Saturday, December 15, 2012

Women in Ministry

It is time for the Church to completely open its doors to women in ministry.  In order to fulfill the Great Commission, the Church needs men and women serving in every role their gift and character opens to them in local churches and church networks.

In some parts of the Church, women already serve in the same ministry roles as men.  But in much of the Church, the issue is far from settled, or a men-only practice continues with little discussion.

Much has been written about the rightness of women in ministry leadership and teaching roles.  Men and women much better equipped than I am to find answers from scripture have staked well-researched, thoughtful positions on both sides of the question.  I respect their hearts to serve faithfully and their diligent scholarship.

But I suggest a simple way to cut through the differences:   just decide that the cost of failing to use gifted women in strategic ministry roles is far too high, and the cost of doing so in error is low.

In a recent team-building exercise in our church community, a group of us tried to accomplish one simple task keeping in mind one simple rule.  To our shock we initially did exactly the opposite of the task.  We had tried to balance the task and the rule, and it turned what should have been a two-minute task into ten minutes.  Once we began to focus on the task, we were able to quickly finish.

On the issue of women in ministry, I would say that the Church has tried to accomplish the task (the Great Commission) while significant parts of the Church have been obsessing over what has seemed like a rule.  In this case, "the rule" would be the seeming Biblical prohibition in the letters of Paul against women in ministry.....or maybe just tradition.

Right doctrine and right practice are important.  On key issues of faith, the Church cannot be flexible. But the issue of women in ministry is not a key issue of faith.

From my perspective, we have misunderstood Paul's intent in writing about women in the Church.  I believe Paul's words were bound to the culture or cities he addressed and do not relate in the same way to us today.  And I believe a male-leaders-only tradition has blinded us to a significant opportunity to advance the Kingdom.

If the Church is wrong in permitting women to enter strategic ministry roles from which they are now excluded, the cost of that error is low.  No one's salvation is threatened.  The key doctrines and creeds of the Church are not contravened.  If we are found to be wrong, our gracious Lord will restore right practice to the Church, as He has done before.

Brothers, where we do not already, let's clear paths for women to come into every role of ministry...and not only clear those paths, but actively encourage gifted sisters to walk them.

Sisters, we need you like Barak needed Deborah.  Together we will win victories that the Church can lay at the feet of the King, victories that it could not win without you.  I am so deeply sorry we have delayed you and held you back.  But for the Kingdom's sake, join us now!

Now that you have read this, men, what are your thoughts on this issue?  Women? How about you?  Your comments are welcome below.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

A Christmas Story

"Mary, quite big in her last month of pregnancy  was accompanied by over a dozen aunts and female cousins.  Joseph walked alone in front, followed by all of these women  who were chatting and giggling merrily about babies and 'motherly' things.

Nativity scene
A few minutes later the noisy entourage arrived in Bethlehem and were directed to the "sheep pen," crowded with sheep. Soon Mary started labor. Joseph paced nervously back and forth in front of the stable, while the women, several of them midwives, crowded around Mary to help deliver the baby. A short labor ensued, and soon the women all gave a high shrill vibrating cry—the typical Ethiopian joy cry that announces the birth of every child in Ethiopia. The spectators cheered, and the women in the crowd joined in the joy cry with the actors. Hearing the cry, Joseph ran into the sheep pen to see the newborn baby. Later, of course, the familiar shepherds came, followed by the wise men."

Sound familiar, sort of?

The above is part of a story about how one Ethiopian church presented a Christmas pageant not long ago. The not-totally-familiar Christmas pageant story appears in a textbook (Grasping God's Word) we are using at the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry (BSSM).  

You may be wondering about all the extra women.  They aren't in the Christmas story, are they?  No....they are not mentioned in the Biblical text.  But that does not mean they were NOT there.

The point of telling the story in this textbook is to help us understand what WE bring to the Biblical text.  For example all of us come with some "cultural lenses" whenever we read the Bible.  

The Ethiopian culture suggests that of course there are other women along with Mary on the trip to Bethlehem.  After all, who could expect a young first time father to help successfully deliver a baby?  And who among women would not ululate with joy at the birth of a child?

Those of us who have seen many American Christmas pageants come to the Biblical text with the cultural understanding that it was just Joseph, Mary and the donkey on the road to Bethlehem.  But just as there are no extra women in the Biblical text, there is also no donkey.  

The image illustrating this post contributes to faulty understanding of the text.  In this case, "Mary" has a typically European face, wears clothing more typical of a few hundred years ago, there is a cow, and so forth.

The reality is that probably neither the Ethiopian nor the American perspective is totally accurate, but I wonder if those Ethiopian believers may have been closer to the mark.

We all bring our "stuff" along with us when we read the Bible.  Duvall and Hays suggest four influences we bring as we read:

  • pre-understandings that come from experiences, hymns, art, literature, etc. that make us think we already understand the text
  • pre-forumulated theological agendas that make us look at the text merely to fill in the details of what we already believe 
  • familiarity that comes from reading the Bible often -- and makes us think we already understand the passages we read
  • culture is almost transparent to us as water is to a fish -- the fish doesn't notice it, and neither do we notice how our culture is projected into the reading process.

I was both dismayed and delighted to study this.  I was dismayed because I realized that I have been guilty of all four of the above flaws in my own Bible reading.   But I was also delighted because knowing these reading traps can help any of us read the Bible without falling into them.  

How about you?  What does reading this do to your thinking about how you read the Bible?  You can post a reply below.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

The Mission has a Church

We who are Christians in America often talk about “missions.”  The word brings to mind  missionaries laboring lovingly in foreign lands among people with difficult language and strange customs.  

And the overseas missions movement has produced incredible fruit as the rapidly growing number of Christ followers in places like China, Africa, South America, and India attest. The movement has been so successful that Christians in these regions are now sending missionaries back into Europe and the United States!

But let’s bring our focus back to the reason for missions....the original mission.  Let’s read again the words of Jesus: will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:8 ESV)

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. (Matt 28:19-20 ESV)

There are some key pieces in the above for Christ followers who call Anchorage, Alaska home:  First, what we do will be Holy Spirit empowered.  Second, we will be witnesses in Anchorage (=Jerusalem), Alaska (=Judea), North America(=Samaria), and all the world (=end of the earth).  Last, we are to make disciples. Converts are not disciples, although they can become so.  In other words, the mission is more than helping people find Jesus.  The mission is to reproduce the Jesus-following life in people in all nations - starting with our own city.

I read something recently that has impacted me quite a bit: “It’s not so much that the church has a mission but that the mission has a church. Church follows mission, not the other way around”. As we see above, Jesus articulated the mission before the Church was born on the Day of Pentecost.  

The point is this: we are all individually on mission, not just the church acting as a group sending missionaries. This means we are all missionaries (witnesses in the language of Acts).  A few of us will serve as overseas missionaries, but most of us should see ourselves as missionaries at our schools, our jobs, among our friends, and everywhere we come in contact with humanity.  America is steadily becoming “de-churched”, and most of us have the mission opportunity to help people find Jesus.

Mission can be as simple as being filled with the Holy Spirit and “leaking” the fruits of the Holy Spirit on those around us (joy, peace, kindness, gentleness, etc).  It can be sharing the Good News with a friend at the right time.  In Anchorage City Church mission projects, it can be serving homeless people at Beacon Hill or our Emergency Cold Weather Shelter, or feeding the hungry via the Food Shelf.  It can be helping prisoners reenter society, or helping young people graduate through New Direction, or serving Alaska communities by training leaders, as Beyond Borders does.  You can even start your own mission project! The possibilities for being on mission with the love of Jesus are many.  

As we celebrate the birth of the Savior at Christmas, it is a perfect time to commit ourselves again to missio dei, the mission of God.  Jesus came to redeem us, and because of that we have the amazing privilege of being on mission to share that amazing story of redemption with those that God places in our paths.  

This was originally published in December, 2011 in City Life, the newsletter of Anchorage City Church. It has been modified slightly for this blog.