5 Things I Wish Male Egalitarian Pastors Would Do

Meredith Miller

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5 things male egalitarian pastors should do

Dear Male Egalitarian Pastors,

I have something I need to tell you, and it’s a bit tough to say.  Before I do, I want you to know how much I appreciate you.  You are allies and friends, important voices in the ongoing conversation about gender equality in the church.

It is precisely because your voice is important that I need to say that sometimes, I don’t feel like you are doing enough.

In fact, more often than not, your voice will be heard and mine will not.  And isn’t that exactly what we are trying to change together? (Not because my voice is the important thing, but because a female voice is still likely to be far less influential than a male voice in the same congregation.)

So when you say you support women in ministry and leadership, here’s what I hope you do:

 

#1 PUT THEM ON STAGE

Make sure women regularly give announcements, lead prayers, or do whatever other hosting roles happen in your normal gathering.

#2 HAVE THEM PREACH

Perhaps the most obvious, and yet, it is surprisingly uncommon in churches that say they’re supportive.  The main argument I hear for the lack of women preachers is “I don’t know any who are good” or “We don’t have any in our community.” Hogwash.  They are there, waiting to be invited.

And if they really aren’t, it’s on you to seek out women with potential and help them grow.  Raise up green speakers, male and female alike for that matter.  Create the type of community that gives young preachers the chance to practice.  Invite them onto the calendar early.  Ask for their manuscript ahead and review it with them.  Make them come in on the Wednesday before, stand on your platform and preach to an empty room. Give them candid, kind feedback about that rehearsal.  Record them speaking, make them watch it, then go to coffee and talk about it together.

#3 HAVE THEM SERVE ON ALL YOUR BOARDS AND COMMITTEES

Every leadership team in your church should be co-ed (perhaps with the exception of your men’s and women’s ministries, if you have them.  Although…).  And please, while we’re at it, call them all elders, all deacons.  Not deaconesses or elder-ettes.

#4  USE A SCRIPTURE TRANSLATION THAT IS GENDER ACCURATE

If the original text is talking about people, don’t use a translation that still says ‘man.’  If you quote a historical figure who talks about ‘mankind,’ take the liberty of saying humankind.  It is the voice of privilege, not of grace, that tells the outsider that ‘they should know we mean to include them’ with language that, in fact, does not.

#5 SPEAK UP FOR EGALITARIANISM

Please don’t say ‘this is a secondary issue and therefore can go unaddressed.’  (I question that logic anyway, but that is for another post.)  When people in your community ask, tell them where you stand and why.

For that matter, preach on itIf you are the senior pastor, you especially need to step to the front to speak to this issue.  Teach about the texts that address gender.  Have good reading available and pass it on often.  There are several excellent books, but even shorter articles often go a long way to educate someone about gender in Scripture and the historical Christian tradition. You can be kind, gentle, and gracious and not hide.

When you are quiet, you perpetuate the idea that this is a women’s issue.  It’s not.  It’s the Church’s issue.  A Christ-follower issue.  A participating with God in the restoration of the broken world issue.

Male egalitarian pastor friends

I know this may seem like a lot of work, doing all of these things.  But important issues take work, and putting in the work is a sacrifice leaders make for the sake of the kingdom. Thank you for standing alongside women with leadership and teaching gifts.

Thank you for doing the hard work.

 

NOTES

For more suggestions from readers who commented on this post, see the follow-up article More Things We Wish Male Egalitarian Pastors Would Do.

YOUR TURN: What would you add to Meredith’s list of things pastors can do to encourage more inclusion of women in church ministry and leadership? How can we come alongside pastors and help them lead the way?

Originally posted at meredithannemiller.com under the title “Dear Male Egalitarian Pastors” on 9/1/13. Used with permission.

Meredith Miller

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34 Comments

  • Also, don’t forget “older” women! It’s possible that they have experienced a much more restrictive environment in the past, but have AMAZING things to share. Seek them out and ask them!

    • Great advice, and as you pointed out, it is important to seek them out. For a variety of reasons they are sometimes hesitant give advice or ideas unless they are sure their opinion is wanted and valued.

  • I’m sorry, but a lot of this is just too “affirmative action.” The pastor shouldn’t be expected to go out of “his” way to find WOMEN to use in ministry, “he” should find the best PERSONS to use. “He” should not limit the choice of Bibles to “gender-inclusive” ones — in part because a better goal is “gender accurate,” and few if any of those even exist — “he” should focus on finding the best OVERALL translation.

    • Well, I won’t get into the issues related to affirmative action or how we should address the long history of male privilege in the church. That is probably best left to another post and would be off-topic here. But I will say that the NIV is the most popular Bible in Protestant circles, so it should be relatively painless for churches to just switch to the NIV 2011. The NIVs sold now are that version anyway. I also really like the New Revised Standard Version, which tries to be gender-accurate. I hear that the NET (New English Translation) does as well, but haven’t looked at it. If you’re curious, just go to bible.cc and type in one of the verses Marg listed in her comments – then click on the various translations and see what they do with the words.

      Here’s an idea – if your pastor doesn’t have a 2011 NIV or other gender-accurate translation, it would make a nice Christmas gift!

    • I agree that we should be filling roles with the best people, regardless of gender. But my experience points to a trend where women are often not on the radar for leadership and teaching opportunities, even if their skills and gifts make them the better fit for the role. And I think there are a lot of reasons for that, but one thing that helps address it is for leaders to be aware that male privilege is such that women may not just rise to the surface, they may need to be sought out. I hope that will be less and less the case.

    • Making an effort to insure that women are ON THE LIST of “best persons” is something that “he” absolutely has a responsibility to do.

  • Good stuff here, Meredith.
    All important points. The development one I find crucial… right out of seminary we did a “teaching team” to help develop this in my church plant,and included two women who had never preached before, but over time they did end up preaching after some development time with me and another preacher on staff who were both men.

    Thanks for all these reminders–I need to be aware and engaged not just “blithely supportive”

    • David, thanks for sharing that great idea. I think team teaching is more in-line with the New Testament model of church than having one person do the bulk of the teaching. It is so encouraging to hear a pastor express a desire to be aware and engaged. Thank you for your much-needed advocacy!

  • I think it is very odd that women are tempted to think they must act and sound like a male preacher while speaking from the pulpit. Does a mother feel she has to be more fatherly to be a good teacher to her children? What bondage we are in as members of the church. But more to the point our gender identity comes into play. What I mean by that is being able to enjoy the wonderful person God has made each of us to be, while being a man or a woman. When I think of myself, I am so happy to be the unique woman God has created and developed me to be. I’m just me – I am all of me – more that just a woman – I am Dorothy Lam! There is only one! And I long for a world that sees all of me and can respect and appreciate that uniqueness. We are valuable not because we are just the right amount of masculine or less valuable because we do not measuring up to an arbitrary standard of femininity. We are valuable because we reflect the image of a holy God who does not make mistakes in fashioning our beings just the way he wishes for his glory and for the edification of the body of Christ. If men are taught to preach only one way because that what men are supposed to sound or act like, then that is a shame as well.

  • I want to comment about Stevewhens #5 comment yesterday about masculine women. Of course I am only giving my interpretation of what this statement means, but here is what it meant to me. The first time I sat under a woman pastor I was amazed at how refreshing and meaningful it was to me to hear the word interpreted through a woman’s voice. She was very accomplished and highly sought after in her denomination but she did not feel the need to preach the word as a man might. Her tone was softer and more conciliatory, she felt comfortable being emotional when appropriate, she brought forth the more feminine nature of the Trinity, and she developed a congregation that cared for and valued relationships. I am sure there were many other distinctive things that I have not mentioned but to sum it up she felt free to be a woman, to act like a woman, and to talk like a woman even in a man’s world. And she was successful at it.

  • One of the things I would suggest is please, please! I beg you! NEVER say, “Ladies, we need someone to watch the kids in the nursery.” Men and boys are perfectly capable of doing that too….One of our high school guys loved little kids and he was so good with them. The kids adored him! Yet someone told him that being in the nursery or teaching the preschool Sunday school class was “not appropriate” for males. Despite his gifting, despite his calling by God. Along the same lines, men can also be great cooks and bakers – let THEM bake cookies for the bake sale!!

    • Such a good point! It’s not just that women lose by being told they should be with the kids or be the cooks, it’s that men who have those interests lose by being told that is somehow ‘less masculine.’ The goal is for all people to be free to do things that make them feel alive as God’s creation.

      My husband feels this rub as someone who loves doesn’t fit some of the man’s man stereotypes. In particular, he loves to cook (and I hate to and don’t do it). And he often speaks up about they ways our masculine types pressure guys to be certain ways and potential blocks them from things they love.

  • What do you think about segregated (e.g., Sunday School) classes, and men’s and women’s ministries? Do they detract from fostering egalitarianism? Do they have value – always, sometimes? When there large segments of the Christian culture promote, and accept as a necessary part of “true discipleship”, men’s events and women’s events, how can egalitarian pastors provide appropriate counsel and balance to their congregations?

    I can see value in men’s and women’s ministries. I myself benefited from a weekly men’s study (though I will say it wasn’t the “macho” kind that seems to be rather popular today). But I also see how too much segregation can foster bad ideas.

    • Great question, Mark. My answer is… I don’t totally know what I think. I always felt like I didn’t ‘fit’ in women’s ministries, then got to intern at a church whose women’s group was diverse and didn’t pressure women to be girly (for lack of a better term.) I loved that season.

      My home church also would sometimes have a man teach at women’s Bible study, just on occasion (about any text, not a gender related thing), and I wish that sometimes a woman would come to teach at a men’s group–just to continue the idea that people with teaching gifts teach. (Maybe this happens?)

      Sometimes I think we talk about separate groups being essential out of fear–the process of discipleship is vulnerable and we can’t risk sharing with the opposite sex/not our spouse. But sometimes I think churches see how friendships are formed and there are some affinities that come from those groups that are really great.

      Sorry if that’s a jumble… I share that question and don’t have an answer, so these are some of my thoughts along the way.

  • YES! Be proactive. Approach gifted women to do these things; ask them! Put out a call so that women are aware that there are opportunities available. 🙂

  • With lists like this, I’m usually missing one or two or ten things. But as I read it, I was encouraged because I’m doing all 5 already. My thing is that I’m an egalitarian youth pastor in a heavily complimentarian church. I push the boundaries (women speak all the time in junior and senior high services, female students teach, I promote gifted females to the highest position I can), but I get a lot of backlash from leadership and parents for it. There’s a female student who is a great speaker, biblically brilliant, and I ask her to speak, but her mom tells her she can’t be a pastor because she’s a woman. Heartbreaking. Something that is interesting to me is that most of our student leaders are females, and I think think our church isn’t the only one. I think the church will have to start hiring and acknowledging the next gen of females as church leaders whether they like it or not.

    • Aaron, that is fascinating! I really respect the courage it takes to go up against parents and leadership when it could mean risking your job. That says a lot about the kind of person you are. It is fun to think about the seeds being planted in the young women who are speaking, teaching, and leading. I work with college students and young adults, and many of them talk about this disconnect between what they think God may be calling them to do and their parent’s convictions. Since ours is mostly a resident college and one with a Wesleyan/Quaker heritage that belives in the full inclusion of women, being away from home gives many of them the necessary space to continue to develop their theology around this and a chance to exercise their gifts without such criticism. Perhaps you can help direct some of your gifted students to colleges that will encourage their gifting rather than discourage them! Your observation that many of your best leaders are women is not at all unusual, which is why I find it so ironic that some churches are dead set against empowering these women for ministry that could double the effectiveness of their outreach and discipleship efforts! Thanks for all you’re doing to challenge the status quo in your community!

    • What a challenging thing to navigate! But thank you for pressing on, because that support really matters. I can distinctly remember conversations I had in youth group about women in leadership while I was trying to sort out what I thought was a calling to ministry. That was 15 years ago. And I like Gail’s idea a lot–maybe you can encourage a college environment that will free them up.

  • I love to teach and share and ‘preach’. Funny how some people actually will disagree with things I say in and out of church, but dont say anything to a male pastor. I take that as maybe I am not threatening or easier to approach. I refuse to think that it is because I am female. Praise God I live now, could have been burned at the stake not so long ago.

    • Burned at the stake, yes, and I’ve also read accounts of woman being “muzzled” with a kind of steel contraption called a “scolds bridle” (here is a picture of one from the Junia Project Pinterest Board http://www.pinterest.com/pin/162762974005118642/.
      I guess we should take some consolation in the fact that we don’t face that kind of punishment for speaking out!

  • I love it! I would also add:

    1. Ask women: Whose voice are we missing around here?
    2. Ask women: How are you experiencing me, and the church, these days?
    3. Ask women: Who are three leaders you think we need to invest in over the next 12 months?
    4. Make sure you’re not leaving key female staff out of important “off the clock” conversations (on the golf course, etc).
    5. Don’t only put masculine women on stage. You know what I mean!

    Great article, Gail! Thanks for this.

    • OK – I ran #5 by a couple of people and they didn’t know what you meant, so you’re going to have to explain! Someone wondered if you meant women who look like men :). My interpretation was that sometimes women have been able to succeed in a speaking role because they have learned to emulate a teaching or preaching style that is similar to a man’s. (This coming Friday’s post here on the JP will talk about the need for us to allow women to develop their own unique styles.) Is that what you were getting at? Or?

      • I heard #5 similar to you, Gail. Many women speakers, either by choice or acculturation, adopt a speaking voice that isn’t their own. Since so many of the known preachers are male, then they sound just like those guys. They may even be good at it, but it still implies that one needs masculine speaking and delivery traits in order to be worth hearing. Was I interpreting you right, Steve?

  • Invite women you are mentoring to your council/elder meeting + then discuss it with her later, and include issues of power, gender, and the ways different people use power + authority. Help her understand how men operate in those settings;let her tell you how women do, if your leadership is all male.

  • I appreciate your admonition. I hope that I am doing the things that you suggest–and I would include “hiring” (for ministry leadership roles) as an important part of what you are suggesting. God bless you!

    • Ah, that is SO important, Dennis. I would add that we need to make sure that women candidates are included in any search process. This may require some “education” if your church isn’t used to having women in key roles. We learned this when we hired a female youth pastor. Some people didn’t think young men would be able to relate to her or learn from her. They were so wrong! She has done an amazing job.

  • As a female who loves to preach, I’m continually disappointed by the lack of opportunities for women to pulpit supply in egalitarian churches. Like Katie said, quietness perpetuates the issue. While financial concerns may be limiting (not being able to pay the female pulpit supply), at least acknowledging that is helpful.

    Who we see in leadership and how we speak of the preaching event affects our theology, whether or not we are aware. opening up the pulpit to all who have gifts for preaching (or need their gifts cultivated) reaffirms the priesthood of all believers.

    • Our pastor thanked me for speaking with a nice gift card to a local restaurant, which I really appreciated. Your comment made me realize that I would gladly contribute to a special budget line item for women teachers if asked!

  • I think the part about training and developing women’s speaking gifts is so important! Women aren’t encouraged to be up front and don’t have the same opportunities to speak over their lifetimes, and so need experience and coaching to improve their teaching gifts. It would be great if every church would identify people in their community who have teaching gifts and have some kind of mentoring program in place for them.

  • I love this line, “When you are quiet, you perpetuate the idea that this is a women’s issue. It’s not. It’s the Church’s issue. A Christ-follower issue. A participating with God in the restoration of the broken world issue.”

    I think that when pastors are quiet about this issue, no matter what their stance is, the people in those churches are going to fill in that void with whatever other voices they hear on the topic (books, podcasts, friends, blogs). And there are a LOT of voices in the Christian Church today that preach about the importance of gender roles and unilateral female submission. We need more voices that will be heard speaking about this issue.

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