A Place of Refuge (or, keep your pulpit open without being an activist)

Alright, so here’s the deal. J. R. Daniel Kirk called egalitarian pastors to action in getting women in the ministry, suggesting that they should be actively engaged in getting women to preach and teach in their churches. Dan Thompson wanted to know what Kirk was doing about the situation. Mark Stevens called for a bit more sympathy to the plight of the pastor and all that’s involved in the vocation. And now Brian LePort has weighed in by warning against committing what he has dubbed the “ivory tower fallacy,” which is the idea that academics aren’t involved in ministry by virtue of their academicinicity.

So I agree with all of the above on different points. I agree with Kirk that pastors who believe that women should be involved in ministry should “open up space in [their] church for women to preach and teach.” I think Dan has every right to question the academics who challenge the pastors about what contribution they’re actually making. And I really agree with Mark that the pastor’s job is not to be an activist. And Brian is correct to note that not all academics are detached from ministry. A great many seminary professors are also pastors, elders, deacons, etc.

But it’s Mark’s point that I resonate with most. I remember a while back I had mentioned that I taught on women in ministry in my church’s Bible study (at my pastor’s request; I honestly had/have no desire to teach on the subject). One commenter said, “I think the church needs more women in leadership. I think the my fellow evangelicals have missed out on the riches that comes from different voices in leadership.” I replied, “I’d say that I think the church needs as many women leaders as God calls. Same for men. No more, no less. The problem, as I see it, is in leaders leading who are not fit to lead (regardless of gender).”

So what’s the point? The point is this: God calls people (male and female) to ministry and the pastor’s role in all of this should not be to actively seek out women to preach and teach as if that’s their responsibility as egalitarians; rather their role should be in providing a place for anyone to preach or teach whom God has called. So Kirk is right to say that those who want to do something about it should open up their pulpits. Amen. And Mark is right to say that pastors have other things to be concerned with than activism for whatever the hot button issue of the day is.

I’m done.

B”H

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9 thoughts on “A Place of Refuge (or, keep your pulpit open without being an activist)

  1. Dan
    It isn’t a question of whether or not you agreed. It is a question of whether or not your description of seminary professors is fair and accurate.

  2. God calls people (male and female) to ministry and the pastor’s role in all of this should not be to actively seek out women to preach and teach as if that’s their responsibility as egalitarians; rather their role should be in providing a place for anyone to preach or teach whom God has called.

    Nick, If God calls men and women – anyone – to preach and teach, then might he have called J. R. Daniel Kirk to call on men pastors to action? “Activism” is a rather loaded term here. Can God call on men to call on men, even to activism?

    And isn’t Kirk giving the contexts, the conditions for actions? “If your church is excluding women from service, …”

    Yes, he also says: “If you believe in women’s equality, your calling is to act it out. If you’re not, don’t convince yourself that you’re being ‘wise’ in biding your time while your sisters suffer.” But what if the “calling” is from God, even if Kirk also articulates it?

    I guess my trouble with what you’re saying is that it really is obvious that God calls. And hence because it is obvious that God is calling, well we all who can see this obvious calling should just limit our activism to this very obvious thing. Otherwise, the absence of the obvious calling means not only can we sit by an watch sisters suffer but that we also just must so sit by.

  3. I think churches should actively seek women in the congregation to preach and teach in the churches. Whether that is considered activism or not doesn’t matter to me. If God calls both men and women to preach, teach and lead, then it shouldn’t be any harder to find women that God has called than it is to find men. Because churches have for so long limited women in that capacity, the leadership needs to make the extra effort in seeking them out in their churches since many of the women may not even recognize their calling because of the expectations and perceived limitation of women in the church that they’ve been raised with.

    When I was visiting churches for a couple of years one denomination that really practiced what they preach in regards to women in ministry was the United Methodist Church. I visited maybe around 10 in my city and nearly every one of them either had a woman as the lead pastor or the associate pastor.

  4. Dan: Fair is my middle name (until you disagree with me, that is!).

    J. K.: To be honest, you lost me. My point, which I thought I articulated quite clearly, is simply this: If you’re an egalitarian pastor, let those (male and female) who God has called teach in your church. Make use of the gifts God has given. Don’t close your pulpit down. But don’t spend all your energies trying to put women (or men for that matter) in position simply because you believe in equality.

    Bryan: Exactly, it shouldn’t be harder to find women than men, and it isn’t. That’s my point. If they’re there then use them appropriately. But don’t take some egalitarian ideology to say that women (or men) must preach just because all things should be equal. And keep in mind that I’m talking about churches where women aren’t forbidden from serving in leadership positions, so what I’m envisioning wouldn’t really be affected the limitation issue you describe.

    Did you visit any Pentecostal churches? I think I’ve only been to one in all my years that didn’t have women in leadership positions.

  5. Yes, Nick, your point is clear, and I got it. Yikes, mine really wasn’t clear, was it? Well, all I meant is that maybe Kirk’s gift from God is blogging. And maybe God calls men and women indirectly to know and to use their gifts. Maybe a pastor spending all his or her energies trying to put women in position is God’s calling. Maybe belief in equality is also God’s gift.

  6. J. K.: Now I gotcha. Maybe…

    Maybe I can make the point differently and see if you’re more amenable to it. I think pastors should recognize the gifts God has given (i.e., people and whatever else) and use them accordingly. I do not believe that pastors should try to impart the gifts (i.e., put people in positions just to fill a quota or prove they can put their beliefs into action).

  7. I think if a pastor sees a young woman in the congregation who is demonstrating gifts of spiritual leadership, he should not assume that she’s going to find it just as easy to believe in that call or step out in that call as a man would. Perhaps it shouldn’t be harder to find women than men– but I think it is, and probably will be for some time, particularly in denominations where women have been told for generations that if they feel a call, they must be mistaken and it’s their sinful, ambitious flesh that wants to preach, and not the Holy Spirit. Also, there is still a general message to Christian women, even in egalitarian churches, that godly women don’t “put themselves forward.” Things that a man might do in responding to a call he is feeling, are more likely to be called “courageous initiative” where in women they might be called “pushy ambition.”

    As long as these sorts of factors exist, I think pastors should keep their eyes open for young women who might be called, and encourage them to pray about that calling and not be ashamed. Just expecting young women to seek church leadership as men would, I think is unrealistic.

  8. I do not believe that pastors should try to impart the gifts (i.e., put people in positions just to fill a quota or prove they can put their beliefs into action).

    Nick: That’s well put. Perhaps some male pastors would be so wrongly motivated.

    Kristen:
    You rightly go beyond Kirk’s condition with your own: “If a [male] pastor sees a young woman in the congregation who is demonstrating gifts of spiritual leadership, …” You get at the real problem, that there is a dominate and dominating culture of men over women in church and in home that ought to put a burden on any in leadership to free the dominated.

    Kirk’s condition (also astute like yours but maybe not yet fully developed) is this one: “If your church is excluding women from service, …”

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