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

WOMEN IN MINISTRY WITH THE FMC

Written by: on March 17, 2020

One of the five freedoms of the Free Methodist Church denomination is to ordain women into ministry. Historically it has been a value of the FMC theology statement and rooted in the teachings of John Wesley and later carried on to the FMC by its funder B.T Roberts. Since its birth, women, called into ministry by the Holy Spirit, have served in the Free Methodist Church. As early as 1861, when the church was just one year old, the minutes of the Genesee Convention report the discussion of women preaching. Bishop B.T. Roberts believed strongly in the equality of men and women.[1]

He argued that women should be working side by side with men in building the kingdom of God. His vision was to lead the denomination toward the ordination of women.[2] In spite of the long-rooted history of this practice, there is still a strong pouch toward the core value of the denomination by some members of the clergy. There is also a new diversity in the membership that comes from many cultural backgrounds such as patriarchy and machismo. That alone added more weight to the long tradition that we are now trying to redefine in practice.

Ministry Context

As a denomination leader I was invited to be part of a task force composed of men, women, lay, and clergy that would help Free Methodist women engage more in the ministry opportunities, to speak into leadership conversations, and to change the culture that women face on the opposition from local congregations who have not resolved objections to women ministers. Many steps have been taken to resolve this problem, which is, to a significant degree, one of lack of education, exposure, and experience.

            In an independent study of the Free Methodist USA, one of our ministers, Beth Armstrong, found that only 5 percent of females are in higher levels of leadership. Many of the women choose to work part-time because childcare is needed in the home, and also because the pay of their husbands is insufficient. Women are more likely to be willing to take no pay to do ministry work than men because they feel called to do ministry. The bottom line in Armstrong’s findings is that there is not a lack of desire for leadership, but a lack of opportunity for women in leadership in our denomination. Of the 5 percent in the highest level of leadership, all of them had benevolent male advocates. The males’ voices matter. The men were very supportive of them getting to that level of leadership, but when they did get the position, the men typically felt threatened and removed their advocacy.[3]

            In 1974, our general conference passed a resolution “giving women equal status with men in the ministry of the church.”[4] You would expect that this time a resolution of this kind would resolve the issue in the minds of everyone, however, forty-two years later the denomination’s position has not changed. On the other hand, outside the denomination, the opposing women in ministry and limiting the leadership roles of women in the local church have become more authoritarian.

A growing concern in our denomination is over women having full access to ordination in the church, but it is also fair to state that few women are in high levels of leadership positions. In a male-dominated ministry culture, women in leadership are increasing rapidly. However, among Free Methodist pastors, it is not growing as would be expected.

Ministry Implications

I would like to address the following questions in observations that may help us explore how to change the culture. First of all, what has your denomination done well in advancing women in ministry? And what are the roadblocks that have kept women out of ministry? The senior leadership structure of a solo pastor model may not be healthy for a male or female. How do we creatively imagine how a senior or lead role would look like if a lead pastor were healthy with his or her time? We need to look for a more sustainable model that is not so hierarchical. Where there are issues of codependency, overwork, and over-functioning, it is important to be intentional about a deferent type of formation or mentoring.

Is the current model of church easier because there is an appointed person to lead? It may be easer between male-to-male and female-to-female relationships. Current church culture tends to be fearful of sexual interaction. Males tend to not want to mentor females and the Church needs to discuss this issue, which involves everyone. Mentoring tends to take place between people of the same culture, ethnicity, and gender.

There needs to be a creative forum to discuss new and innovative ideas without judgment or pressure. Congregants in this scenario do not know what it is like to be part of the church. They expect senior pastors or any member of the pastoral staff to always be available and work constantly. There are a lot of resources for senior pastors, but not for associates. There should be focused responsibilities for associate pastors.

Finally, Beth Armstrong’s recommendations are:

  1. Alter Unhealthy Norms: (Ask probing questions)
  2. Create Alternative Ministry Model (Health over Numbers):
  3. Amplify Female Voices: (increase church exposure)
  4. Support Innovation: (create and fund roles for women to serve)
  5. Implement Women Leadership Initiatives (create practices and opportunities)
  6. Talk openly about Restrictive Issues Women Face:
  7. Encourage Women to Visualize Senior Leadership:
  8. Support Women already deployed in Senior levels:
  9. Encourage benevolent male advocacy:[5]

                                                                         BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

Armstrong, Beth K. Executive Summary of “Promoting Clergy Gender Equity: A Mixed-  Methods Analysis of an Egalitarian Evangelical Denomination.” January 6, 2016.

Peppiatt, L., & McKnight, Scot. (2019). Rediscovering Scripture’s vision for women: Fresh perspectives on disputed texts. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP.

Roberts, B. T., and Benjamin D. Wayman, New ed. Ordaining Women. Eugene, OR, 2015.

Rhode, D. and Kellerman, eds. Women and Leadership: San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2007.

 Bates, G., Stonehouse, C, and Ellis, C. Women in Ministry in the Free Methodist   Church: Getting the Picture. 1997.

[1] 1890 General Conference Minutes, 131.

[2] B. T. Roberts, new edition by Benjamin D. Wayman, Ordaining Women (Eugene, OR, 2015), 68-69.

[3] Beth K. Armstrong, Executive Summary of “Promoting Clergy Gender Equity: A Mixed-Methods Analysis of an Egalitarian Evangelical Denomination” (January 6, 2016), 1.

[4] (General Conference Minutes, p. 388).

[5] Armstrong, Executive Summary of “Promoting Clergy Gender Equity: A Mixed-Methods Analysis of an Egalitarian Evangelical Denomination” 6.

About the Author

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Joe Castillo

8 responses to “WOMEN IN MINISTRY WITH THE FMC”

  1. mm Shawn Cramer says:

    Joe, good questions. One thing to add to the conversation is that (like any theology) churches have a formal theology and a practical theology. I’ve seen complementarian churches act more mutualist than self-identified egalitarian churches. I’ve seen complementarian churches act misogynistically and egalitarian professing churches also act misogynistically. I’m simply saying that the culture is more than just the “what we believe” tab on their website.

  2. mm Dylan Branson says:

    Joe, all of these are important questions. I was looking up the General Baptist stance on women ordination and it says, “Our philosophy is that every member of a General Baptist church can be an active and productive member of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” With that being said, I’ve only known one female pastor in the denomination.

    Growing up in my church, the question of whether women could preach was never really raised (granted, the only paid staff position at my church was the senior pastor; it wasn’t a huge church). As far as I knew, there was never an issue with women preaching or being leadership positions. I think that changed when I went to university and I met people from other denominations (many of whom had strong feelings regarding women in positions of leadership). I agree with your sentiment: The problem isn’t a lack of women wanting to be in leadership, it’s that the opportunities are not given to them.

    Throughout your ministry, how have you worked to give women a voice in the church?

  3. mm Joe Castillo says:

    Let me put it this way. The women in our congregation run the church. They preach, teach, proform weddings, communion, and much more. I only step back and shire them up. That includes my wife and two daughters. My wife is also an elder Pastor with our denomination. Pastors in positions of privilege should learn to share leadership and empowering others, primarily the powerless.

  4. mm Steve Wingate says:

    Joe, I think the questions you posed are very important for all of us to consider taking action upon

  5. mm John McLarty says:

    Your Wesleyan siblings in the United Methodist Church still struggle with this as well. We’ve been ordaining women for over 60 years and have women bishops. But a very small percentage of women clergy are serving our largest-membership churches in senior leadership roles. There are still many churches who do not receive a female pastor or who have said, “We’ve already had a female pastor,” as if it’s some sort of concession. I feel we might be ahead of most Evangelicals on this, but still have miles to go.

  6. mm Greg Reich says:

    Joe,
    Great questions. I wonder how woman leadership differs not only by denomination but by ethnicity? I get to serve periodically in a small all black intercity pentecostal church. I have noted as I have been able to visit and move around a few of their churches that african american women in this setting are well received in leadership and are often more active than men. Do you see this in the hispanic church? My fear is that by only comparing denominations and the opportunity women have in leadership we miss a vital understanding that in some ethnic cultures women are more prominent and empowered.

  7. mm Joe Castillo says:

    Defiantly, Latin women are not only hardworking people in the church but they also lead very well. I can dare to say even better in most cases. That was not the case years ago I would say that over time it has changed but now we have women and leadership and also in politics especially in LatinAmerica countries like Chile and Argentina. Like everything else there is the struggle of some fundamentalistic pentecostal churches that still oppose to the idea nevertheless they are also opening up.

  8. mm Chris Pollock says:

    Interesting, sweetly informative. Appreciate the leading guidelines by Beth Armstrong that you included as well! You have so much experience cross-cultures and continents and I’m sure can see the struggles and source of divisions in community that is always calling for a closer togetherness. How do we get there? Not by avoiding the problems. What about overly addressing problems?

    Sometimes, I wonder if we are closer than we might think to being there? By being there, I think of harmony or shalom. There is a history of heartache, exclusion and a need for on-going reconciliation and healing that will keep sensitivity and focus on the problem despite being ‘oh-so-close’ to that place of equality within community and expression that we are hoping for (at least in some places).

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