explore that intersection of human design with human fallenness — that point at which fallenness distorts and stunts female leadership, especially in the arena of church planting. The goal is to discover the pathways that negotiate that intersection so that those called to lead as church planters can reclaim the joy and meaning of their created design.

Here’s a beginning on that work:

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Are these Mark Driscoll’s best days?

What we need is a death worthy of repentance.

We believe in a God of Second Chances. Forgiveness is the centerpiece of our gospel; repentance is our response. For real repentance to happen, there has to be a death to self. There is more to it than just saying, “I did it.” At its heart, repentance is God-focused, humble, broken, confessional, unashamed, open to change, non-defensive. In short, something has to die.

When I recently watched Brian Houston’s interview of Mark Driscoll, taped nearly a year after his resignation from Mars Hill, I looked for signs of that kind of repentance, the kind characterized by a death. After all, this is a man with whom I have disagreed deeply, not only on theological issues (he is Reformed; I am most definitely not) but also behavior.

Driscoll’s approach to ministry and life has been just about everything I stand against. He seemed (and indeed, by his own account, was) deeply controlling, misogynistic, ego-driven and opportunistic. In his salad days, he talked too much from the stage about beer-drinking and sex. He cussed. He bullied. He over-dramatized the need for more testosterone in church, and under-emphasized the role of holiness (both serious understatements).

There were plenty of things in Mark Driscoll that needed to die.

Some things Driscoll said, I had to agree with.  One of my favorite Driscoll lines had to do with singing “prom songs to Jesus” (“I’ll be happy when we have more than just prom songs to Jesus sung by some effeminate guy on an acoustic guitar … “). I agree that men are being largely left out of the current church culture, their interests being passed over for too-often feminized styles of worship and community. Driscoll has argued that the American church is missing the mark on offering a fair account of the good news to men, and I would agree.

I also have to admit appreciating his tough talk on small churches who like to think they are small because they “got it right” (“This generation can be a whiny bunch of idealists getting together in small groups to complain about megachurches and the religious right rather than doing something.”). We are called to bear fruit. All of us. If our churches aren’t growing, it isn’t likely because we have the secret sauce, but because we don’t.

Everyone is a mixed bag and Driscoll is no exception.  In his worst days, he made a few good points.  And I would argue that now — a year after his ministry career imploded and nine months after his mega-church disintegrated — Mark Driscoll may well be in the midst of his best days.

In his interview with Brian Houston (see the first half of the interview here and the second half here), he seems genuinely reflective and at least from the appearance of it, repentant. I’m sure there is nothing like destroying your job, status and one of the largest churches in the country to make you think twice about your approach to things.

Rather than playing the victim, Driscoll addresses the theological shifts he has made since his fall and doesn’t even attempt to defend most of the worst statements of his worst days (especially the explicit statements denigrating women). He admits that he too often operated from a place that was ungodly and immature. His wife agrees. We all agree. It is good to hear him say it.

In a word, Driscoll seems, at least in that one interview, broken. Maybe he is posturing to regain some place in the world of ministry. Maybe this moment is driven more by humiliation than humility. Either way, it is good to hear someone of his celebrity thinking again about how he acted when he was on top of the ministry world. I appreciate his willingness to publicly reflect on his past. I appreciate Brian Houston’s unapologetic but sensitive approach to the interview. It was a fine example of grace and truth.

This is what we’ve so often looked for in the stories of big-name Christians who get caught and admit wrong. We’ve longed for a spirit of Isaiah (“I am a man of unclean lips”), for a deeper understanding of Paul’s truth (we are free, but not free to do as we please).

What we want but so seldom get is a death worthy of repentance. Where Mark Driscoll seems to be digging deep for this, I’m grateful and inspired. He may still have miles to go, but at least he isn’t signing on for a reality show yet (note to Mark, should you read this: please resist). Instead, he is allowing a man he trusts from within our tribe to help him talk with some integrity  and transparency about his journey through the valley.

For that, at least, he should be applauded.

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A sign from God

I am beginning to think it really was a sign from God.

I found it in front of The Holy House of Prayer of Jesus Christ (Elder William Butler, presiding). At the end of a string of other announcements about repenting and where you can find them on the radio, the sign read, “God have [sic] never called a woman to preach. Never will.”

The day IWomen-to-preach sign saw it, I knew that sign was for me. It stood in front of a little building with burglar bars deep in one of the most impoverished areas of Georgia — what is known as Frog Holler or Bethlehem — in downtown Augusta.

I will admit that the day I found it, I delighted in that sign. Things like that validate my experience of being a woman in ministry in the South. There is still a remarkable amount of prejudice. I don’t hear it in every conversation, but I’ll admit that over time I have developed more of a suspicion about people’s motives. I have had enough conversations with folks in my church to know that they debate their friends and co-workers regularly on this issue. They defend their church and their pastor admirably. I wish they didn’t have to, but I’m grateful beyond words for their convictions.

I wonder how many people I will never meet, how many opportunities I’ll never even know I missed, because the people I might have known don’t trust my place as a pastor. I have taken way too much time to reflect on this. The inequality exposes something broken in me. I feel trapped. I get angry, defensive. I obsess. I find myself talking about it far too often, with far too much passion. I go beyond good sense. Because I am so darn competitive, I have a hard time making peace with the realities of life.

You know what I want? What I secretly want is for someone to erect a sign that says, “People think this way. It is not just Carolyn’s imagination. This is real. But it is also wrong. It is not an educated response to scripture. It is an injustice and an impediment to the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

That’s what I really want. I want someone to publicly acknowledge what I know to be true.

And that’s why Elder William Butler became my friend when I saw his sign. He has done what I only dreamed of. He put up a sign that pretty much says it all. People think this way. It is not just my imagination. This is real. But it is also wrong. It is not an educated response to scripture.

Elder Butler has exposed the problem magnificently.

Sadly, he has also exposed my heart. His sign is in the poorest part of town, in one of the poorest districts in the state. Rampant crime. Burglar bars on the church building. Deep poverty, serious drug issues. And I took a picture of the sign, and neglected to say so much as a prayer over the community.

Shame on me.

(This post was first published in the early days of my old blog, “Fivestones.” I publish it today as a sort of personal Ebenezer — a place in my life where I remember still an intersection where my brokenness met God’s grace.)

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Why women lead

It seems to come in waves.  Some weeks (months, even), I have no conversations at all about women in ministry or church leadership.  Other weeks, it is a theme. Since it has now surfaced three times this week (and it is just Wednesday!), I thought I’d post something I’ve shared in other forums before.

When the question is asked of me (and it often is) about how I have arrived at my beliefs about women in ministry, this is how I respond:

1. Women were last at the cross, first at the tomb and first to be told to “go and tell.”

2. Jesus himself chose a woman to be the first preacher of the gospel. She is the one Jesus met in the garden on the day of his resurrection, and she’s the one to whom he said, “Go and tell the others …” And they were men she was telling. I believe my ministry is in that spirit. I have been called to go and tell.

3. As for the two passages in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians and Timothy, I do believe they must be taken in within the context of the whole Bible. They must be read through the lens of Deborah’s story, and through the lens of Mary’s charge, and through the lens of Galatians 3:28 (“there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female”). I consider also the women who traveled with Jesus and the women (Priscilla and Junia) who labored in the gospel in the first century. God has surely not called all women into vocational ministry (nor has he called all men into vocational ministry), but he has surely called some. The Bible itself testifies to that point; that women were mentioned at all is a testament to the respect they were given. These verses must also be read through the lens of the creation story, which did NOT create hierarchies but fulfillment. Men and women fulfill each other. In some obvious ways we compliment, and in all ways we are in partnership.

The Bible must always be read within its historical context. Paul’s letters are not bound historically, but they are rooted historically. What we know about women in the first century is that they weren’t yet equipped to lead. They were largely uneducated. They had no experience in public gatherings. The Christian ethos gave them far more freedom than they’d had before and Paul’s instructions agreed with that. He allowed them to learn. He encouraged them to ask questions. In his letters, he honored a number of women who were laboring in the gospel. I don’t believe it was Paul’s intention to create a theology of women (otherwise, he would have given many more lines to the subject), but to manage a rapidly growing movement rooted in a particular place and time. Perhaps a more universal truth to arise from his comments would be, “In all you do, be humble, recognizing your limits.”

4. In this regard, Jesus’ words carry more weight. His commands and charges at his resurrection are all gender-neutral. Go make disciples. You will be my witness. Take up your cross and follow me. I can’t imagine God meant for only half the population to fulfill these commands and commissions.

5. Finally, just from my own place as a pastor, I deeply resonate with the exchange between Jesus and John’s disciples. When John (the Baptist) was in prison and wanted to make sure he was on the right track in his belief about Jesus, he sent his disciples to ask, “Are you the one?” Jesus said, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” In other words, tell John I’m bearing fruit, and fruit is how we are judged in the Kingdom of God.

When I stand before the throne, I intend to bring the fruitfulness of my ministry with me and I have absolute confidence I will be judged by my fruit, not my gender.

This is what I hope for among those who serve Christ with me at Mosaic: I want to serve with folks who can fully appreciate the fruit we are bearing together without taking offense at my part in it. If someone can’t quite feel comfortable bearing fruit within a ministry led by a woman, I encourage them to find a place where they can bear fruit without that concern.

To bear no fruit is a dangerous thing. Whatever else we believe or don’t, I’m confident that our fruitfulness is what best honors the Christ we serve.

RESOURCES TO HELP YOU THINK ABOUT THIS:

This seedbed page lists a number of blogs and resources on topics related to women, ministry and biblical roles (some of which were written by me):

http://seedbed.com/category/women-and-ministry/

For more a more in-depth look, I can’t do better than what Ben Witherington has already published on the matter. Ben is a professor at Asbury who has written extensively on this topic. You’ll find great stuff from him here:

http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/bibleandculture/2009/10/why-arguments-against-women-in-ministry-arent-biblical.html

 

 

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