DMINLGP

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

In My View…

Written by: on April 4, 2019

“Most Christians do not realize how much our backgrounds and traditions affect the ways we read the Bible. Having held both egalitarian and complimentarian (or hierarchicalist) views on women’s ministry with sincerity at different times in my life, in both cases dependent on my desire to be faithful to God’s Word, I recognize the sincere reasons for which many believers stand on either side of the issue.”[1]

So begins one of the series of essays in Two Views on Women in Ministry, a book that seeks to put into conversation, those who hold divergent views on the question of women serving in leadership positions (especially as Pastors or “overseers”) within the church.

For a book that is overflowing with exegesis, textual analysis and argumentation, this is a helpful place to dive in.  For most people coming to this discussion, our views are largely shaped by our own backgrounds, traditions, and experiences when it comes to women in leadership in the church.

For myself, there have always been women serving as pastors in the churches that I have been a part of. They have preached, counseled, loved, and led the people in these churches and have played important roles in my life and development as well.  Reading this book caused me to reflect on some of those women in pastoral ministry, and to remember them by name.  The list includes:

Rev. Nan Swanson

Rev. Nancy Lammers Gross

Rev. Linda Galligan

Rev. MaryEllen Azada

Rev. Beth Frykberg

Rev. Rachel Hamburger

Rev. Chris Foster

Rev. Jinny Smanik

Rev. Julie Kim

Rev. Erica Rader

I come to this book and topic as a person with a perspective, a deep and abiding belief in the way that God calls women and men into ministry in ways that span the spectrum of leadership and service.  My own experience has largely shaped my thinking.  No one ever taught me to include women in ministry or to accept women as my pastors, they were simply always there.

I suspect the flip side of this coin will be true for others.  For those in traditions that do not fully affirm women in ministry, the truth is, that since women were never in those roles, that became the norm and may still the accepted practice.  Change is hard in many areas of church life, especially when something has “always” been done a certain way.

Our book for this week is not designed necessarily to persuade or change minds, so much as to offer the full, biblical exegesis and theological analysis that stands behind each of these two positions.  In reading it, I found that my mind was not being changed so much as being even more made up.  Some of the most helpful essays to me, were those that gave me more insight and material to support the view that I already hold.

Maybe that’s something I shouldn’t admit, but it’s true.  One of the terms that essayist Linda Belleville uses in the book is “adiaphora—matters about which believers agree to disagree because Scripture is not clear.”[2]  This is one of those questions that may ultimately fall into the category of adiaphora.  As a result, I don’t want to dive into every detail or argument that is put forth in this book.  To debate the exegetical detail and minutia may not be helpful in this case.

In reading more around this topic, I came across the story of a number of prominent women in ministry roles, especially within the African American community and the Pentecostal movement.  One way to break out of the easy binary thinking on this subject is to broaden the scope of my own thinking, to include the African-American experience and the global church as well.

Alexis D. Abernethy of Fuller Seminary writes, “While African American women represent an estimated 66–88 percent majority (Barnes, 2006) in African American churches, men still tend to hold most of the leadership roles. The greatest disparity in women’s leadership is in the pastoral role, specifically the senior pastor. Despite these challenges, women are being ordained and appointed as pastors and bishops at increasing rates. The appointment of Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie in 2000 as the first woman bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church was an important step toward gender inclusivity.”[3]

It is helpful to see that the question of women in leadership is not contained to the predominantly “Anglo-American” church world, but that it is being addressed in the African American community as well.  Looking back into history, we see that this is a long-term trend.  One of the women pastors from a previous era was Lucy Farrow, who was born as a slave in Virginia and was the niece of Frederick Douglass.  She was a pastor of a Holiness church in Houston, Texas, before being invited to come to Los Angeles in 1906.  “Her arrival sparked what came to be known as the Azusa Street Revival.  Her touch filled people with the Holy Spirit, and her ministry demonstrated healings and the power of prayer.  From Azusa Street, her ministry spread throughout the Southern United States and to Liberia and West Africa.”[4]

In the end, questions about women in ministry will not be decided in our lifetimes, or probably until the kingdom comes.  Part of the reason is the adiaphoric nature of these questions, where sincere Bible-believing Christians can disagree in how to read and interpret the text.

When I look at the movement of God’s Spirit through history, it has an ever-expanding, all-encompassing, liberating thrust.  From those Pastors in my life who have been women, I saw daily and weekly, the way that their gifts would feed and lead me and our churches.  This is my context and experience, and I thank God for the gift of swimming in these waters.  My prayer is for God’s Spirit to continue to move and guide others who are on a journey with this topic.

[1]Linda L. Belleville and James R. Beck, Two Views On Women in Ministry, rev. ed., Counterpoints (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2005), 205.

[2]Linda L. Belleville and James R. Beck, Two Views On Women in Ministry, rev. ed., Counterpoints (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2005), 197.

[3]Alexis D. Abernethy, “Women’s Leadership in the African American Church,” Fuller Studio, accessed April 4, 2019, https://fullerstudio.fuller.edu/womens-leadership-in-the-african-american-church/.

[4]Ruth Perry, “10 Awesome Women Pastors from History,” CBE International, March 8, 2018, https://www.cbeinternational.org/blogs/10-awesome-women-pastors-history.

About the Author

Dave Watermulder

12 responses to “In My View…”

  1. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Dave,

    Thank you so much for introducing me to the word “adiaphora” as I did not remember ever hearing of that before. Very helpful!

    In my Wellshire Presbyterian Church growing up in Denver , I also had many female pastors, and I lived way back in the 60’s (grin). As a child I loved my pastors, but even at a young age could sense if a male or female pastor was “agenda” driven, and that turned me away, to be honest. Having a male or female pastor that was out to prove they could do it better than the other gender, seemed to me to be short of a good calling by God. But so did divorced pastors turn me off, not because they were bad people, but because two pastors in our church got divorced and suddenly married each other (but that is a different topic).

    Thanks for your perspective in this article!

    • Dave Watermulder says:

      Wow! Thanks for reminding me again of your Presbyterian origins, Jay :). Yea, I agree with you that pastors of any stripe can really have “it”, or can come across as having an agenda or trying to prove themselves too much. It’s true for some women pastors, and certainly true for many of us men pastors as well. Thanks, man!

  2. mm Trisha Welstad says:

    Dave, I appreciate you bringing in the audiaphora aspect of this topic. I had that in mind as I wrote my piece as well. I am also glad for the women who have influenced you and made it normative rather than an anomaly to have gendered leadership in the church. I don’t know that any of us will be able to fully get outside our experience on this topic but perhaps we can all expand our range of experience toward having more charitable perspectives of one another. That will definitely continue to be a growth area for me.

    Question for you- have Presbyterians had women in leadership since the beginning? If not, what made for the change? Is the ratio of women to men in leadership near 50/50?

    • Dave Watermulder says:

      Thanks, Trisha,
      So, the first woman ordained in the Presbyterian Church as a “teaching elder” (Pastor) was in 1956. Ordaining women spread slowly, but surely. Today, over 50% of our seminarians are women and I believe a similar number of women are pastors. But, the big dividing line to me is those who are Senior Pastors, or in lead roles, especially in strong, multi-staff churches. This is much more rare, I would say. Not because of any law or polity, just human nature, probably. As with anywhere, I think women in ministry have to consistently work harder, be smarter, and just be better than their male-counterparts, just to be considered on the same plane. Our polity requires us to include both women and men at all levels of leadership (Deacons, Elders and Pastors).

  3. mm Mike says:

    Dave,
    Your perspective, kind of growing up in a gender free leadership tradition in your church became your norm. Thanks for sharing that. Also, thanks, for sharing the term adiaphora (agree to disagree), that is helpful. The argument from this week’s book is generally more Western biased and does not account for the social or theological views or social progression timelines of many other countries. After living and serving in African countries I believe the debate in the West reviewing women leading men in ministry is still a few years away for many other countries.
    Good post!
    Stand firm,
    Mike

  4. Hello Dave,

    Thanks for your post, and thank you for naming the women pastors who have influenced your life. That was a beautiful list to see.

    I am in complete agreement that one’s own background and experience will shape how we view this and other controversial topics. It’s interesting, isn’t it, that one’s personal experience is a part of the hermeneutical process. We tend to think of ourselves as being logical and beyond all that, but when it comes down to it, our personal exposure really shapes how we view life.

    • Dave Watermulder says:

      Thanks, Mark! Yea, this reminds me of the fundamental attribution error. Of giving ourselves a break and believing the best about our intentions, while attributing to others flaws in character or negative intentions. See you in a bit!

  5. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Dave,

    I am not sure why issues of ‘adiaphora’ often tend to favor those in power. For me that is an indication that it is less about ‘adiaphora’ and more about interpreting things in a manner in which one feels most comfortable and has to relinquish less control. I know I am speaking from a ‘progressive’ position and am therefore comfortable with this issue but it is what I perceive. Does it seem that way to you or am I being closed minded myself?

  6. Shawn Hart says:

    Dave…you used the word ‘Minutia.” Have you been watching Guardians of the Galaxy again? It’s okay; that word became part of my vocabulary after that movie. LOL

    You make an important plea to find our motivation for the fight we are in; is it biblical, historical, gender inspired, or traditional. Do we fight different when we take the issue personal? I believe we do. One of the comments that has been made multiple times through the post revealed that many…possibly none of us actually changed our views after this reading. However, I hope we all see the pitfalls of poor christianity if we are not careful as we address the topic.

  7. Greg says:

    adiaphora- I don’t know if I have run across that word either. Great word. Thanks for sharing your story and the women on faith that influenced your and your walk. growing up in a church founded from the holiness movement of the early 20th century I love hearing stories how God used the faithfulness of men and women. thanks brother

  8. mm Kyle Chalko says:

    Dave I relate to you a lot in this regard. The women in ministry have simply always been around. On top of that Ive mostly been in Calfironia a liberal state and in the USA a country readically affected by feminism. How do I know how I am being affected. Would I have been egalitarian 150 years ago?

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