Last week, I had a three-way phone conversation with friends of mine, a married couple, who live in another state. Last year, the husband became the senior pastor of their local church, where he had previously served as a board elder. My friends described a recent issue being discussed among the current board elders, which is comprised of all men. It has been suggested that a multi-gifted person in the church, who has been in fruitful ministry over many years, be invited to serve on the elder board. This person is a woman. The reaction ranges from full agreement to adamant refusal.
In this conversation, both of my friends (the pastor and his wife) are very supportive of this woman joining the elder board. Not only has she faithfully served in the church but also has ministered at other churches and in the community with obvious giftedness and anointing, which has earned her great respect. However, one elder, in particular, is having a problem with the thought of a woman having authority over a man. Of course, you can imagine the Scriptures that he has identified to preclude any such eventuality, among them 1 Timothy 2:12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.
This issue of women serving in church leadership remains a contemporary “hot button” and raises the question of how spiritually gifted women might fulfill their God-given calling within the local church and beyond. These scriptures mentioned above remain the arsenal for the prohibition of women fully expressing their giftedness in serving the body of Christ. Further, traditional views/practices and cultural assumptions related to the preclusion of women serving in leadership roles in the church reinforce these textual interpretations.
In his excellent piece, “Gender and Leadership: My Personal Pilgrimage,” Dr. J. Robert Clinton traced his paradigm shift in deconstructing his assumptions and biases on this issue. Clinton did three things: (1) carefully examined the biblical text, (2) read books/materials that offered biblically/theologically sound interpretations of the problematical passages excluding women from church leadership, and (3) observed the gifted women in his Fuller Seminary classes and in Christian history. He concluded, “Now after the shift I see that women or men can exercise leadership in any role if gifted and called by God. I see the problem of having women in leadership positions in churches or parachurches is cultural or organizational (a matter of change dynamics) not theological” (p. iii). I appreciate Clinton’s openness to evaluate his assumptions and the dozens of women he has affirmed throughout his leadership career.
-What has been your journey regarding this issue of gender and leadership?
-How would you advise my friends (the pastor and his wife), who are hoping to provide a safe place to discuss this issue with their Board elders but also who do not want the process of adding a woman elder to be hijacked by one vocal opponent?