We Need You, Brothers

Kelly Ladd Bishop

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We need you, brothers

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I used to work for a church that went through the tedious process of changing the church bylaws to allow for the full participation of women in ministry, including in the role of senior pastor. But when it came time for a pastoral search, the church sent out a job description containing only masculine pronouns. When I asked why this was the case given that the bylaws allowed for female candidates, I was told that the bylaws do allow for a woman to be hired, but they had decided to hire a man. They were not even taking applications from women.

Recently, I was looking through the website of a friend’s church. The pastoral staff consisted only of men, and all of the numerous online sermons were preached by men. I asked one of the pastors about this, and he assured me that both he and the lead pastor held egalitarian views, and fully supported the equality of women in all levels of church leadership and in the home.

Then he told me some of the logistical reasons for the lack of female presence in their leadership, and said that they have made an effort to have women preach, but haven’t been able to accomplish it yet.

I also went to a worship service at the church of another male pastor I know. He holds to egalitarian theology as well. There was not a single woman present in the leadership of that service. The pastor, associate pastor, scripture readers, and the entire musical worship team were all men. When I asked him about this, he explained some of the logistical reasons for this, and assured me that this wasn’t the case every week. However, it is also true that there is never a week when there are no men up front.

In the case of the first church, they claimed to be egalitarian in their bylaws, but in reality, they are not. They did not even consider a female pastoral candidate, and assured none would apply by the wording of the job description. In the cases of the second two churches, I know these pastors personally, I appreciate both of them, and they have been very encouraging to me and many other people I know.

I am thankful for them and for their voices, but I need them to speak up. The church needs them to speak up.

We need male egalitarian pastors to push through the logistics and work towards the inclusion of women, because of churches like the first, that choose not to.

We need them to give their congregations sound Biblical teaching on the inclusion of women in church leadership, because of the Acts 29 movement, which is actively recruiting men and training men to plant churches that are led only by men.

We need male egalitarian pastors to seek out the voices of women to preach from the pulpit because of the silencing of the voices of women for far too long.

We need them to speak up because of the many called and gifted women who are pushed out of their ministry positions, or denied the opportunity to even apply for a job.

We need male egalitarian pastors to teach their view regularly from the pulpit, in small groups, and in classrooms.

We need them to prepare their churches to interview both men and women when they eventually leave.

We need male egalitarian pastors to raise up women from their congregations, to seek out those who are hiding their gifts because they don’t feel confident or supported.

We need them to make sure this is taught to the girls and boys in their Sunday schools and youth groups.

And we need male egalitarian pastors to go the extra mile to overcome logistical issues, so that we can hear what God is teaching our women.

A friend of mine recently posted a quote from a MAN who supported women in ministry. A commenter immediately dismissed the quote as being from “an angry woman.” This is why we need men to speak up. It’s a battle for the church, and a battle for God’s kingdom. And the voices of women, too often, aren’t heard.

We need you, brothers.

Kelly Ladd Bishop

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39 Comments

  • Yesterday I had a long talk with a man at church who couldn’t get past “the husband is the head of the wife”…I said, ok, Well “the head of Christ is God” ok? Yup. And Jesus “thought it not robbery to be equal with God” Right? Right.
    So one can be equal with one’s head right? Right. So then he asked me then who is the head of the marriage? I said Christ! He was a bit confused. So I repeated, if Christ is not the head of the marriage then we have a case where we have broken down the wall of partition between men and women which Christ did (Gal 3:28). When he breaks down the wall of partition we become ONE again…we are not two, just like in the beginning. Also we realize that being head isn’t a place of power. After all when we look at the body, Paul is clear that sometimes the ‘inferior’ parts have more power that the head…with dysentry, for example. The head is not a place of authority. It may have some executive function but now we know that the intestines also have this. Positionally the head is above the body, at least when standing, but Paul made it clear the body is A UNIT…no part functioning without the other “there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have EQUAL concern for each other.” I Cor 7 also carefully delineates equality for both partners meticulously so that there is no doubt that one has no authority over the other. Only cultural inequality can be the explanation for the imposition on scripture of universal patriarchy that came in at the Fall under Satan. It is about time we understood the source of patriarchy and repented.

    We’ve probably all heard the analogy that a marriage with two heads is a monstrosity and therefore only the man is the head..That may be the case when Christ is not there, but once Christ enters, HE ALONE is the head of the family and the man must step down or risk assessment as an unbeliever.

  • Gives new meaning to “white man speak with forked tongue”

  • Thank you, your article resonates with me as I’ve been thinking about these very things for the last few years. Just last week the official magazine of the denomination I grew up in(who has fully ordained women since inception in early1900s) published pictures of a gathering of the top leaders and some newly appointed mid level leaders. They were all men. I posted the following comment:

    “With all due respect I have a couple questions with what I see posted. Where are any women in the top leadership positions represented here? Do we believe women are equally called and gifted? With women making up over half of congregations one has to wonder if the pool of candidates is limited in women because women have not been used and therefore developed in ministry at the local and district levels. If that is the case, why do you believe it is? Is God not calling women or gifting them? Or are we not acknowledging them?
    If that isn’t the case, then do we believe no woman is capable of leading at the highest levels? For a denomination that believes in the ordination and leadership of women, there seems to be a breakdown and disconnect between what is stated and what is practiced. My experience of what I’ve seen at the local and district levels matches the lack of women pictured here (other than spouses or with missions). I presently attend another denomination and I have loved the *name of this denomination* growing up, but have struggled with these questions my whole adult life.
    Again, I mean no disrespect, I just honestly do not understand why this appears as it does to me. It makes me sad for a great denomination because it’s like trying to do God’s business with one arm tied behind it’s back. More importantly it makes me wonder what God must think.”

    There were 4 “likes” to my comment. 166 “likes” to the pictures. A couple of years ago this denomination appointed a woman as the President of their Theological Seminary. I see this as a move in the right direction, however, they’ve had only 1 woman in the entire history of the denomination serve as one of the top six General leadership positions. When they originally formed the denomination over 50% of the pastors were women. That statistic now stands at a whopping 1%. I truly believe it was a lack of practicing what we preached that led to this change.
    What Kelly stated here I believe is exactly what needs to happen proactively to see this change across all egalitarian denominations.
    I recently read about a program that the ECC (Covenant) denomination started called “Develop a Deborah”. Here is the a link to the page to download a brochure which explains their strategies. http://www.covchurch.org/resources/develop-a-deborah/

    ‘”Develop a Deborah’ is an initiative of the Commission on Biblical Gender Equality, encouraging pastoral leaders to identify and encourage women in their ministry contexts with leadership gifts.”

    Perhaps this would be a program that could be implemented across many denominations. It seems like it could be a good place to start.

    Thank you Kelly for your practical admonitions in this article.

    • Thanks for sharing your story, and thank you for pointing out the ECC program! That is encouraging.

  • This post has been on my mind since it was posted. I want to let the readers and posters of the Junia Project know that there are some churches out there that ARE egalitarian. My small Congregational church in the Chicago suburbs has had a woman as Church Council president (the Council is a combination elder and trustee board) for some years. The church office manager is our regular Scripture reader on Sundays. (And, she is Korean, so we have diversity in our leadership, too.) Plus, I am the second consecutive female pastor.

    I know that I preach and teach on women when I get the opportunity! In my summer sermon series on Acts, I preached on Lydia in Acts 16 a few weeks ago. Afterwards, I received both thanks and compliments from many congregation members. Here’s the link: Open Our Hearts! #pastorpreacherprayer #SummerSermonSeries @StLukesChurch2 August 30, 2015 http://wp.me/p5Nfg4-1G @chaplaineliza

  • I can only echo what’s already been said. I love my church, love my pastor, but when it came time to hire an associate the board chose to look outside – instead of asking the woman already in the congregation with the minister’s license of our denomination if she was interested. She’s preached often at our mid-week service. She’s got the call and the gifting. Again, love my church, love my pastor, and I love the new associate (a man) but the whole thing rankled. Just didn’t make any sense.

  • I think this is great; really a well thought out post.

    But in the churches I have encountered which claim egalitarianism, and have by-laws that support it there is one huge thing missing: Teaching the congregation how to be inclusive, for they don’t know how.

    Teaching a biblical theology of women and men as equals has to be the foundation. If the laity and the leadership do not know how to be inclusive, changing the by-laws, as you have pointed out in this post, will do nothing.

    Just writing and talking about equality is a good start: but we need to teach and demonstrate what it looks like to be inclusive.And it is more than just inclusive language, it is a whole person teaching.

    Remember in all the teaching that Jesus did, he always gave examples.

    Best,
    Lisa

    • True, Lisa. And many complementarian churches are actively teaching complementarian theology, while many egalitarian churches are putting it in their bylaws, and then just hoping everyone gets it.

  • Thank you for this. This has also long been my beef – re churches which claim to be egalitarian (and are, in theological conviction) but still favour men for all the leadership roles. There is a name for this: sexism. And sadly it can happen in some of the best churches. Ironically, I have also seen it the other way, where churches which are theologically complementarian end up giving more chances for women to be trained, preaching and leading than those which are egalitarian. What’s up with that???
    Thanks for expressing this so well.

    • Yup. A friend shared with me that her “egalitarian” church has an all male elder board. When questioned they said adding women would change the small group dynamic of the board. Hmmm, don’t think the purpose of an elder board is to function as a small group!

      • Ugh. I guess I already said this, but this is exactly why we need men to think about these issues.

  • Kelly, thank you for your important article. When I was in high school, I left the mainline church where I had been baptized and confirmed and joined a “Bible-believing, evangelical church.” I got married to a man who planned to get his MDiv from an evangelical seminary. I tried to squeeze myself into the role of an evangelical pastor’s wife, getting a bachelor’s degree in music from an evangelical, complementarian Christian college. Fast-forward 30 years over his descent into depression and subsequent dropping out of seminary, and a great deal of pain, hardship, heartache, and a divorce (he’s still in the depths of depression, and it’s been 30 years). He and I decided to go to a more evangelical PC(USA) church in my 20’s and 30’s.

    After my divorce, the calling on my life became clearer and clearer and I enrolled at a UMC seminary. I’ve since graduated, worked as a chaplain in the Chicago area for almost ten years (which for women is an excellent entry point for the ministry, by the way!), and am now serving as pastor for St. Luke’s Church, a congregational church in Morton Grove.

    I spent some time in complementarian circles, yes. I consider myself having evangelical roots. I can speak the “evangelical lingo” but I am fully egalitarian. I absolutely consider this issue of women in church leadership to be not only important but also freeing. Freeing women to become fully themselves in Christ. To fully exercise gifts of leadership, both in the church as well as in secular life. Whatever your politics, consider this. Condi Rice and Hilary Clinton served as Secretaries of State in this country. Angela Merkel heads up Germany. We have three female justices on the Supreme Court. And for some otherwise sound churches to gloss over the rich and abundant contributions and giftedness of females? I suspect both you and I share the same opinion on that foolishness. Thanks again for your important contribution. @chaplaineliza

    • Thanks for sharing your story! It amazes me that in this day and age there are still people who insist that women are not capable of leading. The church that doesn’t utilize women is really working with one hand tied behind its back!

  • When I was in seminary in the 80’s I wondered, “Why could a Christ-follower like Margaret Thatcher be capable of leading a country, but not be qualified to take the offering at this Dallas megachurch on Sundays?” Over the years other questions troubled me. Why does a west coast seminary advertise, “We train men as if lives depended on it” when the Master himself and later Paul the Apostle intentionally trained women for ministry? Why do some seminaries allow women to take “teaching” courses but not “preaching” courses?

    Why do male representatives from mission agencies recruit women to proclaim the gospel overseas and build the church there, but not let them do similar work here in the US? Why do Christian radio ministries that are focused on family life and marriage, seem to limit women’s roles to having babies, baking brownies and being in women’s Bible studies? Why were we taught in Greek class that word order communicates prominence (as with Peter, James and John; Paul and Barnabas) but we never applied that principle to “Priscilla and Aquilla”?

    Why are coalitions and organizations committed to “bringing us together under the gospel” led only by men, have only male teachers at their conferences, and have only men on their councils and boards? Why does a woman who leads a daily radio program state that her major purpose in life is to “live for her man”? Why does the 40-plus year old wife of a prominent family ministry leader lament that she did not have even more children (she has 7) because she basically has no idea what to do with her life now? Could it be that she has been trained to believe her only valid identity was as a mother/parent and now has no understanding of her spiritual gifts and service she can provide beyond the home to the broader kingdom of God?

    I’ve had dozens more questions like these, and they eventually drove me to re-read the Bible and study and do the honest biblical work we men have to do on this issue, recognizing we have been operating under a set of presuppositions and assumptions in our hermeneutics as we approach the text, and as we apply certain texts to women’s roles in ways the text itself does not require or teach.

    The time is now. It is time for men to champion the rise of women a co-ministers of the good news. Guys, our sisters need us to help them. Not because they are weak and inept without us, but because we are partners — ever since Genesis 1. And we are Bothers and Sisters in the Body of Christ. And when your partner gets knocked down, you pick them up. When your sister is undervalued, overlooked, and underutilized, you stand up for her and shout “No more!” As defenders and leaders ourselves, our call is to stand by our sisters at this time in history. They are our fellow workers, friends, and co-leaders in life and ministry.

    I feel an greater sense of urgency on this matter. We need more women in leadership in politics, law, economics, business, education and the church. These institutions are weaker, lesser and smaller without the contribution and leadership of women. From main street to wall street, from Madison Avenue to Pennsylvania Avenue, it is time for women to “dream dreams and see visions” and for men to join them in this movement of kingdom renewal.

    And I feel a sense of responsibility as well–to the women in my life. I have a daughter who will soon be 20 – gifted, lovely, smart, eager to bring light and hope to the world. I have a wife who has served as an Elder in one of the most strategic churches in recent history. And I have a mother has done prison ministry into her 80’s. We need more like them, and they need us to stand with them as they love, learn, lead and serve in the name of Christ in every sphere of life.

    So it is time–time to stop the neglect and marginalization of half the body of Christ. Time for a rising generation of women to flourish as God intended — young, courageous, humble, Christ-honoring, highly-gifted women leaders. Time for them to spread their wings and fly.

    And time for us men to say, “You go girl! You go!”

    • Wow Bill, what a statement! I am blessed by your words! Thank you.

    • This is an encouragement to my soul today. Thank you.

    • Fantastic questions here, Bill. We are faced with questions like that every day and it seems that enculturation and mindsets/blindsets are responsible for so many of the uninformed answers. You should blog that… it’s powerful.

  • Good thoughts. Agreed. We also must be willing to block the selection of others who are not in alignment with the values of our discipline or bylaws, in this and many other areas.

    • Great point, David. A church I’m connected with added a complementarian to the elder board and it resulted in two years of conflict.

  • The three examples you have quoted are multiplied through the vast majority of churches in every nation. It’s very frustrating and highly irritating. Recently I wrote to a radio program hosted by a Christian radio station about some of their unconscious defaults. The response(s) I received were polite and concerned but each of them referred to my ‘anger, hurt and offence’, none of which did I express. I expressed irritation and disappointment, but it seemed that they needed to make me emotional in their perspective in order to be able to answer with ‘heartbroken’ responses at my ‘hurt’.

    Again, women are in a box of other people’s mindsets, or should I say blindsets.

    • Ugh. I feel frustrated just reading that. I have heard those comments so many times. I have been told, it’s not about my “feeling of justice” it’s about scripture. And when I reply that I’m not talking about my “feeling of justice” I’m talking about my reading of scripture, I am usually dismissed. Sigh.

      • Yes, it’s a tough one. Mindsets mean that it doesn’t matter what is said at times, it’s interpreted through a grid that was set in stone many years before.

  • I could not agree with you more. This is such an important conversation. Thank you so much for writing this!

  • Good word. yes, there is a role for allies in the struggles for equity. we african americans need white sisters and brothers to speak up, and we men must be vocal and active in living out our egalitarian convictions.

    • A great reminder that allies are always important in instances of injustice and inequality! Thanks, Dennis.

  • Kelly — your words are encouraging and an excellent request. In The Evangelical Covenant Church, there is a commission which is trying to do exactly what your column calls for. We have a vast majority of pastors who would agree theologically but could do much more practically. We’re in the first stages of an initiative to encourage pastors to disciple gifted women and direct them into areas of service. I’ll be sharing your article with the commission. Thanks!

    • That’s a great encouragement, Brian. Thanks for sharing that!

  • I do want to be fair to male egalitarian pastors, and I hope that they read this as an encouragement and a request, and NOT as a criticism. I am SO thankful for them, and the opportunities that I have had because of them. And the church really does need them dearly.

  • Giving lip service to an idea, and making it happen in reality, are two different things. It is easy to say you believe in women serving at church. Only when you start actually trying to make it happen do you realize how *hard* it is — and become aware of the built-in headwinds against female leadership in the church.

    I daresay those men speak supportively to/about women, but until they start working to overcome the barriers, they won’t be aware of those barriers.

  • This is a great piece. Thank you.

    It would be awesome to have a YouTube channel or online index of egalitarian pastors’ sermons & blog posts. I’d love to give my pastor a shout out. His series on marriage & family has some complimentarians up in arms.

  • Well said. It’s no good supporting women in theory without making an effort to put it into practice. Men need to take more initiative in this area as they are the ones currently holding the power.

    • You’re right, theory is always easier than practice 🙂

  • I have found many churches who claim to be egalitarian, don’t have women in leadership positions, except for the “women’s pastor” position. I specifically asked the executive pastor of a local church about their views, and he claimed the church held egalitarian views. But when I asked why there weren’t any women on the elder board or any who teach during the services, his response was, “It’s not that we don’t allow it, but we haven’t found a woman skilled enough yet.” And then he promptly referred me to the women’s pastor to ask any further questions, because she’s the one who ministers to women. (who must not be skilled enough to teach during the service, but skilled enough to minister to women) This is a church of over 16,0000 attendees.

    • Yeah… the “we can’t find any women” argument always leaves me scratching my head.

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