Where are the mothers in the family of God?

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Last week I had lunch with my friend and minister, Deborah.

Deborah is on the ministerial staff at The Cathedral Church of the Advent in downtown Birmingham, where my husband and I are members. Deborah has the gift of teaching and preaching. She is not only one of my favorite women Bible teachers but on of my top 10 favorite Bible teachers. She has a heart for the Lord and the gospel, is smart, and learned in the study of theology and exegesis. I'm so grateful to have her on staff at my church.

Deborah said something during our lunch that I've heard her say before, but today it struck me a little differently.

Following my most recent post last week about "Lost Women" she said something to the effect of "I want to move past these debates and get to the work of the Church, serving as a co-laborer next to my brothers and sisters." Then she said, "I believe we need in the Church, just like in our families, fathers and mothers."

Last year this summer we waited and watched as the Supreme Court made its ruling on marriage. Marriage--and all the benefits of marriage including having a family--was equally granted to homosexual couples as it has been for heterosexual couples. Christians mourned the loss of children not having both a father and mother in the home. Even though there are situations where children might be raised in a single family home, the ideal, nonetheless, is for every child to have a father and mother.

Whether it is the deep voice of my husband in times of discipline, his strength when I want to be too easy or tender, or the way he relates to our son differently than me, our son needs both his father and mother. We each have something that the other doesn't have, and together he sees the full image of God.

As I drove back to work from lunch, I thought about what Deborah said and I thought about most churches I know. In the family of God, we have lots of fathers. But where are the mothers? In egalitarian churches, this of course won't be the case (at least probably not). In fact the opposite might be true: Where are the fathers?

When we lived in England two years ago, we attended a church where the vicar was a male but the other two staff members were female. When lay leaders/deacons were involved with communion, prayer, etc, the majority of these were women. On some Sundays the absence of fathers was strong.

But in the States, and especially in complementarian churches, the absence of women in leadership is abysmal. Where are the mothers in the family of God?

Who are the fathers or mothers in a church? They are those called by God, set apart by him, for vocational gospel ministry to administer the Word of God for the people of God. These are the people called to shepherd and care for the souls. These are the ones who are called to feed the flock, take care of their physical and spiritual needs, and remind them of the Good News of Jesus. These in leadership--at least with men--are expected to have some kind of training because of the type of call that involves an authoritative teaching of the Word of God.

But even in complementarian churches where it is believed women can only have authority in preaching and teaching to other women there is room and ever need for mothers. We need men and women called by God and trained for this work helping with Sunday services. We need these called men and women available for prayer during an invitation. We need both fathers and mothers as co-laborers working together to raise up the children of God for the work of God. We need fathers and mothers co-laboring side by side to teach and preach the Word to the flock. If our families need both a father and a mother then why doesn't God's family need both too?

At the Advent the preaching is shared by all ministerial staff members even though our lead pastor--called "dean" because our church is a cathedral--carries most of the preaching responsibility. My husband has remarked on several occasions after Deborah has preached that she was able to speak to him in a way that Andrew or Matt cannot. He says, "In the same way a mother can provide for a son in a way that a father cannot, there are some things that a female preacher can provide that a male preacher cannot." He is not saying that her exegesis does not matter; rather, God uses the whole package--including gender--to minister.

God uses the complementarity of the sexes to minister to each of us--male and female. If God saw fit to give both a father and mother to children, then why should the family of God be void of mothers?

Recommended: A Peace Plan for the Gender War

By Timothy George November 17, 2005

There's a story about a Texas rancher who threw a big party and filled his swimming pool with man-eating sharks. When the guests had all gathered, he announced that he would give anyone who swam the length of his pool the choice of $50 million or the deed to his ranch. Before he could finish speaking, he saw someone swimming furiously across the pool. When the swimmer arrived on the other side, the rancher said, "I'm astounded. I didn't think anyone would try that, much less do it. But I am true to my word. Now tell me, what do you want: $50 million or the deed to my ranch?"

"What do you mean?" the swimmer exclaimed. "I want the guy who pushed me into the pool!"

I won't accuse anyone of pushing me into this pool, but I confess that I would not be writing on this topic if I hadn't recently been invited—even prodded—to give a plenary address on it. I am not a card-carrying member of either party in the evangelical gender wars. I have no special expertise in this issue; I have read widely but not deeply in the enormous literature it has generated. I have no new interpretation of 1 Timothy 2 or headship or submission to offer. I am merely a participant-observer in the evangelical family who recognizes that in the polarization over gender, something crucial is at stake.

That polarization is found even in our seminaries. Evangelical theological schools tend to fall into one of three camps. Some are unequivocally egalitarian and would not likely hire a faculty member who did not share this commitment. Fuller, North Park, Palmer Theological Seminary (formerly Eastern), Ashland, and the Church of God School of Theology are among the schools that hold this view. Other theological institutions take the opposite view. Westminster, Dallas, Covenant, and, more recently, the six seminaries of the Southern Baptist Convention fall into this group. Beeson, my school, belongs to another group of theological institutions, including Trinity, Gordon-Conwell, Denver, and Regent College (Vancouver), which do not make this matter a test of fellowship but welcome faculty and students who hold differing convictions. Read the rest at Christianity Today.

3 Things Girls Called to Vocational Ministry Want to Hear From Their Churches & Pastors

651_513465574533_1666_n When I felt the call to full-time ministry at the age of 15, I remember asking myself the question, "What now?" I had felt that tug on my heart years before; I had a sincere passion for God's Word and discipleship. I couldn't think of anything else I wanted to do but to serve Him. But I hesitated from surrendering to the call for several years prior to the age of 15. Why? Because I thought the only two full-time ministry options for a female were being a pastor's wife or a missionary.

When I finally did surrender it wasn't because I had heard there were more options for me than these two vocations, but because I couldn't deny the call any longer; to continue to do so was disobedience to God on my part. So I committed to ministry believing that God had a plan for my life but not knowing what it was. All I knew was I did NOT feel called to be a pastor's wife or missionary.

If it weren't for my parents' guidance, I don't know if I would have followed through in obeying this calling. Published materials about vocational calling for women were nonexistent (and still are to a big degree!) to help me, nor were there any female full-time ministers to mentor me. The church, though not unsupportive, did not play a major role in getting me prepared for vocational ministry. In fact the same 6 year old girl who had literally cried "I wish I had been born a boy so I can be a preacher," was still crying out, this time on the inside, "Why hadn't I been born a boy so I had many options of full-time ministry?"

Since then I have had countless conversations with other young women who share similar stories with mine. My husband and I just returned from a trip to my alma mater, Ouachita Baptist University, where I spoke to a group of girls who feel called to the ministry. Listening to them describe the process of discerning their calling and how to follow that call brought to mind someone walking in a pitch black room with her arm out trying to find the light switch.

Even if a church holds to complementarian beliefs (that is, women must be subject to men and not teach or hold authority over man), I still believe it needs women who are theologically trained to serve on staff. And larger than the local church, the Christian community, the global Church and the World (i.e. secular/unbelieving) need women who are theologically trained, who know how to interpret and explain the Bible in a faithful, orthodox way.

It is my opinion that churches have an important role to play in encouraging and supporting its girls who feel called to vocational ministry. The goal is that by the time they are in college or beyond they don't feel alone, confused or abandoned.

So to all you pastors, church staffs, and church members, here are 3 things I suggest you tell your girls who feel called to full-time ministry.

1. "We affirm God's work in you." Every person longs for affirmation. So it is no different that both male and females who feel called to vocational ministry long to be affirmed by their church body. So often churches don't or won't recognize young girls who feel called to the ministry in front of the church. Or, churches will recognize a young girl's call on a Sunday morning during the invitation but then she will never hear anything else from her youth pastor, pastor or any other church leader. As the body of Christ we are called to recognize and acknowledge what God has already done and is doing in these individuals as well as affirm the work of the Holy Spirit. I think some churches are afraid that if they affirm a young woman's ministerial call they are affirming an egalitarian view of women in ministry or they are giving her permission to become a pastor. Here's some news: Most young girls have no desire of becoming a pastor of a church. Especially if your church is complementarian, then most likely she will think the same way you do. So putting those fears aside, what a girl who feels called wants to hear from her church is: We affirm the work that God is doing in your life; we affirm the calling He has placed on you; and we SUPPORT you as you follow this calling on your life. Pastors, youth ministers, deacons, and lay leaders, consider writing personal notes, e-mails, making visits or phone calls to communicate your affirmation. REJOICE over this young girl who is willing to commit her entire life to ministry and to sacrifice worldly things and desires in order to do His will. Perhaps throw a celebration once a year for all the young people (both male and female) who have surrendered to full-time ministry. Acknowledge these girls in front of others, as much as your young males, and continue to check-in on them every so often. Make sure they have people purposely walking with them down this new journey, mentoring and encouraging them along the way! Sometimes we think that following God's call won't start until college, so we let them be during middle and high school. This is an incorrect assumption. These are formative years that will provide a foundation so that when they go to college and are perhaps tempted to abandon God's call and substitute it with something that will make them more money or that is more appealing to mom and dad they will hopefully not waver. Be intentional in AFFIRMING your young girls who feel called to ministry; it will make a world of difference.

2. "We want to give you more opportunities to serve and to use your spiritual gifts." One of the best things a church can do for its young people who feel called to ministry is to give them more opportunities to serve in the church. Since these people will be church leaders one day, the best thing you can do for them (and the best way you can affirm them!) is to plug them into more leadership-type roles. This includes your females! Find out what are their passions and spiritual gifts and use them accordingly. Do you have a girl who is gifted musically and has a heart for music-worship? Allow her to be part of the worship leadership team that makes decisions on what songs will be sung or the order of service. Give her more opportunities to be part of the worship team on Sunday mornings. Have a girl who feels gifted in teaching? Ask her to teach a Sunday School class of those younger than her. Or, encourage older women's Sunday School classes to allow her to substitute teach when its teacher is absent. (I remember having this opportunity when I was young teaching a senior adults lady class. They were very encouraging to me.) Assuming she's in the youth group, involve her on the youth leadership team that makes decisions about discipleship, events, etc. Do you have a girl who has a heart for missions and feels called to be a full-time missionary? Encourage her to be involved with local as well as foreign missions. Suggest that she help plan and lead a mission trip, especially by the time she is a senior in high school. Encourage her to find a summer internship working under the supervision of missionaries. You get my point? Even if your church cannot pay for internships, give these young people, and especially your young girls, non-paid ministerial internships as a way of preparing them for future work. And by the way, here's one thing NOT to tell your girls: Do NOT assume what the girls in your church are called to do. We have a tendency to immediately want to place our females in children's or women's ministry. We assume that is where God would have them. We are NOT the Holy Spirit nor do we want to misdirect them based solely on their gender. I remember when my call was made public to the church, people came and asked me if I wanted to do children's or women's ministry. I said, "Neither. All I know is I have a desire and gift to teach and speak." Then they would respond, "So you want to be the next Beth Moore!" Instead of helping me, their limited understanding of what vocational ministry opportunities there are for women left me feeling frustrated and unsure. My desire was not to become "the new Beth Moore" as if she were my idol, but rather to give my life to a gospel-centered ministry even if I didn't know how that would look.

3. "We want and support you to receive theological education." When fellow male peers make known their call to ministry, people immediately talk to them about seminary. Churches and associations give scholarships to their young male members to receive theological education; it is expected of them. But, when it comes to females, the expectation is not the same. Why is that? (Stay tuned for a follow-up blog post about this very question!) In my mind, it doesn't matter if women are leading children's ministries, youth ministries or women's ministries, writing Bible studies or Sunday School material, speaking, blogging, serving as missionaries, or teaching Bible classes at a private Christian school, she NEEDS theological education. The spiritual maturity of our church members, our bodies of Christ, will depend much in part by the kind of teaching they are receiving as children, women, families, young people, etc. What they hear taught and read about Scripture will give them the framework from which they do their own exegesis. You want strong children's ministries and children who have a firm grasp on the gospel? Train up your women. You want women who are strong pillars in your church and who are not spreading false gospel? Send your future women's ministers to the best seminaries. Want solid, theologically sound Bible studies for women, youth and children? Then encourage your girls to take Greek and Hebrew and biblical theology at a sound seminary. Just because you might believe that women cannot be pastors of a church does not mean that they cannot receive a theological education. Your churches will be better and stronger if both your boys and girls are trained theologically. And your girls want to hear from you, pastors and church leaders, that you support them and encourage them, just like your boys, to get a theological education.

So affirm and train up your young girls for full-time ministry. Recognize that God is at work in females too and that they have a place in this vocational ministerial world. Join in what God is doing. I do not believe a girl is better or worse than a boy because of her gender. I believe that because God's image is both male and female, females are important to God in displaying His image. I also believe that the Bible shows that God has used women in salvation history to bring about His purposes. He has raised up women to be leaders among His people from the Old Testament to the New. Why, then, not continue to affirm that God uses women today for His Kingdom work?

Girls and women who have had surrendered to a vocational call: What else would you add? Would you disagree with anything I've said? Do you agree that young girls in churches who feel a call to full-time ministry want to hear these 3 things from their churches and church leaders? I'd love to hear what you think!

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Review of Rachel Held Evans' A Year of Biblical Womanhood

womanhood-book3 Introduction:

It’s been more than a year since Rachel Held Evans’ A Year of Biblical Womanhood book came out. So why review this book now?

First, Evans keeps growing in popularity thanks to this book, which is a New York Time’s Best Seller. Since publishing A Year of Biblical Womanhood, her platform to write and speak on subjects such as Scripture, women in ministry, faith, etc., have grown to reach a much wider audience. Through the means of this book and her blog, Evans is becoming a formative voice for young evangelical Christians. Secondly, The only negative reviews and criticisms on this book that I have found have come from those in the camp which Evans criticizes in much of her book. I hope my contribution comes from the fact that I am neither strictly complementarian nor egalitarian (although I come closer to the latter than the former); therefore, my response will hopefully be more nuanced.

Synopsis:

Evans is a self-proclaimed “liberated woman,” having emerged from the fundamentalist, evangelical tradition of which she grew up in. After becoming frustrated with the views held by those in The Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood and others on the far right (as she sees it!), Evans decides to challenge the hermeneutic and thereby the adjective “biblical” they utilize for an interpretation regarding women. To achieve this she set aside one year to follow all the commands in Scripture for women—literally. Her book reads like a satire, showing through narrative and sarcasm how it is impossible and foolish to apply all the commands of the Bible literally and universally.

Another purpose for writing this book was to liberate women from the fears of getting Scripture wrong, Evans said during an interview on The Today Show. One way she accomplishes this goal in her book is by using comedy relief, a transparent writing style, and being open to discuss typical “forbidden” issues such as sex, fears of becoming a mother, etc. She also engages with her readers by using diary entries, photos and many personal stories throughout the book.

This book is divided by months, and each month of the year is given a chapter. She begins each month with a to-do list, concludes with a “read more” section that directs readers to her blog and a feature of a woman in the Bible. Instead of following all the biblical commands for women collectively for the year, with the exception of not cutting her hair, she divided the commands into months. She either kept the commands for an entire month or for a shorter length of time within the month. So, for example, she only practiced being modest for the month of March, and she only followed the “command” to praise her husband at the city gate (Prov. 31:28) on one particular day in the month of January.

Response:

First, in way of a positive review, I share in Evans’ grievance with those on the far right who fit Scripture’s picture of a woman into an image of a 1950s June Cleaver. She is right in highlighting the inconsistencies in the application of what women can and cannot do in Scripture by those in The Council of Biblical Manhood & Womanhood and the like. For example, some on the far right will make 1 Timothy 2:12-14 the guideline for women in ministry while not grapping sufficiently with passages of women prophesying, teaching, serving as deaconesses, etc. (see 1 Cor. 11:5, Judges 4:4 or Luke 2:36). I also agree with Evans that some women have gone too far in their application of Scripture. Evans summarizes one woman’s belief saying, “Ambitions that might lead a woman to work outside the home … constitute the kind of ‘evil desires’ that lead directly to sin.” She quotes another saying, “A young mother’s place is in the home, keeping it, guarding it, watching over those entrusted to her. To do otherwise will surely cause the Word of God to be blasphemed. Even if you could disobey God and it not produce visible ill consequences, it would only prove that God is long-suffering … but the judgment will assuredly come.” (pgs 23-24) These women whom Evans quotes, I believe, have it wrong.

While I sympathize with some of Evans’ criticisms, I had a number of concerns with this book.

First, Evans employs a classic liberal approach to Scripture. She calls this approach a hermeneutic of love, echoing perhaps back to St. Augustine’s hermeneutic of love for the neighbor. But the question is whose definition of love does Evans use? The one she seems to employ is not the one defined by God; rather it sounds more like something from Rob Bell’s Love Wins book. For example, she writes, "I ... am no longer convinced that everyone different from me goes to hell.” What does she do then with John 14:6? Perhaps she is just being provocative here, which she tends to do a lot in this book, and in saying “different” she is referring to believer’s baptism versus infant baptism or Calvinism versus Arminianism. However, since she does not explain her meaning she is being unhelpful and setting up a broad understanding of love that is not consistent with Scripture.

Another common factor of classic liberalism is the tendency to interpret and apply Scripture with you, the interpreter, at the center. It is a humanistic approach. In conjunction with this is a tendency to replace a relationship with Jesus with a mystical spirituality, where the person’s spiritual journey is the most important aspect and Jesus is reduced from an incarnate, crucified, resurrected God-human to a “divine,” “a spirit,” “a presence.” Sometimes I felt as if I were reading Schleiermacher! Consider these examples. Evans writes, “And sure enough, I found myself connecting to that same presence that I encountered during contemplative prayer, the presence that reminded me that the roots of my spirit extended deep into the ground. I got less done when I worked with mindfulness, but somehow, I felt more in control” (page 29). And, “Instead, meditation filled me with a sense of security, strength, and unyielding resolve. As I prayed, it felt as though my feet were extending through the ground, growing into long, winding roots, while my torso stretched like a trunk, my arms and fingers extending like branches. With every prayer and every silence the image of a great tree returned to me again and again until I found myself sitting up straighter, breathing in deeper, and looking up. I don’t know for sure, but I think maybe God was trying to tell me that gentleness begins with strength, quietness with security. … Mastering a gentle and quiet spirit didn’t mean changing my personality, just regaining control of it, growing strong enough to hold back and secure enough to soften” (p. 16)

Count how many times the pronouns, “I,” “me” and “my” were used. Jesus is nowhere to be found; the interpreter takes center stage. This is also an example of spiritual mysticism. Scripture has no concept nor teaching about prayer the way Evans described it. And if so, Evans does not give a Scriptural model for it. Also, if context determines meaning, the God she mentions is not necessarily the God of Scripture.

There are many other examples I could cite, but I want to narrow in on one other significant example. During the month of January as Evans sought to follow the guidelines of Proverbs 31, she was told by one Jewish woman (who was not a student of Scripture but was simply Jewish) that Proverbs 31 is sung by her husband to praise her in everyday tasks. Proverbs 31 can be reduced to “eschet chayil” or valorous woman. Evans runs with this and then determines that Proverbs 31 should be condensed to a blessing we should give every woman – “a woman of valor.” Valor then is determined not by who we know (God) or what He does through us or what it has to say about wisdom but rather about what we as women do. “The woman described in Proverbs 31 is not some ideal that exists out there; she is present in each one of us when we do even the smallest things with valor” (p. 90). She will continue with this idea throughout the rest of her book. When she gets to the chapter on justice and recalls her trip to Bolivia with World Vision, she spends pages 238-246 admonishing “women of valor” by what they had accomplished despite their poverty and with the help of World Vision. Jesus isn’t mentioned as having a part in this. Only at the very end of the chapter does she credit Jesus for His ministry to the poor.

Summary:

I think Evans’ lack of theological training and maturity is evident and problematic to her wanting to be taken serious in evangelical Christian circles. Instead of her offering work that is helpful to further along the discussion of women in Christian ministry, she widens the gap and confirms conservative complementarian belief that a woman’s place is in the home and not in biblical teaching. And irony above all ironies, I think that she is one woman who would do better to remain silent at this time.