DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

An open letter to my brothers in Christ:

Written by: on April 3, 2019

I can’t tell you what a privilege it is for me to work alongside you for the sake of the Kingdom and the glory of the King. Your passion for the gospel and the sincerity with which you approach the Word of God inspire and bless me. I share your love and reverence for the Holy Scriptures and I appreciate the energy and commitment that you bring to cause of Christ. I’ve often been the only woman in some of your circles, and I am truly grateful to have been included—your trust in my ministry encourages me greatly. So please hear the following words as gentle pleas, not screaming demands. I am not angry; however, I am convinced that how we engage with one another as men and women within the Church is critically important to the mission of God and to our own spiritual growth and development.

The subtitle of the book Sacred Marriage is “What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy?”[1] I wonder if that same question might be asked about how men and women relate to one another in the Church. What if all our arguments and discussions about concepts such as “complementarianism” and “egalitarianism” and roles such as “teacher,” “pastor,” and “elder” are distracting us from the real issue, which is, in fact our own sanctification and the advancement of the Kingdom of God?And is it possible that this issue is hindering the gospel? Like a person who has had a stroke and lost the use of one side of her body, without the full participation of both men and women, the body of Christ suffers a form of self-imposed paralysis.

In an article in MissioNexus, Leanne Dzubinski reveals that the 65% of the Christian mission force is female.[2] Compare that with another study that shows that the boards of Christian organizations are on average 22% female.[3]

Do those numbers seem fair to you?

How can we benefit from the beautiful diversity of and reflect the whole image of God– “male and female, he created them both” (Gen. 1:27)–when one sex dominates the conversation? How can we grow our ministries to reach to whole world if those who do the deciding represent less than half of those who do the work and those they hope to reach? If men and women were the same, it wouldn’t matter if a board were entirely one sex or the other, but because we are complementary it seems essential that that complementarity be reflected in our leadership structures—for both the internal integrity and the external ministry of the mission.

Furthermore, I do not know of a single US missionary sending agency that has a female president. In fact when my own sending agency hired their current president in 2015, women were not invited to apply—the applicant had to be male. As a missionary, I am as educated as most of my colleagues, I have as much experience and success in ministry as most of my colleagues, and I am as well integrated in my country as service as most of my colleagues. Yet, I was not “qualified” for the position because I am a woman.

In addition, as an active missionary within my organization, my ideas and contributions have frequently been dismissed or ignored. I have been called “pushy,” “insubordinate,” and “a puppet-master” when I have attempted to make my thoughts and opinions known on various matters. Most of you know me well enough to know that I am none of those things; however, as a woman I am forced to constantly walk a “tightrope.” Researcher Mary Lederleitner explains a common experience of female leaders: “If she is seen as assertive or aggressive, men might view her as a competent leader, but she might not be liked. Yet if she responds with more stereotypically female behaviors, she might be liked, but at the expense of seeming less competent.”[4]

I wonder, brother, have you ever been called “pushy,” “insubordinate,” or a “puppet-master” for expressing your opinions?

In the book Two Views on Women in Ministry, Craig L Blomberg concludes that “male headship in timeless”[5] even though his also fellow complementarian Thomas R. Schreiner righty observes, “The Bible does not teach that women will have a lesser reward than men, that men will somehow rule over women in heaven, or than women will have a lesser place in heaven. Men and women are equally heirs of the salvation God has promised.”[6]  Blomberg was, of course, using the word “timeless” to refute idea that any restrictions on women in ministry found in the Bible were culturally bound. But I think it is important that we take an eschatological view of this issue. If we, men and women will reign together in eternity, why shouldn’t we start practicing now? If there are no roles that are exclusive to women in heaven, and the Church is to be, as N.T. Wright suggests, a foretaste of a future and coming Kingdom, then it follows that women ought not to be limited within the Church.[7]

I believe that when we serve together we are challenged to be more thoughtful, more strategic, wiser, and better prepared. I believe that we will find our differences make processes go slower but results last longer. And I believe that we will be made holy as we learn what it means to love one another and submit to one another. Dear brothers, I have no desire to usurp your position or chase you out of the church—I simply desire to join you in your efforts to make the Name of Jesus Christ known among nations using the gifts that were given to me by the Spirit of God. And I believe there is room at the table for us all.

[1] Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage: What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More than to Make Us Happy? (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2015).

[2] “Integrating Women into Leadership in Mission Agencies,” accessed April 3, 2019, https://missionexus.org/integrating-women-into-leadership-in-mission-agencies/.

[3] Margot Starbuck, “Study Reveals Missing Influence of Women among Nonprofit Leaders,” WomenLeaders.com | Women Called to Ministry, accessed April 3, 2019, https://www.christianitytoday.com/women-leaders/2014/november/study-reveals-missing-influence-of-women-among-nonprofit-le.html.

[4] Interview by Amy Peterson, “Women in Missions Leadership Walk a Tightrope,” ChristianityToday.com, accessed April 3, 2019, https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/january-february/women-gods-mission-mary-lederleitner.html.

[5] Linda L. Belleville and James R. Beck, eds., Two Views on Women in Ministry, Rev. ed, Counterpoints (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2005). 180.

[6] Belleville and Beck, 276.

[7] N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, 1st ed (New York: HarperOne, 2008).

About the Author

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Jennifer Williamson

Jenn Williamson is a wife and mother of two adult sons. Before moving to France in 2010, she was the women's pastor at Life Center Foursquare Church in Spokane, WA. As a missionary with Greater Europe Mission, she is involved in church planting and mentoring emerging leaders. Jenn benefitted from French mentors during her transition to the field, and recognizes that cross-cultural ministry success depends on being well integrated into the host culture. Academic research into missionary sustainability and cultural adaptation confirmed her own experience and gave her the vision to create Elan, an organization aimed at helping missionaries transition to the field in France through the participation of French partners.

17 responses to “An open letter to my brothers in Christ:”

  1. Animeindo says:

    I believe that when we serve together we are challenged to be more thoughtful, more strategic, wiser, and better prepared.

  2. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Jenn!

    So well written and thoughtful.

    It reminded me of the Beth Moore “Letter to My Brothers” at https://blog.lproof.org/2018/05/a-letter-to-my-brothers.html

    Great servants, effective ministry, fruitful lives–both of you! Thank you so much…

    • Thanks, Jay. As always, I appreciate your kindness and humility. Though I am surprised that you didn’t push back a little more, as I know you don’t agree with me on all points. I’m happy to agree to disagree, but I’m also open to a little “push and pull” as I know I could be wrong in my thinking and I’m want to stay open and teachable.

      • mm Jay Forseth says:

        Jenn! My background is actually not in theological training, but in athletics. Thanks to Title IX and societal influences, athletics are the most diverse and inclusive segment of all society, bar none. But it absolutely amazes me that to this day, the number of men coaches, referees, administrators, owners, etc…far outweighs the percentage of women. I am shocked how many men coach women’s teams, and that it is allowed. I am not at all sure how the church is going to get there, if athletics can’t get there. It makes me wonder if no one has really identified the root of the issue, but I am open to discussion on the “power” issues, as I would also like to discuss “roles”.

        I am reminded that in American hospitals, the people doing most of the work are nurses, but for some reason, doctors get paid more and play a different role…

  3. mm Trisha Welstad says:

    Jenn, I focused on the point of distraction as well and also resonate with the idea of the tightrope women walk to be welcome at the table while being much more prepared and competent to get there. It seems to me that disparity in the missions organizations and boards is in some ways on purpose but perhaps often unthinking…as in a statement or claim or even policy was made at one point but then never reexamined so now they just operate out of that historical data. The sad part is that they do not think about the future or the kingdom when they do that and eliminate for much more fruitfulness, not to mention buy in from those who have much to add to the work being done. What do you think?

    I really love the idea of timelessness you present. Let’s think all the way through the end!

    • Yes, I agree that the disparity is rooted in old ways of doing things, and I also think that if a board has even one woman on it, they congragulate themselves on being “inclusive,” rather than continuing to push for better full-body participation at all levels.

  4. To my sis Jenn, I am your brother in Christ who is wholeheartedly in your corner and wants you at the leadership table with me…but you already knew that. 🙂 Your point about the mission organizations also applies to almost every church in America, most of the work and ministry in the church is being conducted by women, yet they are not represented at the leadership table. This is wrong and unfair and no different than having an all-black church with only white leadership. I also agree that many strong female leaders are dammed if they do and dammed if they don’t when it comes to exercising their strength and confidence (which their male counterparts would be celebrated for)! I feel for you as a female minister trying to fight an uphill battle to be recognized as an equal sharer in God’s image and dominion holder. Godspeed to you sis!

  5. Dave Watermulder says:

    Thank you for this post, Jenn! I really appreciated how you re-framed some of our questions, away from the logistics, or postions or arguments and toward a sense of what will bring us closer to God’s will and way (holiness). You also raised important justice issues within the mission-sending world, that just don’t pass the smell test in terms of what is fair, much less what reflects the richness of God’s kingdom. I’m sorry that men in ministry sometimes suck (myself included!). I acknowledge that I often have un-resolved gender bias inside of me, and I’ll keep working not to let that impact the opportunities that I seek to share with my female colleagues. Peace!

    • We all suck sometimes, Dave–not just men! And I have the same issue with race-bias, which calls me to continual formation and attention, which is why I think we need to embrace these challenges as opportunities for sanctification. Thanks for your perspective!

  6. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Jennifer,

    I am so, so sorry. I can’t imagine anyone ever suggesting that you were ‘pushy’ or ‘insubordinate’. In fact, even reading those words in your blog agitates me to an unholy point. I do not understand why anyone would willfully choose to weaken the effectiveness of the Gospel of Jesus by eliminating the wisdom and insight of more than 50% of the body. It is all about power and control and as far as I can tell is not based on any Biblical principle despite the belief by many of the complementarian proponents that they are simply applying scripture to the situation. Ugh! I hope one day you will be the president of a mission agency or a university or any other faith organization to which you feel called. Just give me a job too. I’ll support you wholeheartedly and would be more than happy to be your subordinate in ministry.

  7. mm Jean Ollis says:

    Jenn,
    Excellent words this week! I can relate – not in a pastoring ministry context, but through working at a Christian organization where my leadership can be interpreted as “edgy” because I’m assertive – whereas a man is deemed a “strong leader”. I love your “soft approach” of staying focused on the amazing work which could be done by women and men co-leading in ministry. You do amazing work and I pray for the day when your mission organization and all Christian organizations, recognize and acknowledge that “women are the heavy lifters” (quote borrowed from Ron :))

  8. Salut mon amie,

    I really loved that you highlighted that this conversation is taking us away from truly being the church and a witness in our world.

    I think that one of the reasons the mission force is 65% female is because women have fewer roadblocks to exercising their leadership than they do in their home churches. I remember growing up in my Baptist church which sent out two single women to Papua New Guinea. They invested their lives into a tribe there (over 40 years), leading to the conversion of the tribe to Christ. They also translated the Bible into the tribal language. Yet when they came back home, they had to stand BESIDE the pulpit (not behind it) and SHARE THEIR TESTIMONY (not preach). Tragic!!!!!

  9. mm Jason Turbeville says:

    Jenn,
    This is an extremely well thought out and well argued post. I could not agree more that men and women both complement each other as well as are on equal footing before the Lord. I really appreciate you shining a light on how women are seen as pushy for being a strong leader, my wife who works in a traditionally male dominated profession of managing building projects has been called far worse for having a strong personality and it make me very frustrated for her. Thanks for your post.

    Jason

  10. Chris Pritchett says:

    Thank you for your boldness and for the helpful statistics. I am with you 100%. I wonder if you agree that the attachment to power is the root problem.

  11. Shawn Hart says:

    Jenn, if I may divert just a little as a result of your post. I know that the topic at hand is role of women; however, part of what I believe you have expressed here is people that are just threatened by powerful leaders. I have been in ministry a long time, and I can honestly say that there is not a ministry job around that is not filled with criticism and condescending remarks from others. Regardless of how much I endeavor to “walk as I talk,” Christians are just mean…well, people are just mean. I believe that is part of what has made this discussion as ugly as it is today; Love has left the building. We need to continue to work at bringing it back.

  12. Greg says:

    Thank you Jenn for your service and your passion. I know that we can be labeled radical troublemakers when we rock the boat. I have seen your heart over these last couple of years and know that you seek God’s will in your service. I also know it is easy to be weary of the upward climb. I appreciate your passion of the Lord and your drive to follow inspite of the obstacles that are put in front of us.

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