Gender roles in the church as mixed and opinionated today just as how one decides to make a fruit salad or chinese stir-fry. Even at the Christian University where I work at today, there are aspiring female pastors/professors, home-making only wives, family missionaries, and male/female students who refuse to go to chapel when they know a female will be speaking on the pulpit!
A bit of a history of why this is the case. The first 1600 years after Jesus died, the church was mainly run by single (unmarried) males. Back then singleness and Chasity were highly valued qualities in a Pastor, akin toward how Jesus was single and pure in his ministry. From around 1600 till about 1900’s, the pendulum swung toward the church being run by married males, as tradition of having single males was just that – a nice tradition and not a rule in the Bible. As families grew and men have mainly been married, it seemed a natural transition. The 1900’s onward empowered female rights and challenged the traditional quota of them being relegated toward managing the home. Females slowly moved up the ladder as they became secretaries, accountants, nurses, doctors, lawyers, CEO’s, and even politicians today. It was inevitable in that transition, that some would become deacons, elders, and pastors within the church.
Churches during this 1900’s transition faced mixed results. This ranged from women allowing woman to take any position in office (liberal’s, evangelical), women taking most positions in office except senior roles (evangelical), women taking very few positions in office (minority evangelical), and women taking no positions in office (fundamental). The Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination that I belong to believes that women can take most positions in office BUT senior positions only by vote. More on that later.
Why the church is not unified on women in ministry I believe goes back towards the development of Gender roles. If all females and males are equal in household roles, then there lies no opposition toward granting equal rights in the church. The converse is also true – if females and males DO have distinct roles in the house, then the church has an invested interest to match household values as I believe. Allow me delve into the latter with a practical note. When complementarians are upset (many don’t get upset by the way) when a woman preaches on the pulpit, there is usually a historical component that women are usurping their traditional role and biblical authority, that which a man should be leading the church/family. To bring it further, there is concern within complementarians that a perceived corruption of authority will inevitably lead toward liberalism. This includes denying the scriptures, rejecting the teachings of Jesus, corrupting family values, spiraling toward accepting homosexuality as the norm.
The fear-mongering is not without justification. A quick look at the history of the United church in Canada or the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) can show the slippery slope of Christian liberalism which surprisingly started with allowing women into all forms of ministry. And these are not small rogue denominations either – the United Church in Canada has the largest membership in Canada while the PCUSA has (or had, as of a few weeks ago) the largest Presbytery in the US!
You cannot just look at all the bad-sides and neglect the good sides. One benefit I see is that this challenges us to know our Bible better. In this sense, we need to know what the Bible says about how to run our family, else how can we lead the church (1 Timothy 3:5)? In addition, many females who have done exceptional mission work, now feel more validated that their calling is validated by the denomination/organization that supports them. One lady in ministry I recently talked to, said she would be more encouraged and empowered if the congregation would call her Pastor rather than a “glorified secretary”. The feelings are understandable. Demographics have always shown the majority of church-goers are female. This change in leadership has helped fill the ranks of a diminishing crowd of male leaders. Yes, there are fewer males wanting to become Pastors then ever before. Who could blame them? The prestige, job security, and financial support that came with pastors of the past is long gone. Many pastors today are being paid the same wage as a McDonald worker flipping burgers! Not to mention all the controversy surrounding Pastors caught in adultery and embezzlement lately in the news. It’s no wonder that males no longer want to risk being pastor anymore. Money talks big, sometimes even bigger than the Lord’s voice. So then, if males cannot take up the mantle, will women be the next to lead the charge?
Next week, I’ll be diving into where the Christian and Missionary Alliance is on this issue, how it got there, where it’s going, and how we are going to deal with it.